SAGE 2018: Review Slew #2

SAGE 2018: Review Slew #2

by August 26, 2018

Day 2 rolls on.. Or, er, uh… comes to a close, I guess, given the time I’m posting this article. Hm, well, here’s some games:

Sonic Adventure Blast

At first, it might seem like Sonic Adventure Blast has some interesting ideas about how to handle 3D Sonic levels. It ports over quite a few stages in from Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2, with one crucial difference: there’s no more scripting. If you’ve ever wondered what these games would be like without their training wheels, this is your chance to find answers. In practical terms, this means you’re going to fall off every loop and corkscrew in the game. It’s not helped by the game’s camera, which is barely functional. As you continue to play, though, one gets the impression Sonic Adventure Blast is intended less as a game and more as a toy to play with. These aren’t levels it really expects you to complete, they’re just spaces built for you to mess around in. Ever wanted to climb Outset Island from Wind Waker as Knuckles? Or run laps around Wuhu Island from Mario Kart 7? You can do that and more. And, really, I spent kind of long time doing just that. There’s a lot of value there.

Planet Oio

In the past I’ve referred to some games as “Freedom Planet Fan Games.” Which is to say, they are Sonic fan games that have broken off and tried to be retail products featuring original characters, just like Freedom Planet did so many years ago. I was ready to call Planet Oio one of those games, until it became clear to me: this isn’t based off of Freedom Planet, it’s being based off of Spark the Electric Jester. Is that splitting hairs? Maybe. Regardless, it’s still early days for Planet Oio. The basics are here, but I’ll be honest: there’s something about the naked, fleshy thing you play as that I find thoroughly weird and maybe a little gross.

Sonic Chaos: Turquoise Hill Demo

A big surprise this SAGE is this Sonic-Mania-styled Sonic Chaos “remaster.” I grew up with Sonic Triple Trouble, personally, but have recently come to appreciate Sonic Chaos a great deal. This game looks great, sounds great, and is a very creative update to the original Game Gear game. But it’s definitely far from perfect; in trying so hard to emulate Sonic Mania, it also attempts to replicate how Sonic Mania’s levels are designed. In practice, I find this makes Turquoise Hill in this demo somewhat confusing to navigate. It’s surprisingly easy to lose the path forward only to discover somehow you got turned around and are now running backwards through the level. Routes double back and crisscross too much. Combined with the density of everything, it makes for some tough navigation. I was actually starting to get frustrated by act 2 for how many times I was getting lost just for falling off the wrong route at the wrong time. It also seems to ignore the way the original Sonic Chaos was structured. In the Game Gear game, levels were short and the emphasis was on hunting down every last ring, because reaching 100 rings would teleport you to that level’s Special Stage. The tension of walking around with 95 rings, looking for those last five, really gave Sonic Chaos its identity. Here, 100 rings awards you a 1up, like any other Sonic game. It just doesn’t feel like Sonic Chaos, to me. Everything else about it is professional quality, though, going by Sonic Mania’s standards.

Sonic Advance Revamped

On the other end of the spectrum is Sonic Advance Revamped. Like Sonic Chaos, it takes one of the portable Sonics and tries to update it for modern systems: proper widescreen support, and so many bonus features it borderlines on the excessive. You don’t just get the original four playable characters, but an expanded roster including Cream the Rabbit and Blaze the Cat. It plays well enough, though there are weird little inconsistencies throughout. Revamped is developed using Sonic Worlds, and all of the sounds have been replaced with Gameboy Advance sounding equivalents (meaning they sound scratchy and low-quality). Some sounds still use their Genesis counterparts, particularly the implementation of the Drop Dash. If it’s called Revamped, shouldn’t all the sounds be high quality? The music faces similar issues: for the most part, songs are directly ripped from the Gameboy Advance, but once you damage a boss enough, a new remix of the boss fight music comes on that doesn’t sound like it could have worked on the GBA. These are tiny nitpicks, of course, and Sonic Advance isn’t some kind of sacred cow, so the tiny imperfections matter a lot less than you’d think, and the standard of quality for everything else generally remains high.

Petit Hedgehog

I really look forward to seeing this every year now. Petit Hedgehog is a Sonic fan game of a different color; using totally original graphics, it defines a style and a personality of its own. A lot of that is inspired by the Sonic Advance series, but Petit Hedgehog manages to own its own version of that, and every year it gets bigger and more polished. Unfortunately, new this year is a boss fight in the first level that mirrors the first boss of Sonic Advance, and despite the high quality of everything else, this boss could use a lot of work. The window of time you have to damage the boss is extremely narrow and I ended up trading hits a lot while trying to get an angle that never seemed to materialize. Hopefully it’ll get cleaned up, because everything else here is truly outstanding, as always.

Crash N. Tense Adventure Demo 2

Really glad to see this game make a second showing at SAGE. Last year it was a big surprise and this year it’s another solid showing. Three levels are on offer here, including one where you play as Crash’s sister, Coco. Visuals feel a little more basic than they did last year, with a lot of flat environment textures, but there’s text plastered all over the hub about these being temp levels. There’s not much else to say beyond that; it still controls well, it still animates wonderfully, it still plays like the best Crash Bandicoot games do. The level with Coco is a little tricky when it comes to making jumps, but again: temporary levels. Besides, Naughty Dog’s Crash games were never easy.

Sonic 3DEye

It’s not uncommon to play a SAGE “game” that is just an engine test. There’s not really a level, there’s barely even any gameplay, but it’s there just to show a proof-of-concept for something that may exist some day. 3DEye is probably the most aggressive example of this I’ve ever seen. There are no textures, no animations, no objects to interact with, and there definitely isn’t a menu to quit the game with — you have to use ALT+F4 to get out of this thing once you’re in. Fall off the tiny square of island in the screenshot and you’ll plumett forever, given there is no way to reset you back to the starting point. You can control Sonic, I guess, but movement is incredibly poor. There is literally, actually, seriously nothing here.

Dash Cats Demo 3

Every year, Dash Cats feels just a little better. Though this year, it’s definitely more “little.” The included level gets a second half now, and the graphics have definitely been improved, but for three years now I’ve been fighting some version of this boss and two years of watching the preceding cutscene. I’m glad to see the game get improvements, as I’ve always been rooting for Dash Cats since day one, and I still see a cool game in here, but I think it’s time to show something newer.

Sonic Pangoture

Well, here’s a fan game where Sonic joins forces with the Red Pangolin from last year’s Google Doodle for Valentines day. Seems a bit random, but the characters are cute and the game plays surprisingly well. Green Hill Zone Act 1 seems to be lifted pixel-for-pixel from the Genesis game, but Act 2 is an original creation. There’s not tons here you haven’t already seen in a lot of other games, and the Pangolin itself doesn’t seem to have any new or unique moves, but I still found it to be charming nonetheless.

Sonic Z-Treme

In the long list of things I never expected to see at SAGE, actual Sega Saturn software was probably on there somewhere. And yet, here we are, with Sonic Z-treme, a game that once again tries to deliver upon us the long-lost 3D Sonic game. Instead of relying on sprite-based characters, Z-treme flexes its muscle to give us polygonal characters. Combined with the tiny Jade Gully level (lifted directly from the actual Sonic X-treme source game), it actually makes for a pretty functional game… though not a fun one. Perhaps it’s just the Saturn emulator I was using (Mednafen), but Sonic’s control is extremely sluggish. Getting a handle on his acceleration appears to be most of the battle here, and the level’s tendency to spring you into the bottomless pit for touching certain glyphs doesn’t help matters either. But the fact that this works at all (and with a fairly stable framerate!) is worth your attention. The Saturn is no easy beast to tame.

Among the Others

Unlimited Trees always has something interesting to bring to the table, even if I don’t always necessarily understand it. Among the Others appears to be a ROM hack where you play as a can of Pepsi that rolls and floats is way around a Sonic the Hedgehog level. All of the graphics are custom and look quite nice — though I assume many of our readers won’t understand what I mean by this, it has the feeling of an Amiga game, in a way, with weird bulbous sprites and funky robot designs. Not quite sure what that thing is on the title screen, or why you’re playing as a Pepsi can, but that’s part of the fun, I suppose (and probably temporary, given the screenshot on the booth page actually shows Sonic). I just wish I could see how many rings I was holding. Unlimited Trees, if this really is your last fan project, I’m gonna miss seeing you around SAGE.

Sonic: Battle for Station Square

Here’s a weird concept: remaking Spongebob: Battle for Bikini Bottom, but as a classic Sonic game. Unfortunately, Battle for Bikini Bottom wasn’t in my wheelhouse as I figured I was too old for the game when it was released. I only really know that a lot of people have quite a lot of nostalgia for it. As such, I can only really judge Battle for Station Square on its own merits, and… it’s okay, I guess. Controls feel a little complicated, with all of the moves Sonic is given, but it’s not an issue. What is an issue is that I ended up being enticed by the idea of going to Trap Tower from SegaSonic the Hedgehog, stumbled in to a difficult boss fight, tried to quit back to the hub, and now the game crashes whenever I try to load my save. Dialog seemed funny, but my time with this game was unfortunately brief. If you give it a look, just… try not to quit the game once you start it up.

Maybe I’ll get tomorrow’s article up a little earlier? Only one way to find out! Stay tuned!