Can you drown in video games? Asking for a friend.
So this is the talk of the town this year, huh? Following a trail of games like BlitzSonic, Sonic World, Green Hill Paradise, and Sonic Utopia, Sonic Islands is 3D Sonic fan game taking place in Green Hill Zone that attempts to rewrite all the rules for how 3D Sonic controls, in the hopes of striking a happy balance between Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic. This time around, it takes a page out of Banjo-Kazooie’s playbook, with a huge sprawling level and myriad abilities to learn and upgrade over the course of exploring its space. Does it work? Kind of, I guess, but like with some of these, I have to wonder how all of this will play out over more than one level. You start out missing some pretty important abilities, like the homing attack, and others over-complicate the control scheme a great deal (do we really need multiple different kinds of drop dash?) It’s a fun one-off thing to mess around in, but if you’re looking for something that solves problems in the long-term, I don’t know if there are answers here.
Sonic 3 – Angel Island Revisited
Here’s a tough nut to crack. This isn’t really a fan game. This is an enhanced version of Sonic 3, but instead of being Sonic 3 assets ported in to a fan game engine, this is apparently just Sonic 3. Its page description says it’s “built on top of” the Steam version of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but that’s just a Sega Genesis ROM File. What this sounds like to me is Angel Island Revisited is sort of like a highly specialized emulator that was designed specifically to only run the Sonic 3 & Knuckles code and nothing else. Because it’s so targeted at just that one game, you get the possibility for enhanced graphics and features like proper widescreen support while being nearly identical with to how the original game functions. I can confirm as much: I noticed bugs and quirks in this engine that are very specific only to Sonic 3 & Knuckles and no other Sonic game. You can even trigger the Hydrocity Act 2 Boss music glitch. The only negative I have here is with the sound quality — given the small file size, I assume this is somehow approximating the Sega Genesis sound hardware, but it does so somewhat poorly. It’s not that sound effects are wrong, it’s that it sounds like there’s some kind of filter placed over all the audio, making everything sound like it’s an old scratchy WAV file. Still, this is a highly interesting project. It’s not quite the Taxman/Stealth remaster everyone was hoping for, but it’s close enough.
Sonic.exe – The Assault – Episode 1
I have a distinct memory of going to the fair. It was me, my Mom, my Aunt and my Uncle, and it may have been the first fair I ever went to. And, of course, as most fairs tend to have, there was a haunted house. Crudely drawn classic monsters were airbrushed on plastic made to look like rotting wood. At seven years old, this was my chance to show everyone what a big strong boy I was. So me and my Mom climb in the cart, and it shudders forward, out of the hot sun of the day and in to the pitch darkness of the attraction. Round the first corner was a stationary mannequin dressed up like Frankenstein, and I flashed my Mom a “get a load of this guy” facial expression, clearly hamming it up. You can’t scare me. Then, it happened. A blast of air, like a gunshot, as the first real monster jumped to life. I don’t remember anything after that except for a guy in a rubber halloween mask at the end of the ride pulling off his costume, assuring a seven year old kid, terrified out of his mind, that it was all just a ride and everything was gonna be okay. When you consider I’ve done nothing but roll my eyes at the “Sonic.exe fad”, how scary can a Sonic.exe Unity game actually be? Well, I’m definitely not seven years old anymore, but it’s enough to send a couple chills up my spine. Even when the game telegraphs its scares a mile away, you still kind of feel it. This is in spite of certain aspects of the game being a little buggy: the mouse cursor is broken, and there’s no way to exit out of reading notes except to bring up the pause menu. Still, though, I did not expect this to be as effective as it was. Well done.
And here we are, with a reborn version of “Bingo the Multiva” — now called Lumiva Legacy. Even though, y’know, it’s still launching from “BtM.exe.” But I kid. This is a game that’s been drifting in the direction of Freedom Planet for a while now, and this year it looks, sounds and controls better than ever. I’m still a little on the fence about Bingo’s eclectic set of abilities, but I can’t deny that I got a handle on things pretty quickly and I was bouncing and flipping my way through robots with ease. That’s maybe also because this demo here is a little on the easy side, with most enemies barely being able to put a dent in your health meter. There’s also the issue of animation; Bingo moves just fine for the most part, but some of his kicks and running animations feel a little stiff. Inching ever closer to being something really fantastic, though.
Sonic On Rush
I honestly didn’t know what to expect, here. Given its title is somewhat similar to Sonic Rush, I expected a game with boost mechanics. What I got was a Sonic fan game with five playable characters, one of whom is an invisible Sonic that cannot jump, and another being Lilac the Dragon from Freedom Planet. None of them can boost, or dash, or anything like that. Lilac seems to have some kind of a dash, but it literally broke the game when I tried to use it. The one and only included level, a version of Sky Sanctuary, can be finished in 20 seconds or less and it just loops forever. This feels less like a game and more like a collection of random stuff the creator imported in to Not So Simple Sonic Worlds.
Battle Cross Fever
From the same developers as Sonic Battle R comes the second year’s showing of Battle Cross Fever, a pseudo-Smash-Bros. Clone featuring characters from all different series — One Piece, Dragon Ball, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, and Gunstar Heroes. Much like Sonic Battle R, this is a multiplayer-focused game, but you don’t even really get the luxury of running around maps by yourself. There’s no Versus-CPU option here, and online play has to be done through a secondary executable called “Parsec.” (The main menu also still claims this build is only five months old, when I definitely remember playing this at least a year ago.) From what I can tell, it plays fine. You get good feedback from hits, the effects are nice, and there’s a sizable roster of characters to choose from. Maybe there’s some kind of crazy imbalance in a character’s stats somewhere, but I’d never be able to tell just from beating up on the absent Player 2. Otherwise, it seems just fine.
Well! Somebody’s certainly very proud of their new found ability to add lots of effects and sparkles to Sonic’s moveset. Limitless is another fan game to use Lake’s Not So Simple Sonic Worlds, this time molding it to play more like Sonic Generations. You get a single engine test/tutorial patterned after Gameland from Sonic Colors, which runs you through the basics of Sonic’s moves — boosting, sliding, wall jumps, homing attacks, the trick system, and so on. It all works about like you’d expect, complete with those fancy effects I mentioned earlier, but it’s also surprisingly difficult. The entire stage is lined with a massive, deep bottomless pit and it’s easier to fall in to it than you’d think, leaving you with a long drop on your way to the bottom of the stage. There’s obviously potential here for a nice game, but it’s kind of missing the game part right now.
Shantae and Asha: Dream Fantasia
The number of fan games featuring Shantae has been steadily on the rise in a way that I think is kind of interesting. Here’s a huge crossover fan game where you can not only play as Shantae, but a large number of other female game heroines, including Popful Mail and Amy Rose. It also helps that it actually seems to play super well — puzzle design seems right at home in a Metroidvania and there’s all kinds of systems for different equipment and stat-altering “bonds” to mess around with. I’m a little concerned that the performance wasn’t great — the game seems to run below 30fps, and combined with the somewhat hefty player physics, it was a little challenging wrapping my head around the controls. Smooth that stuff out, add proper controller support, and I get the feeling this is going to be something very special indeed.
Sonic Adventure SX
By pure coincidence, wouldn’t you know, the very next game I looked at also featured Shantae? I believe Sonic Adventure SX appeared last year, as well, under a different title, and frankly, I found that game almost impossible to play. This year’s revision is significantly improved, but it still has quite a long way to go. Collision detection leaves a lot to be desired, as characters will jitter up slopes. Enemy A.I. is the most basic it can be. It’s not uncommon to find things, including the player character, floating in the sky by a few pixels. And level design, while functional, is completely unmemorable. Whipping tinkerbats and pots is fun and all, but games usually have specific challenges in their levels. Like a certain kind of jump that almost acts like a puzzle you have to solve in order to progress. That kind of stuff is what this game is missing the most, now. But keep improving! You’ll get there!
Another day, another completely passable Sonic fan game. It almost feels unfair to Sonic Regress, in a way, to be at this SAGE in particular. It really cannot be understated how many games are at the show this year compared to previous years. It’s legitimately overwhelming. With so many games, it is understandably hard for Regress to be a stand-out entry. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it, far from it. The worst offense this game commits is that its tile work is a little repetitive — a few more detail objects along walls and floors should spruce things up nicely. Beyond that, this is your standard, average, every day, run-of-the-mill Sonic fan game. When facing down 80+ other games, it is squarely in the middle of the road. It kind of sucks when just being good isn’t good enough, but I suppose the dust from all the other games at SAGE just needs to clear a little bit for it to get noticed.
Space Kahuna is a very simplistic arcade shooter in the vein of something like R-Type, Gradius or Darius, but this time, you’re a hawaiian man surfing through the stars, shooting down alien spaceships and the like. Instead of having pre-programmed waves of ships come after you, everything seems to spawn totally at random. Sometimes you’ll hit a big chunk of power-ups (the stars), but more often you’ll be facing random clusters of enemies that appear with no real rhyme or reason. Everything moves fast enough that I found it difficult to survive the onslaught for very long, which is true to this genre of game. Unfortunately, without individual levels, or even boss fights as far as I could tell, this just being a score attack game does get kind of old quickly. There needs to be more stuff, and maybe more feedback about your current weapons.
Super Universe Brawl
We had quite an influx of Beats of Rage games a year or two ago, so it’s not surprising to see it resurface again this year. My issue is that I find Beats of Rage to be an incredibly simple game that doesn’t leave much room for variance when it comes to mods. It feels less like you’re making your own game and more like you’re just adding content to Beats of Rage. And this game is one big goulash; Sonic is among one of 24 playable characters, spanning Marvel vs. Capcom, the Ninja Turtles, Mega Man Zero, Digimon, Biker Mice from Mars, and even Clayfighter 66 ⅓. Three or four demo areas are included, and from the couple I tried, they appear to just be simple arenas where you fight endless waves of the same enemy type until it kicks you back to the menu. I spent the most time fighting “dinos” that were clearly just Hauzer from Capcom’s Red Earth, until a giant-sized version appeared as a boss, this time just actually named Hauzer. Super Universe Brawl tries to make up for the simplicity of Beats of Rage by kicking the game speed up a notch and swarming you with more enemies than you can reasonably deal with, but it’s just not for me.
Super CLASH Bros.
Not to be confused with last year’s Clash Force, I’m sure. Here is yet another Smash-Bros.-like uber-crossover game, but whereas Cross Battle Fever was more in line with something like, say, a hyper-simplified version of Street Fighter, Clash Bros. takes these characters and just presents them with their raw abilities. So, for example, Mega Man X can only shoot. Mario gets various suits and powers that serve as his attacks. Bowser gets his moves from his boss fight at the end of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s honestly the hardest for me to tell whether or not this works, because it appears to be multiplayer only at this stage — there are no CPU controlled characters. On top of that, my weird controller situation means that I actually control two fighters at the same time from the same controller. But what’s here does seem to be well done, at least.
Right, well, I’m going to come up for air and then tomorrow how’s about we do like… 12 more games? Yeah? That sound good? Stay tuned.