Hey… do you see that? It’s the light at the end of the tunnel! We’re almost there, folks!
You know what I hate? Unity’s controller manager. Setting your controller buttons is basically impossible in that thing, especially with the way indie developers use it. Cosmic Eternity here has seven axis inputs labeled “Horizontal.” I only have two analog sticks. Set them up incorrectly, and you can’t control Sonic. At all. But how do you set them up CORRECTLY? I have two inputs labeled “Horizontal (+)” meaning that should be pushing the analog stick to the right. But I also have two inputs just called “Horizontal” with no indicator if it’s + or -. Cosmic Eternity also tells me which buttons are A, B, L1 and L2, but then has buttons for “Super Sonic” and “Boost”. Are those the X and Y buttons? Why wouldn’t you label them X and Y? And then, lord have mercy on your soul if you bind anything incorrectly, because Unity doesn’t give you the option to reset the button mappings to their original state. If you break them, you have to go in to the Windows registry to fix them. It is, bar none, one of the most infuriating things about Unity and I have to deal with it constantly because apparently nobody on planet earth makes this process simple or logical for anyone who isn’t using an Xbox 360 controller. So, I figured, fine. I dug out my dusty old Xbox 360 controller, the same one I’ve had since 2010, with the loose analog sticks. Finally, that lets me control Sonic… but the right stick doesn’t move the camera. Unplugging all controllers and just using the keyboard results in the same problem: no camera control. Okay, okay, fine, after consulting on Twitter about the issue, after 45 minutes of fighting with multiple controllers and Unity configs and even the Windows registry, I get the game working properly. And… outside of the pretty visuals, every single part of this needs work. Sonic’s movement is jittery, there are blind ramps concealing important objects, it’ll fling you in to bottomless pits without a moment’s notice, and oh my gosh the bugs will give Sonic 2006 a run for its money. it’s a disaster. I wish I could be more polite, but I can’t. It’s just a disaster.
Super Mario Kart in Sonic Mania
The state of Sonic Mania modding is getting very interesting, very quickly. This mod ports over seven courses from Super Mario Kart on the SNES to work with Sonic Mania. Worry not, if you thought you’d have to find a place with a special stage ring — this even boots in to its own custom menu, stylized after the real Super Mario Kart, where you pick from the six stages. And, well, there’s not really much else to say. You chase the UFO around Mario Kart courses. It does what it says on the tin. The only thing I’d note in all of this is that as UFO chase levels, these are actually a lot harder than you’d think. It’s not that the creator even made rings or blue spheres scarce, either, it’s just that Mario Kart courses are naturally smaller than most of Sonic Mania special stages, with a lot more and tighter turns, so that equals a greater challenge. It’s kind of just the nature of things, really.
Sonic Mania and Sonic Plus
While we’re doing Sonic Mania mods, might as well get… this… “thing” out of the way. Much like the Knuckles & Knuckles mod that released around the launch of the original Sonic Mania, Sonic Mania and Sonic goes through and replaces most of the graphics and music with things that make them look or sound like Sonic. How enjoyable it is largely depends on your tolerance for memes and how much you hate yourself. Now, to be fair, some of the changes can be pretty clever. But a lot of them are simply “make this thing blue or red and maybe stretch Sonic’s face over it.” And should you run across something that hasn’t been changed at all, well… love it or hate it, that feels like the mod isn’t doing its job. Incidentally, this mod is over 150mb larger than it needs to be, given it also contains a complete backup of the soundtrack to “Sonic Mania Repainted,” another meme-focused mod that replaces large swathes of graphics with whatever is popular with the kids right now (including the things you wish weren’t). That’s on top of having a lot of other (presumably) redundant versions of songs that don’t get used. Would I recommend it? It depends. Are you over the age of 19? If so, then probably not.
Sonic Metal Adventure
Here’s a fan game with a very solid sense of visual identity… and not an especially solid sense of level design. Deciding I’d played a lot of games as Sonic, I decided to take up Metal Adventure’s offer to let me play as Metal Sonic, wherein I was then dumped in to Emerald Coast. It looked pretty good! And Metal was using the code for Sonic Worlds Delta’s version of Shadow the Hedgehog, which I myself helped code, so now it was my chance to see this stuff in action! I made my way up a vertical shaft, but missed a jump and fell back to the start of the level… where I got stuck for four minutes until I gave up. Emerald Coast was built with the homing attack in mind, and the problem was, I’d used the homing attack to clear out all the enemies. With no more enemies, getting back up to where I’d fallen from was nearly impossible. So, I reset the game, picked Sonic, and picked a level from Sonic’s level select menu (something Metal did not get). After about 20 seconds of riding various grind rails in to a pyramid, in the middle of gameplay, it suddenly froze and then faded to a “Thanks for playing!” screen. Maybe Cosmic Eternity just put me in a bad mood, but that’s all I could take.
Rocket Brown 2
By all accounts this should be a game that I wouldn’t really like. It uses the base Clickteam Fusion platform movement, its graphics are somewhat crude, it mixes pixel density, so on and so forth. But games can also be greater than the sum of their parts. Rocket Brown 2 uses its simplicity to its advantage, creating a game that’s actually kind of charming. It won’t win any awards for technical excellence or originality, but nowhere is it written that those are required to have a fun video game. Rocket Brown 2 makes do with what it has and I had a bit of fun with it as a result. You can’t ask for much more than that, really.
Sonic Liquid Survival
In all the years of playing and reviewing games at SAGE, I’ve seen some pretty weird names for games. “Liquid Survival” definitely ranks as one of the weirder ones. The game itself ranks as some of the weirder ones too, I guess. This is another HedgePhysics/Bumper Engine joint, which means it plays well enough, but the entire game has been sculpted out of Unity’s terrain tool. It works, I guess, but it makes for a pretty ugly game, especially about the time you hit the second level — a very dreary area with huge lakes of green slime and giant killer Flicky birds. On the plus side, the two included boss fights are surprisingly fun, making good use of the 3D space and forcing the player to use Sonic’s homing attack. Not bad, all told.
Especially with the large volume of games at SAGE this year, I tend to download the entire show in one big batch indiscriminately — I don’t pay attention to screenshots, videos, page descriptions, nothing. Generally, over the course of the show, as I work my way through things to review them, I hear whispers about what’s cool and what’s not so cool. I’ve heard nothing of this game, and with a title like “Cosmic Boll” I don’t know what I expected. What I got was yet another indie game secretly running Sonic Worlds under the hood, but this time you play as… well, I assume he’s called “Boll” — a little yellow dude that could probably pass for an emoji if he tried. I get all sorts of flavors from this game, particularly the work of developers like Treasure on games like Gunstar Heroes, and obviously HAL’s Kirby series. I also get an unshakable feeling of Rainbow Bell Adventure on the SNES, for some reason. Either way, what separates Boll apart from the other Sonic Worlds indie games is its combat system. Boll is quite the melee fighter, and it’s easy to juggle enemies in a way that feels immensely satisfying once you get your head around the timings. It’s a tough little game, too — maybe too tough, given there’s no checkpoints or even any lives. If you die, even just once, it’s game over. Start the whole thing over. I also take issue with the game’s power-up system, where you get a limited number of special attacks you can do every time you pick up an item. If you take damage, not only do you lose health, not only do you drop your combo, but it subtracts one usage from your power-up. At that point it stops being a question of difficulty and becomes a system that actively prevents players from having fun. Maybe lighten up just a little? I’d really like to play more of this, but not if it’s going to be so massively unfair.
Hyper’s Quest 2
Here’s another game that requires you to use enemies as stepping stones to get out of a pit, and if you mess up and fall back in to the pit after you’ve already destroyed the enemies, you get stuck down there permanently and have to quit and restart. In this case, I was like, at least three levels in to this demo when it happened. I also kind of question what’s up with this demo — a lot of the tiles look like placeholders, as no matter where I am, sometimes it reverts to very basic grid patterns. Is that a thing? Or does it just mean that part of the game is unfinished? If so, there are a lot of parts of a lot of levels in this that are unfinished. Including the part I got stuck on.
Sometimes I feel like I’m a little too harsh on the less interesting Sonic fan games. The thing is, nowadays, with the advent of so many Sonic engines out there, every game has the baseline potential to at least be playable. And sure enough, most are. It’s rare to find a truly bad game at SAGE these days, but it sucks for a writer, because the really good games and the really bad ones are the easiest to write about. Games that are middle-of-the-road aren’t. Technically, that’s what Sonic Alpha is, but at the same time, I have to commend this game for aiming at its target and nailing it almost dead on. Sonic Alpha is very close to feeling like a real Sonic Team product. Not for ambition, or creativity (at least, not in this demo), but for little stuff, like having nice menus, for having a version of Angel Island that almost rivals Sonic Mania Plus, and for being the kind of game where sometimes you forget this is running in Sonic Worlds. I could have done without the long credits sequence congratulating me for finishing one level, though.
Sonic Battle Of Chaos MUGEN The Final Battle
I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen a MUGEN game show up at SAGE, and now I remember why I never really look forward to these: MUGEN attracts a very specific kind of fighting game fan who loves a good challenge. What this means is that while Sonic Final Chaos Battle MUGEN Battle of Sonic has an arcade mode with a CPU to fight, it’s really not very fun at all. On my first round, I faced one of at least seven different versions of Eggman, which triggered a boss fight similar to the Genesis games… except it was completely impossible to deal enough damage to defeat Eggman before time ran out. All of my punches just didn’t deal enough damage before Eggman flew off screen again to start his next attack run. Trying again, it pitted me instead against Super Silver, who proceeded to teleport randomly around the fighting arena and block all my punches. Once again, the only recourse was to let the timer run down. These were my first opponents in both cases. I decided I’d seen enough. I’m sure it’s better in multiplayer.
Sonic and the Mayhem Master
This game has a lot of really cool artwork and could end up a pretty interesting and unique take on Sonic the Hedgehog… but it’s also bordering the same thing I said about Freedom Planet way back when it still starred “Lilac the Hedgehog” — why does this have to be connected to Sonic? I don’t mind it, far from it. I love what I’m seeing here, with the cool artwork and the simple RPG mechanics, even if it’s super early and basic. But it’s so, so, so far from the norm for pretty much this entire franchise that the Sonic connection starts to feel tangential. At the same time, seeing how these characters have been reborn is also part of the fun — a meek and nerdy Sonic the Hedgehog, a brash, literally cigar-chomping Amy Rose, and so on. It’s not always easy to know where to draw the line, I guess, and parts of this game are still most definitely in flux, it seems (the game boots up with a completely different name, for example). Regardless, I want to see more.
Sonic Adventure Revolution
For our final entry today, we get yet another Beats of Rage game. This one is less of a hodge-podge than the last one, but it still sources sprites from many different sources, not all of which seem to work together in harmony. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles come from Sonic Battle, whereas Sally Acorn and Bunnie Rabbot are way better animated than all the other characters and clearly come from somewhere else. Antoine D’Coolette is stylized like a Classic Sonic character. Team Chaotix has significantly less animation than everyone else. And so on. But the most frustrating part is that this game brings platforming to the Beats of Rage engine — it’s not enough to simply run around and beat up on robots, now you have to also avoid bottomless pits. When you’re being swarmed by upwards of 4-8 robots, where even a single hit can knock you back several feet, it’s unsurprising just how easy it is to get bounced into a pit and lose a life. That’s on top of having the same mashy combat every Beats of Rage game has.
I can’t wait until I can stop playing video games so I can get back to playing some video games.