Sunday 8 August 2010

SAGE 2010

Have you heard that Sonic Colours theme tune announced not too long ago? Do yourself a favour - conserve your brain cells and don't go hunting for it. You see, the problem with Sonic Team is that despite their name, they can't really make a good Sonic game anymore. My theory is they keep flushing out new experiments as they attempt to appeal to the Japanese (who have never really liked Sega or Sonic), rather than focus on the other, bigger markets that are quite happy with the design choices made back in the early 1990s.

But that's why we have the Sonic Ameteur Games Expo, or "SAGE". People come from all over the world to release Sonic the Hedgehog fangames, many of which like to trump Sega's efforts. Here's a run-down of the stuff Squirrel likes this year.

You get a lot of tat at SAGE (as you do at NCFC) so I'm only going to be discussing the parts I liked. And indeed, things may get a bit unbalanced as some games are longer than others. A big post lies ahead.

Retro Channel

Every SAGE tends to have one game that stands out among the crowd. Last year it was probably Sonic Robo Blast 2, this time it's Sonic Retro's "Retro Channel".

This is essentially a project that brings the Sega Mega Drive online (much like Sega's own Sega Channel service, but miles better). An early beta, this SAGE package contains a hacked version of Sonic 1 and a copy of Gens/GS with a special online plug-in (both of which were also made within the Sonic Retro community), then proceeds to connect the two to the Sonic Retro database. There's leaderboards, achievements and time attack modes, and if you have an account with Sonic Retro you can compete against the community.

It's an extremely impressive feat, though a normal person probably wouldn't stand a chance at beating any of the records. I didn't even know it was possible to do Green Hill Zone Act 2 in six seconds. But the fact that a nineteen year old Mega Drive game can communicate with a database that updates in 2010 has to mean something.

Sonic Genesis

I tend to refrain from using "Genesis" when I can avoid it. Pairing the term with Sonic brings back bad memories of the half-finished Game Boy Advance port. But thankfully, this fangame is completely unrelated.

The physics are a bit off, and Game Maker isn't the nicest of IDEs to use, but this three level demo isn't too shabby. There are lots of things I would personally do differently in terms of graphics, but most screenshots of this game look good. The only real problem I see is the reliance on MIDI music, which although probably won't be in the finished product, is something I'd like to think the world has moved on from in this day and age. Especially when those MIDIs come from the Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D Blast.

It needs a better name but it's still a decent game.

Tails' Nightmare 2

I didn't expect this one to be of any worth, but it turns out it's a fairly nice flash game... and steals its title music from Flashback. It's an interesting little concept, just ruined a bit by poor enemy/object placement leading to cheap deaths. I've never been a fan of Sonic games that get rid of the ring system where once you're hit, you can't re-collect the rings you drop, but it's not a massive problem.

TN2 plays surprisingly well though, and since it's playable online without a download it might be worth checking out. Apparently the author plans to update this game daily until its done. Good luck with that.

Sonic With a Gun

Not so much a fangame as it is a level pack for Jazz Jackrabbit but... well... it's a level pack for Jazz Jackrabbit. I love Jazz Jackrabbit, and this Sonic themed level pack is well overdue considering Jazz stole so much from Sega.

It's more clever than you think. The backgrounds and enemies match the style of Jazz Jackrabbit extremely well, so much so you might even be led to be believe it was made by Epic MegaGames themselves. Nice job!

Sonic Redux

An attempted remake of Sonic 3. I like the ending and the game is far from terrible, but it's a little too fast for my liking (and the camera's a bit jerky). Plus, the screen resolution is awful. I can't say it beats the original game but it has a very good stab at it and I'm sure it'll lead to better things.

Sonic Fusion

One for the Sonic Advance fans. Sonic Fusion has Sonic wade through poorly rendered grass on yet another mission to stop Dr. Robotnik. It's another nice game, though I do prefer the more Mega Drive-esque releases myself. The cutscenes are surprisingly well put together (though the text is a little off) and Knuckles has his own story and levels.

A bit short perhaps, and I don't think it's a wise idea to expect people to have XVID codecs installed but still one to watch out for. Just a shame that few games ever get "finished".

There'll be more released at SAGE over the next coming days, so I guess you can stay tuned for PART 2. I bet you can't contain the excitement.

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