Sonic Frenzy Adventure is one of those games that started a long long time ago and was never quite finished. Unlike most projects which ended up being canned though, SFA has stuck with it and is here to prove that ambitious fangames can be seen through from beginning to end. The question is though, is it still relevant in today’s fangaming scene, with Sonic Nexus and Retro Sonic ushering us into a new, exciting era of the hobby?
What it does, it does pretty well and in an entertaining fashion. You’re not going to walk away from the latest Frenzy Adventure demo thinking it’s a poor excuse for a fangame. Clearly a lot of detail and attention has gone into this game so far, with a stonking 16 Zones promised plus a Chao raising minigame. The presentation for each Zone is impressive, and BlueFrenzy has thrown some good gimmicks and ideas into each one.
Unfortunately the graphics look rather outdated; the sprites play on the modern Sonic look, and the scenery clearly looks like it belongs in another game rather than a Sonic one. This, again, is simply an artifact of the age of the project, and doesn’t affect gameplay in the slightest. Enemy placement is a small issue, in that badniks are often tiny, blend with the background scenery and are set in sometimes annoying places; just as you’re getting into a running sprint for example.
Playing the game is rather fun and the engine is pretty solid – as well as your standard attacks that you can expect to find in the Mega Drive games, you can build up some sort of ‘Ring Power Up’ bonus. We can only imagine this feature gives your character additional abilities, as we never were told (or figured out) what purpose this had.
While the usual characters have their special trademark moves – Tails can fly, Knuckles can climb and glide – Sonic gets to use shield powers, but you can switch between what specific double-jump power you would like with a simple button press. We managed to experience a homing-attack style speed boost and an additional jump during play, but no doubt there are other special jump powers available to Sonic too.
With no mention of the game’s story whatsoever from BlueFrenzy, there’s nothing really we can talk about regarding the actual premise of Sonic Frenzy Adventure. Jarringly, there are two extra characters thrown into the mix – a Tikal lookalike called Ania and a Darkspines faker called Darkspeed. Both aren’t, I’m afraid to say, terribly imaginitive and it almost makes me wish there wasn’t a story involved at all because we could all probably guess (or write a fanfic about) where it’s headed.
You can have a lot of fun playing as Darkspeed (ignoring the sprite glitch in the demo), but it feels almost wrong in doing so. To offer the ability to play as a fancharacter is laudable enough in this day and age (but more than excuseable given the development cycle of Frenzy Adventure), but to make it more enjoyable to play than Sonic himself is pretty uncomfortable.
Sonic Frenzy Adventure has the potential to be a great Sonic fangame. But without any sort of information about what the game is about, what the different features do in the game or anything (even a readme would have sufficed) it’s hard to get excited about it. It’s one of those games you have to play to appreciate, but you’ll only really enjoy it on the most basic level and won’t give a stuff about all the extra bells and whistles that BlueFrenzy has worked so hard to implement. A shame, as you’d think they’d blow their trumpet about it a little bit.
Besides the lack of information, there is something of an inconsistency in the level design itself – the first Zone is heavily reliant on loops and feels like a hold-right exercise, and the stop-start, up-down-left-down-right nature of mid-game stages feels like a bit of a chore. It’s only when you get to Athlon Empire and Egg Hideout that you start to think “Yeah, this is a Sonic-quality level”.
If the studio can take on board what worked in those two zones and re-think earlier stages a little more with this knowledge, you’d get a much more coherent set of introduction levels that will make players want to continue onto the awesome later Zones. Because there’s a lot to be loved about Frenzy Adventure as well – there are some impressive Zone gimmicks, particularly in Jungle Core Zone and the stage bosses are pretty inspired too.
And as far as these kinds of fangame engines go, it’s pretty damn good and a shining example of how to use game creators to their maximum capability. Fan gaming may be going the way of C++ and professionally coded engines, but Frenzy Adventure proves that you can enjoy playing an amateur Sonic game that’s built the good old fashioned way.