My first Sonic thing ever was an issue of the Archie comic. Between that and the SatAm cartoon, the American characters were just as “Sonic” to me as Tails or Knuckles, and I had always wanted to see them appear as a major part of the games. Unfortunately, media synergy wasn’t really a thing back in the 90s, so the Freedom Fighters largely remained exclusive to spin-off media.
Fan games have occasionally given me the chance to see how Sonic’s American canon could work in the games. This year’s SAGE has two such examples, both inspired by SatAm. One is a typical Sonic platformer, and the other is a surprisingly well done RPG.
The platformer, Sonic the Hedgehog Transitions, plays like your typical classic Sonic-inspired fan game, but with a SatAm twist. It has the usual physics and level design, complete with ramps, loops and springs. It’s also got a darker color palette, a playable Princess Sally with a blaster, and Sonic will now leave a trail of flames behind him when he runs at top speed, just like in the show. The demo ends with a decent boss fight against Dr. Robotnik’s nephew and lowly henchman, Snively, in an Egg Mobile.
It all plays pretty well, and the bits of SatAm-inspired visual effects are nice. Beyond the SatAm aesthetic, however, it is just a competent, if unremarkable, Sonic fan game. The music is good, though, and the retro remix of the SatAm theme is definitely a highlight.
While Sonic Transitions is just a Sonic platformer with a SatAm coat of paint, Sonic the Hedgehog RPG (not to be confused with the other Sonic RPG, which just released a demo of its 10th episode) is steeped in the look, atmosphere, and character of the show. In fact, it proves that Sonic SatAm is kind of a perfect setting for a retro turn-based RPG.
In the universe of Sonic SatAm, robots aren’t easily destroyed. Instead, Sonic and his friends need to rely on teamwork, stealth and trickery to win the day. Even Sonic’s speed is just a useful tool for the larger mission, rather than the singular thing they rely on. And it’s this that this game gets, and it’s part of how it works so well. In every facet, from its pixel art, to its writing, to how each character’s skills from the show are represented in special abilities and attacks, this is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the cartoon.
The battle system is solid, with Sonic, Sally and Antoine each having a diverse set of special abilities that allow for more strategy then “press attack repeatedly to win.” Sonic’s the powerhouse, while Sally and Antoine mostly specialize in casting status effects on enemies. Sally, for instance, can use Nicole to infect robots, or use a speech to rally her teammates. Antoine can…well, tell a story about his grandfather that’s so boring it can cause robots to miss a turn. Sonic, meanwhile, can spindash enemies for maximum damage, or run around them to confuse them. Well-timed button presses can let characters dodge attacks or inflict more damage, which makes battle less passive then they sometimes can be in these kinds of games.
The overworld features a mixture of stealth and light puzzle segments. Early in the demo, when it’s just Sally and Antoine, stealth is encouraged since any enemies they encounter can be a bit tough without Sonic to help out. The stealth is simple, but works well enough. The light puzzle segments are solved using each character’s special ability, though they currently mostly rely on Sonic’s speed.
Sonic needs to use his speed (which is appropriately difficult to control to avoid using it to cheese certain areas of the game) to hit switches on the floor within a certain amount of time. Antoine can let out a frightened scream in order to draw enemies towards him and into a trap, which serves as an optional way to take out an enemy. Sally currently just uses Nicole to activate certain switches. I do hope future demos give the characters a little more to do. As an RPG, Sonic the Hedgehog is a solid, clever, if not exactly groundbreaking experience. It’s the writing that really makes this game special to me.
This game basically feels like an episode of the show, which is the highest compliment I could give a project like this. Sonic, Sally, Antoine, Robotnik, Snively, everyone feels right. It felt like coming home to a piece of my childhood I’ve been separated from for too long. There’s really not much else I can add to this: the characters and humor are all so on point, I could hear the cast saying the lines in my head as I played.
Backing the superb writing is some really good 16-bit sprite artwork. The graphics accurately convey the look of the show and mesh fairly well with some occasional bits of artwork that I’m pretty sure are taken directly from the cartoon. The retro remixes of the show’s soundtrack are also exceedingly well done. Overall, if I didn’t know better, I would think this game was some unreleased demo from back when the show was still going! Great stuff all around.
If you’re a fan of Sonic SatAm, or just want a taste of what the show was like, you can’t really go wrong with Sonic the Hedgehog RPG. I had a really good time with it, and I eagerly await its next release! Here’s hoping this is one project that manages to make its way to completion, because I really want to see how it adapts other parts of the show, and where it’s going with its own plot.