SHC 2020: Pantufa the Cat Spins & Twirls His Way Through a Surprisingly Original ROM Hack

If I wasn’t playing Pantufa during something called “Sonic Hacking Contest,” it being a hack would have never crossed my mind. A homage, or a Freedom Planet-esque Sonic-like? Sure! But a ROM hack? Heck no! That should speak to the kind of experience Pantufa has in store for you: certainly something with lots of Sonic elements, but a surprisingly original experience in its own right.

How original? Well, for starters, Pantufa simply feels different from a classic Sonic character. He is a bit heavier, a bit slower, and when he jumps, there’s a moment before the character curls into a ball that leaves him vulnerable to enemies. Said enemies don’t provide the kind of bounce you’d expect from a Sonic game when you jump on them. Pantufa also has a slight double jump, which is effective for getting a little bit of additional height or maneuverability, without feeling overpowering or negating some of the more difficult platforming design. The physics feel like they come out of a Sonic game, but the way the character interacts with them changes things enough that it often feels like a very different game. These differences extend to how health and power-ups work, too.

Instead of rings, Pantufa has three hit points, and while the game does still have shields, these shields are now stackable.  The game does have a few other power-ups that work as expected, including speed shoes and invincibility. These power ups can still be found in item monitors, but they can also be found in breakable Super Mario Bros-esque bricks and item blocks in the first stage, because why not? I’ve played plenty of Sonic hacks that introduce new characters and moves, but I don’t think I’ve ever played one that practically built a new game. Yet somehow, Pantufa manages that.

The level design can also feel pretty different from a classic Sonic game, particularly the opening level. This build of Pantufa has three levels, and they each show off fairly different kinds of level design. The first level, Pipes of Green, is expansive and explorative, and while it’s certainly possible to just run from the beginning to the end, you’ll be missing a lot if you do. Here, the standard way to move through the stage is to take a path through an underground area at the midway point, before emerging back on the surface, where you need to hit a green switch to activate some platforms to progress to the end. 

However, if you explore the level a bit and pay attention to your surroundings, you’ll find that there is a little more to it. For one, there’s an entire path that lets you bypass the underground area, that you can only reach by activating some invisible blocks (by jumping into them, Super Mario Bros style). If you miss these blocks and run through the underground area, you’ll still be able to reach this path by backtracking after hitting the green switch and jumping onto a newly activated green platform that takes you up to this area. If you backtrack through the upper path as well, you’ll reach more green platforms, which can now take you to some hidden shield power-ups. Is all this exploration and backtracking necessary? Not really. But it’s fun, and it’s something the game is actually designed to accommodate, unlike the any of Sonic’s 16-bit titles.

On the much more linear side of things is the demo’s second stage, Mount Fade, which is a simple linear platforming level. It’s fun to run through, with lots of places that utilize the classic Sonic rolling mechanics, and it also has a great visual style. It takes place on a snowy mountain and tries hard to evoke a wintery feeling, with pine trees, snowmen, and gigantic candles that go out as you pass them. It’s an impressive use of the Genesis’s limited color palette to create some gorgeous spritework.

The final stage, Shandon Hill, is easily the most “Sonic-like” of the three stages. It’s speedy, has loads of places where the character can actually cut loose and run, and there’s even a momentum gimmick: flexible palm trees that can send the Pantufa soaring through the air at high speeds. These trees offer a great way gain enough momentum to speed through the stage’s more complex, curvy geometry, allowing Pantufa to speed up walls and on ceilings. Much like the first level, Shandon Hill is somewhat expansive, but has a much greater focus on speed and momentum then platforming, and it’s not hard to beat it in less than a minute. The way the palm trees can toss Pantufa around really open up the stage, though, and there are upper paths you can only reach by hitting them in the right pattern. Much like Mount Fade, Shandon Hill also looks great. The level has a gorgeous neon color palette that kind of evokes the 80s neon aesthetic.

On top of the demos for this hack, Pantufa the Cat: Extended Edition also contains the entirety of the character’s previous 2011 ROM hack, called “Classic Mode” on the main menu. There is also an additional hack that utilizes much of that game’s assets, called Classic DX. While neither of these hacks are as polished or as nice looking as the new one, and feel a bit more like Sonic 1 hacks, they are still worth playing in their own right.

So Pantufa the Cat: Extended Edition by VAdePEGA is a definite recommendation from me. Check it out on the Sonic Hacking Contest website, here!

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