There are two types of SAGE games I love: experimental fan games, and fan games that are so good they feel like professional products. When I go into a fan game, particularly an incomplete one, I never expect a polished or thoroughly well-designed experience. So any game that provides those things immediately gets my attention. Today’s game from ph33rtehgd and their team, Emerald Ties, definitely has my attention.
Emerald Ties simply has all the trappings of a great classic Sonic game. The level design is multi-tiered, providing a variety of paths to take through a stage. There are lots of fun platforming gimmicks and level set pieces, like a collapsing level, a badnik that needs to be destroyed and used as a platform, and tiny ice platforms that require precise, quick platforming to be navigated before they fall. The game constantly shifts between speedy bits and areas that require more platforming skill, providing a nice, consistent balance between the two. On the whole, it is exactly what it sets out to be: a really well designed set of classic Sonic levels.
The game features two bosses, Eggman and Fang. Eggman is an effective first level boss, but Fang is definitely a solid fight, and probably one of the best Sonic character boss battles I’ve played, period. The character is constantly shooting, teleporting, and littering the battlefield with landmines, and players have to be constantly on their toes to avoid everything.
Although Emerald Ties is not a Sonic game that seeks to reinvent the wheel, it does polish that wheel until it sparkles, and it tweaks it with some fun little additions. It adds a new “wind shield” which lets Sonic hover left or right for a few moments, which adds a neat little twist to platforming. It also combines both the insta-shield and the drop-dash by delaying the initiation of Sonic’s drop dash by a second. This is an interesting way to enable both moves, and it certainly didn’t interfere with my ability to use the drop dash.
The visuals and music are both top notch. The pixel art for the backgrounds is gorgeous (Fuming Foundry is a personal favorite), and the music from Polar Peak is still stuck in my head even as I write this. The game’s whole presentation is polished and feels professional, which makes its status as a fan game all the more impressive.
Obviously, Emerald Ties is still incomplete. It lacks cutscenes and the team still has more levels to make. In spite of that, I really only have one issue. The game is definitely a little too easy, with player errors far more likely to result in simply falling to a lower path or losing some rings than losing a life. I almost got through the entire demo without dying once, until Fang put an end to that streak. Still, I prefer “a little too easy” to making things far too difficult, and I’m hopeful that future levels will be a little more challenging.
In short: download this. Play it. Enjoy it. It’s a superb classic Sonic experience. I eagerly await the next demo.