TSS IMPRESSIONS: Balan Wonderworld Demo

I came to Balan Wonderworld with a lot of skepticism. The last time a Yuji Naka game really grabbed me was 2003’s Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, and while PROPE developed a handful of cool novelties, the studio’s most significant work ever was a Wii game smuggled inside a Wii U game case. Now with Square Enix, Yuji Naka has been given “one chance” to make a platforming game for the RPG giant, and we have our first taste in today’s new demo.

And having played it, I struggle to be optimistic. At all. Moreso with each platform I played the demo on.

Screenshots and animation taken from Switch version.

Despite the style and story and world and characters that scream “NiGHTS into Dreams,” Balan Wonderworld is a basic-to-a-fault 3D platformer. The male or female protagonist in a bout of emotional strife find themself entering a magical theater. Your character is greeted by the ever energetic and whimsical Balan, given a bird, and told to find his or her heart in a fantasy world of memory and emotion.

The demo presents four levels and a boss: the whole of Chapter 1, as well as individual levels from Chapters 4 and 6. The levels themselves are presented as dreamlike sky islands themed around someone external to the story who is also experiencing difficulties in their life. Chapter 1 focuses on a farmer whose corn crop is ruined by a freak tornado. Its levels are full of giant corncobs, haybails, pumpkins, and picket fences. The chapter eventually pits you against the farmer himself, tainted by his depression and transformed by a mysterious masked being.

Balan Wonderworld’s controls are reduced to standard analog movement and a single action such as jump or attack. The costumes your character can equip are the game’s main gimmick, each with a special ability that replaces your action.

These special abilities add some variety, but they quickly go from novelty to obligation.  On their own, the protagonist can only jump, but donning the wolf suit turns your jump into a spinning jump that can break blocks or damage enemies. Soon after, you encounter a kangaroo that replaces your jump with a single flutter-jump, akin to the jump in a Yoshi game. You’re never asked to get clever with these costumes; it’s always obvious which you need to use to move forward. Late costumes in the demo include a gear robot that can activate special gear boxes, a bat that can perform Sonic’s homing attack, and a fox that, and I am not joking, will periodically turn you into an invulnerable, uncontrollable box, but when the game decides to, not when the player decides to. The first time I got this costume, I immediately died, as my character became a box whose momentum slowly slid it off the edge of a narrow platform and into the abyss.

That inexplicable box might be the best metaphor for this game. It feels simple, yes, but also sloppy, unrefined, and aimless. As soon as you control your character, you’ll feel an incredible disconnect as their animation shows them sprinting at top speed… as they slowly trod forward at an agonizing pace. No matter what costume you wear, the character’s dismal speed and anemic jump barely change. Enemies appear infrequently, rarely pose a threat, and are dispatched with the most basic head-jump or suit power. Stage design gives some room to explore, but blocky layouts and ledges only give the illusion of scalability and hem you into the places where the game expects you to go. The game sells itself on the themes of expression and choice but doesn’t give the player the tools to accomplish either.

I opted to try the Switch version of the demo first, and was met with muddy textures, no anti-aliasing, and periodic framerate drops. The jaggies are noticeably worse on handheld mode’s 720p screen. I hoped moving to my Xbox One S would resolve this, and some of the lighting does indeed seem slightly better, but the game retains its incredibly cheap and unpolished visuals. Chapter 1’s stage geometry uses an effect that warps the level towards or away from you as if on the inside or outside of a sphere, but the seams where the stage deforms are incredibly noticeable from a distance and may actually be one of the culprits for the jerky framerate. NPCs constantly dancing in unison vanish when you get too close, and props that litter the stage don’t react to your presence or interactions. The whole environment feels static and detached from your character.

The Steam version came with its own complications. Running it on a 2080 at 1080p, anti-aliasing off and graphics set to their lowest, the game struggled to reach above 20 frames per second. The only exception was when I Alt+Tabbed to another window, at which point, the framerate shot up to 60, until I brought the game back into focus.

The back half of the demo shows some promise. It increases the complexity a bit, but the gameplay in this demo fails to grasp the most basic expectations of modern 3D platformers. If it hopes to deliver on a satisfying experience, the game has huge hurdles to overcome.  It’s a $60 game competing with modern benchmarks like Super Mario 3D World, A Hat in Time, and New Super Lucky’s Tale.  Keep an eye on reviews when it launches in March, but if you want to test it out now, you can do so on most major platforms.

Stadium Events for week of Jan. 17 2021

Good day, and welcome all to the inaugural Stadium Events, our upcoming special events, streams, podcasts, and assorted miscellanea.

Are you not on our Discord? You should probably be on our Discord. You can do so here (and don’t forget to read the #rules!).

Did you know Sonic Stadium has a Twitch channel? It does, with content every week! If you can’t watch live, the VODs are archived for two weeks, and later on YouTube (eventually, there’s still a lot of uploadin’ work to be done).

Here’s what you can catch this week:

Sunday Jan 17
7 PM EST / 4 PM PST / (Mon) 12 AM GMT
Almost Every Sonic
GX and guest attempt to play every Sonic game, no matter how obscure!
Lego Dimensions – Main Story Part 3
Saturday Jan 23
7 PM EST / 4 PM PST / (Mon) 12 AM GMT
Sonic Mania on Luna
Shigs tests out Sonic Mania on Amazon’s new streaming platform
Sunday Jan 24
7 PM EST / 4 PM PST / (Mon) 12 AM GMT
Almost Every Sonic
GX and guest attempt to play every Sonic game, no matter how obscure!
Lego Dimensions – Main Story Part 4

Sonic Gets Stackin’ in the First Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 Content Update

For all those loving the chocolate-and-peanut-butter of puzzle games, Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 gets a big content update tomorrow Jan. 14th in Japan (there is no Western confirmation at time of writing), including a bounty of Sonic content.

Continue reading Sonic Gets Stackin’ in the First Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 Content Update

Sonic Movie Nominated in Critics Choice Super Awards

The Critics Choice Association announced their nominees for their first ever Super Awards, which included nominations of Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog for Best Superhero Movie, Jim Carrey and Ben Scwartz for Best Actor in a Superhero Movie, and Jim Carrey for Best Villain in a Movie. The awards will broadcast on The CW networks on January 10, 2021.

Continue reading Sonic Movie Nominated in Critics Choice Super Awards

Sega Sammy Closes Arcade, Sells Majority of Arcade Division, and Retires Employees Amid Financial Troubles

What once was a force in the Japanese arcade industry, Sega Entertainment, the arcade division of Sega Sammy has taken several drastic actions following significant losses. It’s been a whirlwind of unfortunate events, so consider this a summary of what has occurred:

Continue reading Sega Sammy Closes Arcade, Sells Majority of Arcade Division, and Retires Employees Amid Financial Troubles

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SHC 2020: Roundup #2: Technically Cool

While many mods exist for the sake of giving a different gameplay experience, there are others whose only interest is to say “Oh man, look at this insane thing I can make this game do!!” Technical achievement won’t interest player, but it it can be impressive in its own way: making things bigger, faster, stronger, or just proving you can do the unexpected for its own sake. In this roundup, let’s look at some technically impressive or technically noteworthy games.

Sonic Delta 40Mb (AKA Sonic Delta Next)
Submitted by Neto

Why put your file size in the name of your hack? Because this game is big. It’s very big. How big is it? It combines all stages, special stages, and characters from Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles into one massive 37 Zone odyssey. The hack uses bank switching to press itself into a format that Genesis standards can allow, some custom sound drivers, and the Sonic & Knuckles engine by way of Sonic 3’s save system. That save system will prove extremely valuable when you put three hours in, and see you’ve only reached Zone 24. Only reached Zone 24.

Beyond the expected character choices, you can select the co-op team of Knuckles & Tails to trek from Green Hill to Sky Sanctuary. The game claims to have followed the logical progression of the emeralds, letting you collect them in Sonic 1 & 2, but staying true to Knuckles stealing them in 3 (sadly, I can’t confirm since I went for the novel Knuckles & Tails playthrough). In a rather unusual choice, this beta prioritizes alpha and beta versions of Sonic 2 stages and names, and includes Wood Zone, Dust Hill Zone, and Hidden Palace Zone among others. The only place to be wary is the stage select cheat, which caused the game to crash when I attempted to load certain levels, often by trying to put characters on incompatible stages (such as Knuckles in S&K Death Egg Zone), but also when I just tried to select a stage normally.

To myself as a non-developer, the impressive feat is just the scale of it all. This is marathon Sonic, a game to occupy most of a day if you let it. Even if its technical achievements don’t do much for you, having those four landmark games stitched together into a single contiguous experience gives a whole era of gaming a gravitas it doesn’t have when separate. It’s not more than the sum of its parts, only because that sum in itself is already strong.

DOOM in Sonic Mania
Submitted by TheStoneBanana

In the realm of getting DOOM to play on every device and in every context known to man, DOOM in Sonic Mania adds an additional menu choice from the Sonic Mania main menu that… just lets you play DOOM. Yeah. DOOM, the 1993 shooter. In Sonic Mania. With controller support. That’s… kind of it. I don’t want to downplay the personal amusement I get playing DOOM from within Sonic Mania itself, but it does exactly what it says it does, and it seems to do it well. Soon as I made my menu selection, I was running around boxy 3D environments blasting demons in the face with a shotgun.

That said, your results may vary, and not just because it’s a shooter that’s older than Sonic 3. The controls feel pretty good on a gamepad, but the limits of Sonic Mania’s button inputs mean concessions had to be made. There’s no mouse support, you’ll have to toggle between strafing and turning, and changing weapons require button combinations. You’ll also need a legitimate copy of DOOM, such as Ultimate Doom on Steam, so you can snag the WAD and put it in the mod’s root folder. If you don’t, you’ll be restricted to the game’s included freeware WAD which will not support custom WADs. On the other hand, if you do, it’ll load in a nifty bonus WAD that replaces Doom Guy’s sprites with Sonic’s face and cartoony gloved hands.

I was unable to test adding other WADs such as Doom II or Chex Quest, but they do appear to be supported.

Sonic Mania J2ME
Submitted by Iso Kilo

So this one requires a bit of clarification. J2ME, or Java 2 Platform Micro Edition, is a Java platform that a number of phone games run on. No, not games on your iPhone or Android. Old flip phones. The kind that used your number pad as the controller. During the years I owned a an old color screen Nokia, I bought and played a handful of… generally terrible games, including a port of Sonic 1 that could, at best, be described as functional.

Sonic Mania J2ME doesn’t make many modifications from the original, but it does show off what can be done to this specific version of the game, such as sprite and music replacement. Marble Zone has Lava Reef music, and Sprint Yard Zone has a few Studiopolis designs.

I personally like this, and I don’t expect many others to. It’s an effort to poke at a really esoteric version of Sonic and pick it apart. It’s just… it’s going to be weird to play. Keep your expectations low. The sprite replacement in this version isn’t thorough, and the game it’s built off of is… it’s bad. It’s a bad but still playable version of Sonic 1. The midi music is grating and will just stop after a loop or two, and there are no sound effects. Sonic’s sprite rotation will regularly glitch until he’s just running backwards and upside-down while descending small slopes. Many animations are linked to framerate, and to quote the hack’s description, “Limit to 30 FPS for a smooth but tolerable experience. Limit to 15 FPS for correct object and animation speeds.” And none of this is the hack’s doing, that’s just the nature of its source material. If you play this, do so for the proof of concept and accept that it’s doing what it can with the tools it has.

SHC 2020: Mod Roundup #1! Twisted Retro

Look, I’m a weird guy, but weird in specific ways. Sure, I can appreciate wanting to put Amy in Sonic Mania, or wanting to put Shadow in Sonic Mania, or wanting to put Honey the Cat in Sonic Mania. But what I look for in a mod is twisting mechanics in novel ways, challenging me to pick apart what’s going on under the hood, subverting my expectations, making me laugh, or just straight-up surprising me. In this first roundup, here’s a bunch of twisted takes on traditional Sonic!

Continue reading SHC 2020: Mod Roundup #1! Twisted Retro

SHC 2020: Sonic Forces Improvement Mod Adds Chaos and Ditches Limits

Of the many issues Sonic Forces faced, one of the most noteworthy was how Classic Sonic… just didn’t feel right. He felt fine in Generations, but something was different in the shift from one game to the other. If you’re a fan of 16-bit Sonic, with muscle memory built up from hours upon hours of Green Hill, Chemical Plant, and the like, this regression has to be baffling.

Continue reading SHC 2020: Sonic Forces Improvement Mod Adds Chaos and Ditches Limits

Sega 60th Sale Hits Steam (with Free Sonic 2!)

Following the Nintendo and retail sales, Sega’s big 60th anniversary sale has finally hit Steam, including all Steam Sonic titles, the Yakuza series, Total War, Persona 4 Golden, and more! It might be the best opportunity to grab a few games before this year’s Sonic Hacking Contest before it hits full swing the last week of October!

Continue reading Sega 60th Sale Hits Steam (with Free Sonic 2!)

Mysterious Sonic Twitter “3” Might Be Tease or Mistake

Put on your tin-foil hats, and let’s dig into some weirdness tonight.

Yesterday (October 7), the official Sonic Twitter posted this:

Keen eyed observers picked up on a hidden “3” in the third circle of this Fibonacci spiral, sparking speculation that the social media account was trying to tease something, the most prominent theory being a third numbered Sonic Adventure game.

Then, Mike Pollock got in on… whatever is going on by replying with Schoolhouse Rock’s 3 Is a Magic Number.

Later on, a user found what might be the original Shutterstock image of the Fibonacci spiral, including matching number for each associated radius within the spiral.

So now we’re stuck with a series of unusual questions: Was this on purpose, or was it an accident? And if it was on purpose, what does this “3” mean?

It’s not new for the Sonic Twitter to drop weird hidden codes with no clear purpose, but this situation is particularly tricky due to the plausible deniability of it simply being a Photoshop mistake. It seems a bit weird to miss every other number except the three, but it is a scenario that has to be considered.

There have been quite a few rumors of a possible Sonic Adventure 3 (or whatever qualifies as a Sonic Adventure game in 2021). While the three could point to it, it would be somewhat meaningless to start teasing so vaguely unless an announcement was forthcoming. If Sega intends to announce its 2021 game plans this calendar year, priming the audience now makes sense. If we hear neither tease nor announcement by January, the effectiveness of a teaser like this starts getting a bit suspect.

Further, a random three in the context of Sonic can mean any number of things other than a sequel to the Dreamcast series: It could refer to a date, 3 meaning March, or the third day of a month. It could refer to a Sonic-Heroes-esque team structure. It could directly refer to Sonic 3 (&/or Knuckles), a game they don’t re-release often and would make for a pretty special occasion if they did. We know 2021 is supposed to have multiple Sonic game releases, there could be three of them.

So, you can take those tin-foil hats off now, my point in about 400 words is that this was a thing that happened on Twitter, but it’s probably not worth getting riled up yet. There’s too much doubt to assume significant meaning in a single number hidden in a joke tweet.

Source: GoNintendo

Updated: Sonic Mania Plus Launches on Luna, Amazon’s Cloud Gaming Service

Updated 9/25/2020:

Sonic Mania Plus and Wonder Boy: The Dragon Trap are indeed launch games, per Digital Trends and other outlets.

Original news post:

Following in the lineage of Stadia, xCloud, Parsec, and the thing that Sony does that no one remembers, Amazon has pushed its way into the cloud gaming fistfight with Luna, a platform targeting computers, Fire TV, iDevices via browser backdoors, and Android. The service launches today in the US for approved early access users with an early access monthly subscription of $5.99 USD.

Announced titles for the service include Yooka-Laylee, Control, Resident Evil 7, and… possibly Sonic Mania? Promo images show icons for both the 2017 Sonic masterpiece and the Wonder Boy remake. In contrast to the other two, Panzer Dragoon was officially announced.

Details about the service, including international release, remain scarce, but perhaps soon, you will be able to play this modern classic on yet another platform. So if you have permissive data caps and a desire to play Sonic Mania on your phone, your time has come, you hypothetical person, you.

Source: The Verge

Sega’s 60th Anniversary Sale hits Nintendo US eShop

The Genesis Mini and retail discounts may be over, but the deals have spilled out all over the Nintendo eShop for US players! For Sega’s 60th anniversary, they’ve reduced everything and I mean everything  (though actually I mean nearly everything) for the Switch and 3DS, including Atlus titles. The sale runs through Oct. 5, so you’ve got two weeks to fill up on 3D Classics and Shin Megami Tensai games.

Check them out on the eShop here, or see the entire list below:

Sonic games for Switch:

  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – $39.99
  • SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog – $5.99
  • SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – $5.99
  • SEGA Genesis Classics – $14.99
  • Sonic Forces – $9.99
  • Sonic Mania – $9.99
  • Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (Sure, yeah, Sonic’s in that game) – $23.99
  • Team Sonic Racing – $19.99

Sonic games for 3DS:

  • 3D Sonic the Hedgehog – $2.99
  • 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – $2.99
  • Sega 3D Classics Collection – $9.99
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice – $9.99
  • Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal – $9.99
  • Sonic Generations – $9.99
  • Sonic Lost World – $9.99

Other Switch Games:

  • Catherine: Full Body
  • Citizens of Space
  • Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix
  • Puyo Puyo Tetris
  • Puyo Puyo Champions
  • Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder
  • SEGA AGES Alex Kidd in Miracle World
  • SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone
  • SEGA AGES G-LOC Air Battle
  • SEGA AGES Gain Ground
  • SEGA AGES Lighting Force: Quest for the Darkstar
  • SEGA AGES Ichidant-R
  • SEGA AGES Out Run
  • SEGA AGES Phantasy Star
  • SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo
  • SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo 2
  • SEGA AGES Shinobi
  • SEGA AGES Space Harrier
  • SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC
  • SEGA AGES Virtua Racing
  • SEGA AGES Wonder Boy: Monster Land
  • Shining Resonance Refrain
  • SolSeraph
  • Two Point Hospital
  • Valkyria Chronicles
  • Valkyria Chronicles 4

Other 3DS Games:

  • 3D After Burner II
  • 3D Altered Beast
  • 3D Ecco the Dolphin
  • 3D Fantasy Zone
  • 3D Fantasy Zone II
  • 3D Galaxy Force II
  • 3D Gunstar Heroes
  • 3D Out Run
  • 3D Shinobi III: Master of the Ninja Master
  • 3D Space Harrier
  • 3D Streets of Rage
  • 3D Streets of Rage 2
  • 3D Super Hang-On
  • 3D Thunger Blade
  • 7th Dragon III Code: VFD
  • The Alliance Alive
  • Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars
  • Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
  • Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
  • Etrian Odyssey Nexus
  • Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl
  • Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
  • Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX
  • The Legend of Legacy
  • Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
  • Personal Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth
  • Radient Historia: Perfect Chronology
  • Rhythm Thief & The Emperor’s Treasure
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
  • Stella Glow

Source: US Nintendo eShop via Wario64

SAGE 2020: Sonic and the Mayhem Master

I like this game? I think? Okay, this is a weird one. It’s a fascinating one, but it’s a weird one, and I think I love what it wants to be, but perhaps not what it is right now, but also it’s still pretty great, but it’s really difficult, but–

Okay, deep calming breaths. Let’s start over.

I didn’t catch this game at previous SAGE years, but this might be my most anticipated project since a darling demo by the name Freedom Planet. Sonic and the Mayhem Master is barely a fan game. It claims inspiration from the Storybook series (Secret Rings and Black Knight), but it only manifests insomuch as the main characters happen to be blue and pink hedgehogs, and one of them spins into a ball when he jumps.

The duo of Private Detective Amy and her assistant Sonic respond to a job to repair the computer systems of a robotics company, and are thrown into intrigue and danger after uncovering a robot conspiracy. Sonic acts as your avatar in an overworld swapping between top-down and side-scrolling. The writing’s not bad, but I stumbled through a number of typos. So then why does this game have me borderline hyperventilating?

Because eventually an enemy battle kicks in, and it turns out this is some sort of jacked up  Mario & Luigi RPG using mouse and keyboard.

Sonic stands on one side of the battle field, jumping and double-jumping to dodge enemy attacks via the WASD controls. Amy, offscreen, shoots down red projectiles with the mouse crosshair for defense and chip damage. As Sonic dodges enemy fire, bars behind both Sonic and the enemy fill up. When the enemy’s bar fills completely, they overheat, leaving them open to attack. Sonic can then use part or all of his bar to heal, gain a stat boost, or go on the offensive.

While you wait for your opening, the world is constantly throwing obstacles at you. This build doesn’t have a wide variety of enemies, but each have wildly different attack patterns. In one fight, I dodged (and frequently failed to dodge) sparks that spawned behind me, as a robot lightbulb charged massive red blasts. In another, a cannon spewed a steady stream of red bullets, until it fired a glowing bullet that I volleyed back. Boss fights get even crazier, such as a security computer that spews 1s and 0s and demands you solve a pattern to identify which is the right target.

But you don’t have the luxury of learning only one set of patterns. The background itself has hazards, from floors that discharge electricity at regular intervals, to lightning strikes that chase your cursor. It’s a challenge of maintaining focus on multiple parts of the screen and knowing how to react. It’s a big challenge. It’s hard. This is a hard demo. It might be too hard. I’ve seen the Game Over screen quite often. In the whole of my time with it, I failed at git gud, utterly and miserably, and had to debug-skip two bosses just to get far enough to feel comfortable writing this. And even then, I was never able to get past an escape sequence late in the power plant act, just because I was constantly overwhelmed by random encounter enemies. You better be able to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, and do it on command, and do it accurately, or you’re screwed.

The developer’s in-game commentary suggests this was on-purpose, and perhaps not the final balance for an early stage. I sure hope this is true, or that there will eventually be alternate difficulties.

The aesthetics are really striking compared to what you may expect from a fan game. All the art is original from the developer, and it follows no existing Sonic style. There’s webcomic energy here, mashing steampunk with art deco sci-fi, sort of reminiscent of the Nickelodeon cartoon My Life as a Teenage Robot. The sound effects and music lift from Sonic, Professor Layton, and Ace Attorney, among other games. It’s placeholder, but it still points towards a specific tone.

I feel like the highest praise I can give to a fan game is to say it doesn’t have to be a fan game, that with some modifications, it could escape the shackles of a pre-existing IP, and thrive on its own merits. Sonic and the Mayhem Master has a clear path to achieve that. It’s a unique idea with fun, demanding gameplay, and, occasionally, very polished art.

And now that I’ve built it up, let’s let the air out just a bit. Because I love what this game wants to be. I’m just not sold on what it is right at this moment. The developer admits there are bugs and glitches in this version. I personally experienced a number of crashes, a few times when my character spawned above the floor, and one nerve wracking moment where I got off the beaten path, and I was sincerely concerned my playthrough was unsalvageable. Thankfully, I was able to restart the game, re-navigate some old areas, fight a boss again, and get whatever flag got unflagged to work properly. I’m also inclined to criticize certain parts of the script, the fact that you never really get a firm introduction to the main characters, the sparse flavorless overworld, the lack of variety in what attack actions Sonic can take in battle, and the weird way it’s never explained why his attack is just a series of electrical impulse timing challenges. But I’m willing to chalk these up to work-in-progress, and hope they’re refined and expanded upon in the future.

If you’re playing games from SAGE, you’re probably okay with work-in-progress demos, seeing where development is at, and forgiving broken and incomplete projects. For you, I emphatically recommend checking this game out. The outcome of an ambitious fan projects is unpredictable, but there is a hypothetical future where a great game comes out of this. It needs some work, it fluctuates from rough to impressively polished throughout, but I can’t think of a game I want to look back on in five years and say “Man, I remember when I played that game during SAGE, and look at it now!” more than this one.

You can grab the Sonic and the Mayhem Master 2020 demo on its SFGHQ page, or its GameJolt page.

SAGE 2020: Mania Mods Roundup

When Sonic Mania first released, it represented a fresh blast of energy for classic Genesis Sonic. It paid homage as much as it tread new ground. It played into expectations as much as it subverted them. And in the years since, new tools have made it easier for mod developers to recraft color pallets, sprites, music, and stage design. SAGE this year brings a bundle of Mania mods, so grab your Steam copy, download the Mod Manager, and let’s dig into some Mania remade!

Sonic DVD
Mod type: Original Game
Status: Demo – Sonic only, 1 Complete Stage, 1 Incomplete Stage, “Encore” variants on both.

Sonic DVD bills itself as a fan sequel to Sonic CD, and it certainly has the menu style down. This (mostly) single stage demo has the player navigate an underwater stage somewhere between Press Garden and Hydropolis with a gemstone aesthetic and chill music. Throwing the player into an underwater stage as your first and only impression is a risky move, but the game maintains pace through ample use of currents, boats, and the occasional running-on-water. The design motif is firmly aligned with those two zones as well, putting Sonic in cramped tunnels and locked rooms that require finding a button to progress.

It’s a solid Mania-style stage, though it doesn’t scream “Sonic CD” (interpret that as a positive or negative as you see fit). It has the density and diverging paths of a Sonic stage, though it leans heavily on simple puzzles, traps, and doors. The game gives an incredibly small taste, but an ambitious one, with professional-looking reskins of the stage features and badniks. I would have liked to see more to gauge the designers’ knack for variety in level theme and structure. It still has a long way to go, but it’s definitely one worth keeping an eye on.

Chaotix Mania
Mod type: Recreation
Status: All Mania characters, 6 stages and final boss, special stage, pinball stage, and 4 “Encore” variants.

I’ll put this up front: I don’t think Knuckles’ Chaotix is a very good game. It has a neat hook and some fun stage gimmicks, but the aesthetics are gaudy and the level design is uninspired, especially when set against characters that control in such unique ways! Thus, I’m put in the awkward position of saying, yes, it recreates the stages of Knuckles’ Chaotix within the constraints of Sonic Mania, allowing you to beat the stages as a single character instead of a tethered team, but I also question if it was a feat worth accomplishing. I feel gross saying that, I want to judge it based on what it sets out to do, but I feel it’s absolutely necessary to reinforce that the things the developers couldn’t recreate within the constraints of Sonic Mania were the specific things that made Knuckles’ Chaotix cool.

As a sprite conversion, you’ll be able to easily identify which Mania stages became which Chaotix stages. I wanted to verify accuracy of the level layouts, but the liberties they took to translate one stage to the other made it difficult to find 1:1 comparisons. It certainly has the look and sound of Chaotix, including a thoroughly customized HUD. However, it suffers from frequently bland level design and occasional bugs. The appeal here strikes directly at the most dedicated fans of Knuckles’ Chaotix. For everyone outside that target, stick to the 32X original.

Sonic Aspect
Mod Type: Recreation
Status: Demo – Sonic only, 2 stages

Aspect Co. was the studio responsible for a surprising number of 8-bit Sega games, including Sonic 2, Sonic Chaos, and Sonic Triple Trouble. Sonic Aspect aims to bring a selection of classic Aspect-developed Sonic stages to 16-bit, and… man, is it a crowded year for that. The demo reskins Green Hill and Angel Island as the two acts of Great Turquoise from Sonic Triple Trouble. Motobugs have been converted to turtles (without springs), and Crabmeats have taken on a two-tone paint job.

The level graphics are simple and bright to match the spirit of the original, and I adore the blocky, chunky checkerboard pillars that form the stage and dot the background. The remixed music has a peppy energy that fits the level perfectly. But despite this, it’s really hard not to draw direct comparisons to rival remake Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit, a standalone application that feels just as good mechanically, and isn’t constrained by the limits of being a Mania mod. I want to see more of this game. I want to be surprised and impressed by the team’s level interpretations. But this year won’t be the year for that. There’s fun to be had in this demo, but you can’t be blamed if your thoughts stray towards greener hills.

New Genesis Is Phantasy Star Online 2, But It Isn’t

For those of you confused about Phantasy Star Online 2’s upcoming update “New Genesis,” you’re in good company, because it’s connected to PSO2, but also it’s its own thing, but… Okay, you know what, let’s just break it down:

According to the PSO2 official news blog, New Genesis will release in place of a new episode next year and targets bringing the 8-year-old game to fit modern tech and design expectations. It features a new world, new enemies, a new combat system, a more open map (though it’s premature to call it true open world yet), and significant visual upgrades.

The news post refers to the setup as “twin universes,” noting that you can you can swap between playing original PSO2 and New Genesis. New Genesis’ PC requirements will be a step above PSO2, but your created characters and emotes can shift between the two games. Both remain free-to-play and use the same account. Further, your weapons, units, and Mags can move over from PSO2 to New Genesis…with some significant caveats.

You will effectively have to treat the two as separate games, as you can’t bring over most of your items and basic character progression (your level/EXP, skills, arts, etc…). Weapon stats may change, and you may not be able to use certain weapons at all until the required class is put in the game (which may imply some current classes won’t be available at launch of New Genesis). Same with Units, but they will not be visible on your character. Mags will… exist, but they won’t impact your gameplay or character, suggesting they could be cosmetic only.

Much like Final Fantasy 14 and A Realm Reborn, this mid-life drastic shift is a high risk move with potentially high rewards, especially if PSO2 continues to grow outside of Japan. At the moment, only Xbox One and Windows 10 are the confirmed platforms with the statement “If PSO2 is added to new platforms, we plan to make PSO2: NGS available on those platforms as well.”

Xbox Super Saver Sale Spotlights Significant Sonic Savings

Good things come in pairs, and following the Sonic sale on the U.S. Nintendo eShop, Microsoft joins in with intense 50% discounts on ten more Sonic games for multiple Xbox Marketplace regions, most of which aren’t part of the Nintendo sale. As a reminder, all these games are playable on the Xbox One, and will likely be playable on the Series X in the near future.

Prices in USD/GBP respectively.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis) – $2.49/£1.69
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis) – $2.49/£1.69
Sonic CD – $2.49/£1.69
Sonic the Fighters – $2.49/£1.69
Sonic Adventure – $2.49/£1.69
Sonic Adventure 2 – $4.99/£3.37
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I – $4.99/£3.37
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II – $7.49/£4.99
Sonic Unleashed – $7.49/£5.99
Sonic Generations – $9.99/£7.49

Via @videogamedeals and xbox.com

Plush Infinite Demands Your Hugs this August

Infinite fans rejoice! Infinite fans? I mean, you have to exist somewhere, don’t you? Anyhow, if you are a fan of Sonic Force’s helmet-clad antagonist, Great Eastern Entertainment has you covered with a teaser for everyone’s favorite jackal returning in plush form this August.

Per their twitter:

GE Entertainment, also known as GE Animation, is a long standing licensed anime merch manufacturer, and has worked with such licenses as Sanrio, Shonen Jump, and Bandai. The company sports a history of quality Sonic plush, and this diamond dog will join the likes of Super Shadow, regular Shadow, Metal Sonic, and other plush rogues and Rouges. If previous releases serve as an example, Infinite’s price could fall somewhere between $20 and $36 USD depending on size and complexity.

Sonic 1 Beta Footage Found in Sega Promo Video

Authentic Sonic 1 beta footage remains an uncommon find, but in early January, Youtube user wadelyjp posted a Japanese Mega Drive promotional video featuring about six minutes of pre-final build Sonic 1!  Wadelyjp’s account has uploaded a number of 90’s and early 2000’s Japanese promo videos  and ads from Sega, Nintendo, Capcom, Konami, and others.

The video, which Google translates to “SEGA New Game Introduction Video Vol. 7,” immediately reveals itself to be a beta build, showing off several stage gimmicks and differences  previously found in stills and magazine scans that never made it into the final published version.  These differences include but are not limited to:

  • An tethered checkerboard ball that rolls down hills in Green Hill
  • An invincibility monitor on top of the first loop instead of a shield
  • A victory hop replacing Sonic’s rolling jump after spinning the end of level signpost
  • No special stage ring for having 50 rings at the end of an act
  • Sped up music in Green Hill Act 3, including the boss fight and end-of-level scoring (the same music speed you’d get from a power sneakers monitor)
  • UFOs in the sky of Marble Zone
  • No enemies in Star Light Zone
  • An unused spinning spike trap in Spring Yard Zone
  • A  shorter air limit in Labyrinth Zone
  • An unused special stage layout? (There does not appear to be a direct equivalent in the released game)

This isn’t the first found footage of Sonic 1 beta; its predecessors include  footage of Green Hill Act 1 in a build used for the pilot episode of Nick Arcade. However, this version contains two full levels, the game’s first boss fight, and clips from later stages. This unearthed gem shines as another clue in our ever growing view on how Sonic evolved from sketchbook to game.

Thanks to Dave “Badnik Mechanic” Luty on TSS forums for the tip!