Ian Flynn’s First Sonic Comic Turns 15 Today

This year is a year of anniversaries for Sonic in more ways then one, because not only is the franchise itself turning 30, but Ian Flynn’s first published Sonic work, Archie Sonic #160, turns 15. This means that Flynn has now been writing comics for roughly half of the franchise’s entire lifespan, and the time between his first comic, and his next IDW story arc starting later this year, is roughly the same amount of time as between Sonic 1 and Sonic 2006. Yes, that makes folks like myself who remember when they picked up #160 feel rather old!

Since his debut, Ian Flynn has written well over 200 Sonic comics across five ongoing series, alongside a selection of mini-series and one-shots, as well as a couple of Sonic Boom episodes. This gives him the largest body of work of any Sonic writer.

Flynn had been applying for years to the Sonic comic before he was finally brought on. Both he and artist Tracy Yardley! were given a chance to work on the comic by then-editor of the book, Mike Pellerito. Yardley debuted a bit earlier than Flynn in Sonic X #5. Their first story, “See Ya Later Chao,” was written and drawn in 2005, though wouldn’t make it into the book until years later. Though initially not brought on in that capacity, Ian Flynn soon became the head writer of the Archie Sonic book, writing the bulk of the stories from his debut issue on.

Flynn and Yardley!’s debut story, “Birthday Bash,” was a two-part storyline that turned “Evil Sonic” into Scourge the Hedgehog, briefly brought back old school Archie badniks Octobot and Crocbot as a strange fused monstrosity, and also introduced fan favorites Bean the Duck and Bark the Polar Bear as money-grubbing mercs for hire. This duo’s opening chapter would be the first of many, as Yardley became a fairly consistent presence in the Archie books for years. Both Flynn and Yardley would hone their craft over time, introducing bigger and better stories with better art.

On a more personal note, 160 was my big jumping-back-on point for the comics, after dropping them twice in the past. I never dropped them again after this. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Flynn and Yardley significantly redefined how the comics looked and read for the rest of their run. As someone who loved their work, and thought they only got better with time, I was quite content with that.

What are your experiences with Ian Flynn and Tracy Yardley!’s work? Did you pick up #160? Have you ever read that or any other part of Flynn’s Archie run? Let us know in the comments!

I’ve got at least one article in the work about Ian Flynn’s Archie run, in commemoration of this anniversary, so stay tuned for that!

Unfortunately, it does not appear that issue #160 has been reprinted in any capacity, but other Flynn stories from #162 onward were reprinted in the Sonic Sagas collection, which can still be found on Amazon.

Special Note: Tracy Yardley!’s pen name ends with an exclamation point. I thought it fitting to include it here.

Fukushima Disaster 10 Years On: Adventurers Explore Abandoned SEGA Games Hall

It has been 10 years sine the devestating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, causing massive loss of life. The folowing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Diachii power plant still has lasting repurcussions, affecting a huge number of lives of those living in and around the Prefecture. A large area around the wrecked power plant – known as the exclusion zone – is still deemed too radioactive to safely live in.

The Youtube channel, Exploring the Beaten Path, spent time in the Fukushima exclusion zone back in 2019, investigating those places that stand frozen in time since 2011. As part of their exploration, a pair of daring explorers has ventured into the ruins of a SEGA Games Hall (with it’s SEGASonic logo still intact on the building) to get a glimpse into life so suddenly brought to a halt a decade ago.

You can check out the video below:

On this sombre anniversary, the thoughts of everyone at TSS are with those who were and still are affected by this disaster.

Article image from @LostHedgie on Twitter.

5 Things the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Movie Needs (And 3 Things It Doesn’t)

So, the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is about a year old now. Like many, I was absolutely surprised to see that it wasn’t a train wreck. I actually rather enjoyed it! With a sequel on the horizon, there are many things I’d like to see, as well as a few things I hope I don’t.

Continue reading 5 Things the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Movie Needs (And 3 Things It Doesn’t)

The Spin: Roger Craig Smith Was Sonic’s Best Game Voice Actor, and Will Be Missed

I was at E3 2010 when I heard the news that Roger Craig Smith would be taking over as Sonic’s voice actor. As I sat in a corner of the convention center and hurriedly typed out an article about it for Sonic Stadium, I was only feeling one thing: excitement. This, on top of playing Sonic Colors – easily the most promising Sonic game I had experienced in years – really made it feel like SEGA was working hard to revitalize the character. 

Continue reading The Spin: Roger Craig Smith Was Sonic’s Best Game Voice Actor, and Will Be Missed

Sonic Prime: An Opportunity To Unite A Multiverse of Fans

Sonic Prime, the latest Sonic the Hedgehog animation due for release on Netflix in 2022, will descend from a long dynasty of animations that reach all the way back from 1993’s slapstick Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, through to the modern charm of Sonic Mania Adventures. Each show has cultivated its own personality, and legion of Sonic the Hedgehog fanatics to boot. Similarly, there are now a multitude of genre-crossing Sonic the Hedgehog video game titles, that you’d be hard pushed to not find something for everyone in the Sonic the Hedgehog universe.

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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.

Fan Stories: Meet The Guy That Made His Own Sonic Pinball Machine

Can you believe that Sonic the Hedgehog, a game series whose design has often been compared to the physics of pinball, has never had a ball-flipping table to call its very own? Not even SEGA, who once dabbled in producing licensed pinball machines, thought to build a table for its very own Casino Night-visiting mascot. This is a matter that Ryan McQuaid, avid Sonic fan and pinball restoration wizard, hopes to rectify with his award-nominated homebrew project, ‘Sonic Spinball’.

Continue reading Fan Stories: Meet The Guy That Made His Own Sonic Pinball Machine

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

Community Spotlight: Animator Flawlessly Recreates Sonic Movie Scene in Style of Old Sonic Cartoon

Ever wonder what it would be like if, instead of being live action, Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog was just an extended episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog? No? Well too bad, animator and Youtuber FlippinDingDong clearly did, and the result is great:

Not only is the animation spot on, to the point that I briefly thought this was just a dub of a scene from the show, but the voice acting is also a superb imitation of Long John Baldry’s performance. Got to love how he rolls those Rs!

YouTube isn’t exactly the friendliest place for animators these days, so be sure to head over there to give this video a comment and a like to help it with the algorithm! Definitely deserves it in my opinion.

TSS Review: Puyo Puyo Tetris 2

What happens when you combine the eternal classic Tetris with SEGA’s adorably funny Puyo Puyo? Well, you get Puyo Puyo Tetris, a multiplayer puzzle game that was so successful that it warranted a full-on sequel!

While Sonic the Hedgehog is our main focus, we occasionally like to take a dive into SEGA and Sonic Team’s other offerings, and we’ve found something special in this mash-up series!

Continue reading TSS Review: Puyo Puyo Tetris 2

SEGA 60 Kicks Off Week of Content With Wallpapers, Avatars,

SEGA’s 60th anniversary website is having a weeklong celebration of Sonic this week, and they’re starting things off with some Sonic avatars and wallpapers. The wallpapers utilize the 30th anniversary render released earlier this year, while the avatars use Sonic Mania stock art. To download them, you can either sign up over 60th anniversary website (which nets you a free copy of NiGHTS for Steam), or check them out below:

Continue reading SEGA 60 Kicks Off Week of Content With Wallpapers, Avatars,

Xbox Series X/S Launches Today – These Are The Sonic Games You Can Play Right Now

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, we don’t mean Christmas – pfft! – but instead Next-Gen Console Day! This month sees the launch of two new platforms in the Xbox and PlayStation family of gaming systems, and we couldn’t be more excited about both. Today, Microsoft formally releases the Xbox Series X and S, and with backwards compatibility a major factor we decided to dig into the archives and check which Sonic the Hedgehog titles you can play from Day One.

Continue reading Xbox Series X/S Launches Today – These Are The Sonic Games You Can Play Right Now

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: 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!

20 Years of TSS: The Biggest Sonic Stories of the Last Two Decades

What’s that? You want Sonic the Hedgehog news, sonny? Well, it just so happens that we’ve got a whole LIBRARY’S worth of news stories and features covering the last twenty years! We could tell you when Archie Sonic #117 hit comic store shelves… or we could tell you something interesting instead. How about the biggest Sonic stories to hit the internet since The Sonic Stadium opened its doors in 2000?

Continue reading 20 Years of TSS: The Biggest Sonic Stories of the Last Two Decades

20 Years of TSS: Twelve Ways We Were More Than Just a Website

It’s true that for the last two decades, we’ve been on top of the latest and greatest Sonic the Hedgehog news. But I wanted The Sonic Stadium to be more than just an information resource. My goal has been to create meaningful contributions to expand and enrich the online Sonic community. Which is why you might remember Sonic Stadium just as much for its list of wacky projects as you might for news and opinion.

Continue reading 20 Years of TSS: Twelve Ways We Were More Than Just a Website

20 Years of TSS: A Short History of The Sonic Stadium

Two decades is a long time for most people. For Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s probably an absolute eternity, actually. On 24th October in the year 2000, I launched the very first iteration of The Sonic Stadium. I was fifteen years old, a year away from my high school finals and the worst of what we called the ‘World Wide Web’ was still only being foreseen by the late and great David Bowie. It truly was a different time.

Continue reading 20 Years of TSS: A Short History of The Sonic Stadium

Sonic Stadium’s 20th Anniversary! Special Features, Discord, Twitch Channel and More!

Twenty years. That’s how long this humble little Sonic the Hedgehog fan site has been kicking around for. The Sonic Stadium launched on 24 October 2000 and hasn’t taken a break (server crashes aside) ever since, making it possibly the oldest, longest-running Sonic site still active to this day. Over the next couple weeks, we will be celebrating our anniversary in style with special Twitch and Discord channel launches, special features and more!

Continue reading Sonic Stadium’s 20th Anniversary! Special Features, Discord, Twitch Channel and More!

TSS SAGE 2020 Roundtable: Some Other Games We Played

As we wrap up our coverage of this year’s SAGE, we’ve still barely scratched the surface of everything available. So as a send off, we’ve decided to do a round-up of all the other games we played that, for one reason or another, couldn’t get their own articles. Check out what other games caught our attention below!

Continue reading TSS SAGE 2020 Roundtable: Some Other Games We Played

SAGE 2020: Sonic Speed Course is a Twist on a SNES Classic

There’s certainly no shortage of creative ideas among the fanbase, but a game concept I bet nobody ever saw coming was a cross-over between Sonic the Hedgehog and a lesser known Kirby game for the Super Nintendo! Enter: Sonic Speed Course.

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Sonic Speed Course is a Twist on a SNES Classic

SAGE 2020: Sonic Galactic is a Showstopper!

2D Sonic fangames seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but that doesn’t mean the quality of these projects are suffering. Au contraire, with each and every expo, there’s bound to be a handful to impress the masses. One of this years showstoppers is Sonic Galactic, and if we didn’t know any better, we’d think it was a comprehensive Sonic Mania overhaul.

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Sonic Galactic is a Showstopper!

SAGE 2020: Sonic 2 SMS Remake Goes Above and Beyond

One of the biggest delights I’ve had playing a Sonic fangame this year was based off a game I admittedly never liked much. Sonic 2 (8-bit), and most of Sonic’s Game Gear/Master System lineup, never struck the same chord with me that the Genesis trilogy did. Controls were never as tight, graphics never as pretty, sound never as catchy, and level design never as interesting. Just about all of that can understandably be chalked up to hardware limitations. But what happens when those shackles are removed, and over 20 years of hindsight from a zealous fanbase can be put into practice?

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Sonic 2 SMS Remake Goes Above and Beyond

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.

SAGE 2020: Sonic GT Brings a New Twist to 3D Sonic

I’ve been playing Sonic fan games since the early 2000s, occasionally loading them up on my PC whenever something looked interesting. I’ve had loads of fun with these games, but while the scene has been producing impressive 2D games for decades, 3D fan games have typically been rougher, less complete experiences. That is until now: Sonic GT, developed by NotSoGreedy, is the most fun and impressive 3D Sonic fan game I have ever played, if not one of the best fan games, period. What’s more, this isn’t a demo, but a complete, finished project!

The core to that fun is how Sonic GT handles movement and level design. While official 3D Sonic games are typically about moving through fairly linear levels and getting the highest scores and lowest times possible, Sonic GT is all about having you move through massive 3D worlds and letting you find your own way. In Sonic GT, there is no ideal path, just worlds full of springs, rails, enemies, ramps and slopes.

No single area has just one path through it.

You can be running across a bridge one moment, then leaping over to a nearby rail the next. You can hit a slope with enough momentum to send yourself flying high enough to reach a new area you weren’t even planning on going to seconds before. You can botch a jump, and instead of falling to your death you’ll find yourself in a less convenient area instead. Sonic GT is all about those moment-to-moment decisions, and letting you constantly find new ways to move through a stage, sometimes by choice, and sometimes by accident.

Sonic GT accomplishes this by borrowing mechanics from a variety of different Sonic games. The momentum-centric platforming and expansive level design is drawn from the classic games, but almost everything else feels more like a fusion of Adventure and Boost era mechanics. While the game doesn’t include an option to boost, characters still feels very zippy, with a fast running speed, a homing attack with a massive range, and a targeting reticule. The game even borrows the surface gripping mechanics from Unleashed, allowing characters to grab onto sheer walls and jump off them. With enough speed, the characters will even run along these walls instead, similar to the parkour from Lost World.

You can do tricks too.

The lack of boost not only accommodates the momentum mechanics, but also gives moves that haven’t been relevant since the Adventure era like the light speed dash, spin dash and bounce attack a chance to shine. Certain moves are recontextualized by the game’s mechanics as well. The stomp move from the boost games now allows for more precise platforming. If you’re feeling adventurous, the bounce attack can be used for that same purpose, while also allowing your character’s momentum to be maintained.

In addition to the standard moves, GT also has four different characters, including Sonic and Mighty (I’ll avoid spoiling the rest) who each feel distinct. They each have unique moves and their own top speed, acceleration, jump height, and ways of interacting with the physics. All of these moves make the levels of GT an absolute joy to run through, and those runs are almost never the same because of the sheer amount of paths, moves, and distinct characters at your disposal.

Sonic’s got his drop dash and a unique homing attack

That said, the gameplay does have its issues. The game’s motobug badniks can be a bit of a pain to deal with, as they’ll sometimes come speeding out of nowhere and blindside you. The expansive range of the homing attack can also mean exactly what its targets can be a tad unpredictable at times. The expansiveness of the levels led to me accidentally backtracking a couple times and it is really easy to miss check points. I found being conscious of these things does a lot to mitigate them, but they can make the experience feel a bit rough and unfair at times, though they are small blemishes in what is an otherwise ridiculously fun experience.

GT’s greatest flaw is its bosses. The game has three bosses, and two of them can be pretty frustrating. For one, they each take a LOT of hits (about 12 each) which can be difficult to deliver. The first one needs to be run down, which can be an absolute thrill…until one mistake allows it to get so far ahead that it can’t be hit again. This frustrated me at first, until I realized I could run in the opposite direction and catch it from behind, but that made the whole fight feel a bit sloppy.

These little buggers have a way of sneaking up on you.

The second boss, a robotic bird in an arena surrounded by spikes, was a lot more unforgiving. It gives you one chance to reliably hit it every minute or so, after it spends some time launching electric mines at you, then attempts to blast you into the spikes with a wind attack. Only then can you deliver a homing attack…two if you’re lucky. It’s possible to land additional hits by bouncing off the mines right after it fires them off, but this is not only very unreliable, it’s also very easy to home into the mines just before they activate, hurting you instead. On top of that, the wind attack isn’t telegraphed, so it constantly took me off-guard, leading to many deaths that just felt cheap. It took me over an hour to finally beat the damn thing.

Thankfully, Sonic GT’s developers have already confirmed that a patch addressing the bird boss is in the works, and could be out in a few days. Regardless of how the other bosses are tweaked, however, GT’s final boss is still very fun to fight. So the game does at least have a solid finale!

This damn bird was a pain in my rear.

It’ll take just a couple of hours to see that ending, but the game doesn’t stop there. Like any good Sonic game, GT has replay value. You can play through the story a second time as Mighty the Armadillo, and there is a time attack mode and a mission mode. Mission mode has you playing through each level as one of the game’s four characters while accomplishing a particular goal. GT’s a ridiculously fun and feature rich experience with some frustrating issues, and these qualities extend into the game’s production values too.

The visuals, which were part of what attracted me to this game to begin with, are pretty damn impressive. Sunset Boulevard and Hilltop Zone are especially gorgeous, featuring colorful, atmospheric environments that feel like they were ripped right out of the Sonic universe. The game’s frame rate can be a bit rough at times, no matter what I set the graphical settings to, but I found myself forgetting the issue was even there after awhile.

The soundtrack is pretty diverse and understated. You won’t find any loud Crush40-inspired cheese rock here, but if you dig the level soundtracks of games like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors, you should like what GT has to offer.

It’s with the story that GT stumbles. That this game has a story at all is impressive, and I appreciate the game going in a lighthearted direction rather then trying to do something dark and edgy. The plot is pretty simple: Eggman wants Mighty’s “shell,” and kidnaps one of his friends to lure him in. With most Sonic plot lines typically dealing with apocalyptic or world-shattering scenarios, it’s nice seeing the characters dealing with a basic, hair-brained Eggman plot instead.

The CG portraits for the story scenes are also incredibly well-done, looking practically indistinguishable from what you’d get from SEGA itself. This game goes above and beyond what we typically get from fan games. Yet…the writing itself is mediocre, and the voice acting isn’t that great either. I obviously never actually expected a fan game to have professional-level writing and voice acting, but I know I would be doing the game a disservice if I didn’t set player expectations accordingly. Cutscenes cannot be skipped at all, or sped through on first playthrough either, so you will be experiencing all of it.

Like I said at the start of this massive preview, I’ve been playing Sonic fan games for nearly two decades, starting around 2002/2003, during the great Sonic console game drought between SA2 and Heroes. At the time, I was so hungry for new Sonic experiences that I turned to SFGHQ and started downloading my first fan games. Now, in 2020, we are in the midst of another Sonic drought, and I find myself again turning to fan games, and…Sonic GT has done a damn good job quenching my thirst. If you’ve been desperate for a new 3D Sonic game, download and play this. Despite some rough edges, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sonic GT can be downloaded here or here.

SAGE 2020: Eggman And The Hard-Boiled Heavies Await You In Sonic Mania Boss Rush+

Do you like Sonic Mania’s various bosses? Then you will probably like this SAGE 2020 mod. One boss after another will show up to defeat Sonic once in for all. This time, we’re taking a look at Sonic Mania Boss Rush+.

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Eggman And The Hard-Boiled Heavies Await You In Sonic Mania Boss Rush+

SAGE 2020: Search For Treasure In Knuckles’ Emerald Hunt Mania

Next up in our SAGE 2020 coverage is another Sonic Mania mod, but with gameplay that will remind you of the old Sonic Adventure days. Knuckles is back to look for emeralds in Knuckles’ Emerald Hunt Mania.

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Search For Treasure In Knuckles’ Emerald Hunt Mania

SAGE 2020: Sonic Pinball Panic Imagines What A Real Sonic Pinball Table Would Look Like

SAGE 2020 is here, so it is time to shine the spotlight on some of the games featured this year. There’s a lot of them, so we won’t be able to cover all of them, but we’ll do as many as we possibly can. First up is Sonic Pinball Panic.

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Sonic Pinball Panic Imagines What A Real Sonic Pinball Table Would Look Like

SAGE 2020: Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit is Looking to be a Quality Remake of a Portable 8-bit Classic

Out of all of Sonic’s 90s offerings, Sonic Triple Trouble is probably the most under-appreciated. Featuring some of the best levels, bosses, and music outside of the series’ core offerings, Triple Trouble is the apex of Sonic’s 8-bit entries. It built on the unique quirks of those games, while also coming the closest out of all of them to matching Sonic’s 16-bit releases. This makes it all the more frustrating that the game hasn’t seen an accessible re-release since it hit the 3DS eShop 8 years ago. Hopefully, this will be corrected soon, but until then, we’re set to get something much better: Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit.

Continue reading SAGE 2020: Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit is Looking to be a Quality Remake of a Portable 8-bit Classic