TSS @ SHC 2021: Sonic Forces Re-Imagined

It seems like any Sonic Forces mods seeking to improve the base game’s content had hit on two solutions: increase level length, and up the fan service. If today’s entry proves anything, it’s that this is definitely a winning formula. Sonic Forces Re-imagined, a mod by Brandonj, significantly alters Arsenal Pyramid and Sunset Heights. 

My biggest issue with Sonic Forces has always been rooted in the length of individual levels. Levels often felt like they ended just as they were getting going, which kept them from leaving much of an impression. Because the levels are so short, the levels themselves often didn’t have time to mix up or add variety to their design, or to iterate on game play ideas. Reimagined fixes this by doubling the length of these levels, giving them more room to breath, and they’ve never felt better!

Arsenal Pyramid significantly expands on the area outside of the pyramid itself. There are way more opportunities to mix and match Sonic and the avatar’s abilities to both move through the stage and deal with enemies. Quickly figuring out whether to use Sonic or the avatar’s abilities in certain situations felt great, and the way the level used both Sonic and the avatar to provide multiple paths and traversal options lends some nice depth to the stage that was missing before. 

Sunset Heights got an even cooler makeover. While the start of the stage is largely unaltered, a whole additional portion has been added at the place where it typically ended. What follows is a series of side-stepping chase sequences as airborne Badniks try to bomb you. Then, you get to face Infinite’s Shadow apparition, as he pops up in several parts of the stage and tries to do damage to you. Finally, there’s an awesome and challenging rail grinding sequence, before the stage finally ends. Not only is Sunset Heights more satisfying to blast through now, but it also gives us the showdown with fake Shadow that the original game failed to deliver on. 

This mod does currently have a few issues, unfortunately. The altered levels appear to be poorly optimized, resulting in a lot of frame rate issues on higher settings, something I don’t usually see on my PC. Arsenal Pyramid has a few spots in boost areas where I can accidentally get caught on geography or miss springs, though this is an issue can be avoided by remaining towards the center of the path while boosting. The gear platforms inside the pyramid itself also seem to be slow to move to allow progression.

These minor issues aside, Sonic Forces Re-imagined is pretty great. These level alterations are quite natural, and make them feel far more complete. I didn’t finish these levels wanting something longer or more substantive. I’m happy to see Sonic Forces becoming more popular in the modding scene, and I’m excited to see where this project (and Overclocked, which I wrote about earlier in the week) go. Superb work!

You can download the mod here. Go to the Sonic Hacking Contest website for information on how to install the mod.

TSS @ SHC 2021: Sonic the Hedgehog Blastless DX

I’m relatively new to the world of PC Sonic hacks. As I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, I never had much inclination to check out PC-only Sonic hacks until I decided to help cover last year’s Sonic Hacking Contest. Sonic ROM hacks are a different story, however. I’ve been exploring those for nearly a decade now, on my actual SEGA Genesis, through my Mega Everdrive or SEGA CD, as I’ve always loved the novelty of seeing these games running on my actual, ancient gaming hardware. I’ve played some true technical marvels over the years, but I don’t think any have impressed me quite as much as Vladikcomper’s Sonic the Hedgehog Blastless DX. An improved version of an April Fools hack released earlier this year, Blastless DX is a technological showcase with a fun premise: Sonic 1 has “lost” its blast processing, and the player needs to restore it.

Before getting into the game, I’ll explain exactly what “blast processing” is, in case you don’t know. It was a fancy marketing term SEGA of America used to highlight the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive’s CPU speed, which was faster than the Super Nintendo, making speedy games like Sonic easier to make on the machine (SNES devs did eventually figure out how to get around this limitation, but it did plague early games like Gradius 3). Faster CPU aside, however, blast processing was little more than a marketing buzzword, and a key part of this game’s joke.

So, what does Sonic 1 look like without “blast processing”? An 8-bit demake, apparently. The central goal of the hack is to restore “blast processing” by filling up a blast processing bar in the bottom right of the screen, and keep it from emptying until the end of the level. Doing this successfully will “restore” an act, and essentially replaces the chaos emeralds, which can’t be gathered here. The bar can be filled up by gathering rings, destroying enemies, and smashing breakable walls. The bar is emptied whenever damage is taken, downgrading the game’s visuals to less powerful hardware. It’s here where this hack truly shines.

In addition to the 8-bit Master System visuals, there are two lower rungs of visual fidelity, which are reached after taking damage. Getting hit in Master System mode will downgrade visuals to “Atari.” Not the Atari 2600/VCS you’re probably familiar with, but an Atari 8-bit computer (at least, I think, because I know VCS games never looked this good.) Get hit in Atari mode, and visuals are downgraded further, to the colorless, green scale Game Boy. If these visual changes weren’t enough, each graphics mode also has its own music track and sound effects.

These changes are instantaneous, which makes it all the more wild that this actually works on real hardware. I’m used to the more impressive hacks requiring PC emulators, and so the fact that this is all being done with a stock SEGA Genesis absolutely astounds me. And what’s even wilder? This is actually fun to play. It’s more than just a gimmick. It changes how I play the game, and it’s fun. 

Because chaos emeralds are no longer in play and I have incentive to seek out enemies and breakable objects, I actively seek that stuff out in the level. The blast processing bar is constantly draining, so I’m incentivized to both try to get through a level quickly, and also clear that level out as thoroughly as possible. Taking damage also carries different penalties, since it can result in multiple visual downgrades, which makes filling the blast processing bar before the end more difficult.

And the visual modes themselves look and sound really cool. The 8-bit mode looks like an 8-bit demake of Sonic 1 that’s graphically taxing the hardware, with accurate looking sprite art and loads of sprite flicker for moving background objects. The accompanying music tracks sound like genuine downgrades, but are also kind of catchy in their own ways. The Atari mode is probably the least impressive of the graphical modes to me, though that might be because I’m not very familiar with how those games looked and sounded, but it at least looks noticeably different and less advanced visually. Game Boy mode is thoroughly impressive, bringing Sonic 1 down to something that does kind of look like something from the platform, albeit without much in the way of music.

Perhaps my only real issue with all this is that these modes do include some graphical issues that may or may not be intentional. The sprite flicker might be a little much, and I do wonder if that’s just the Genesis buckling under everything it’s being asked to do. In Game Boy mode, there are brief moments where Sonic himself will disappear. And with every downgrade, in-game text becomes more and more indecipherable. I didn’t find these issues to affect playability much, but if things like sprite flicker bothers you, this hack might not be for you.

A screen from the hidden DOS graphics mode.

On my Tuesday SHC stream, someone in chat told me Vlad is a magician when it comes to coding for the Genesis. It’s kind of impossible for me to disagree on that front. I don’t know how he did it, whether he really managed to get it to switch between multiple kinds of graphics, or if he employed some sort of visual distorter or filter. But regardless of whatever tricks he used, I find them truly impressive, and Blastless DX is easily one of my favorite retro hacks to come out of Sonic Hacking Contest 2021. Check it out!

TSS & SHC 2021: Shivery Mountainside

You know what Sonic Generations had a severe lack of? Proper DLC levels. Thankfully, it’s a Sonic game, so the fan base has provided with loads of mods over the years. Shivery Mountainside by Goalringmod27 is among the latest of these, and I’ve got to say: it’s a fun, fascinating experience…if you’re looking for a challenge that can at times be a little unfair, but also do things regular Generations levels never did.

Shivery Mountainside starts in a cozy log cabin, which acts as a small hub area where players can buy upgrades and lives before setting off on their run down the mountain. It’s here that you’ll notice the start of a trend: the hub is in full 3D. The whole mod is in 3D, in fact. This alone does a lot to set this level apart from Sonic’s official boosting stages.

The demo starts out with a brief, exciting snowboarding section. After Sonic bursts out of his cabin on a snowboard, the player must then boost through hordes of enemies while navigating the mountain’s snowy slopes. There are two paths to take here, as well as some rings for more skilled players to jump through, to get them to grinding paths on top of some cabins. It’s not long before Sonic reaches the town at the foot of the mountain, where he ditches the snowboard and starts running on foot. And it’s here where the fun, and brief bouts of frustration, begin.

Shivery Mountainside’s level design is tailored around the idea of encouraging new and unorthodox utilization of Generations’ physics. Sometimes, to cross a pit, you need to hit the boost button at exactly the right moment to send yourself flying into a set of rings to your next platform. On other occasions, you’ll need to interrupt your momentum with a stomp in order to reach a ring or boost pad. This sort of thinking isn’t always necessary, and sometimes its possible to clear a gap through some other means, like attacking enemies.

It’s pretty cool playing a level like this in Generations, but I must admit it can also lead to…frustrations. One inherent issue in this sort of design is that the level can just be really difficult. When those mid-air boosts become required to survive a pit, messing up their timing results in instant death. 3D platforming was also never Generations’ strong suit, as it can be a bit slippery, so having to navigate a level full of areas like this will inevitably result in a lot of falling into pits. It took me hours of trial and error to fully figure these areas out, and I still mess them up on occasion. This is not the Sonic Generations you’re used to: it does not allow for much margin of error.

All that said, while the level can be quite challenging, that challenge is, for the most part, quite fair, and makes mastering this level exhilarating. It is only when you reach the ice caverns that the design becomes a little…mean. After navigating a series of narrow ice platforms, you reach a cavern full of red ice. While gorgeous, I found this area very hard to navigate effectively. The lower water path, which was the first one I took, was very confusing to navigate. Even with the big arrows made out of golden rings, I simply found the area unnavigable because, between the red ice pillars and the water, there was no clear path through to an exit. So I simply died repeatedly. I eventually managed to make my way through the area by taking one of its other, optional paths above the water. I did eventually beat the area on the lower path, but I’m still not entirely sure how I did it.

Right after this is the second worse area of the level: a curved ice path, with no guardrails, over a bottomless pit, that leads directly to a wall-running section with bombs that are impossible to dodge, at least with my human reflexes. I eventually managed to get past this part by slow walking on the path, and then activating a new power up introduced in this mod, “time break.” This slows down time, which allowed me to avoid the bombs, and finally beat the cavern section of the level. While these areas are quite beatable, especially after some trial and error, I do hope they are redesigned somewhat. Nothing breaks a Sonic level’s flow more effectively than having to worry about getting confused by the level itself, or having to slow walk on a path to avoid falling off. I do think this goes a little beyond the sort of challenge one should expect from a Sonic boost level.

All of these criticisms aside, Shivery Mountainside truly is a standout Generations mod. Its got great visuals and a superb music track that’s still stuck in my head. It’s only six minutes long, but I’ve already spent hours on it, trying to perfect all the tricks and find all the shortcuts. Even in my latest playthrough, which I did while I was writing this, I managed to reach some extra lives by boosting through rings that I hadn’t been able to get through before. If you’re hungry for a new Sonic boost level, check this out!

You can download the mod here. For instructions on how to implement hacks, check out Sonic Hacking Contest’s website here.

TSS @ SHC 2021: Sonic Forces Overclocked

It’s Sonic Hacking Contest time again, and you all should know what that means: hands-on articles for a bunch of mods from lots of awesome fans!

SHC 2021 has a lot of entries worth checking out, but Duck Dealer’s Sonic Forces Overclocked demo, “Freight Frenzy,” is definitely one of the most ambitious. Acting as both a remix of the original game’s levels, and a sequel to its storyline, this mod features original voice work, still-frame hand-drawn cutscenes, a remixed music track (composed by Landy & Tabebo and featuring vocals by Cisconic) and a newly designed level based on Sonic Force’s “Spaceport” stage. 

The production values are pretty solid, especially for a fan work. The voice acting is good, the hand-drawn cutscenes tell this demo’s little story effectively, and the remixed track is just as catchy as anything from the original game. On the whole, it’s really impressive work, and not at all the sort of thing I’d expect out of SHC. But as impressive as all this stuff is, it’s the new level that sits at the heart of this mod.

While I never hated Sonic Forces, its level design could certainly be overly simplistic and lacking in any true set pieces. This is something Freight Frenzy aims to fix and it mostly succeeds. This level is meaty, with a length of about five to six minutes, which is perfect for a Sonic stage. It features several areas and obstacles meant for specific wisps, like drill and hover, which provide some nice traversal options.

The mod also employs a neat gimmick: dodging Dr. Eggman’s many freight trains. These were wasted in the original Forces, but here they provide a very nice level gimmick On the whole, this level has a superb flow, and is more engaging than any of the avatar stages from the original game. That said, there are some problems.

This demo features its own omochao. Attack it, and it’ll remind you it has a chainsaw for an arm.

One of the freight train obstacles doesn’t telegraph things well. Players have to leap off rails three times in a row to avoid oncoming trains, and there is literally no time to react before the trains hit and kill you. I had to memorize which direction to dodge, and I just started pressing the button to leap over to another rail before the next train even came into view. Anything else simply resulted in getting hit. The final train obstacle can also result in a cheap death, because if you don’t successfully dodge all the trains and hit the speed boosts at the end, a train you have no idea is coming will run you down from behind.

Memorization is critical to Sonic game play. These games are built to accommodate that, with their forgiving health systems and checkpoints. But these bits of SFO don’t really feel fair, even by Sonic standards. Players need to be given more lead time during the first segment I mentioned. I’d also just prefer if the final segment where the train comes at you from behind was simply automated, instead of dependent on hitting speed boosts that are a little too easy to miss.

Finally, the segment where players need to sidestep on top of several trains is just sort of broken. Side-stepping is sticky and slow here for some reason. Hopefully, Duck Dealer will be able to sort out whatever the issue is here, though some memorization does get you passed it.

I think once SFO fixes these issues, it won’t just be a fun hack, but a prime example of what Sonic Force’s avatar stages should’ve been: meaty stages with lots of wisp-centric traversal options and Sonic Generations-quality gimmicks. As it stands, it’s still a very fun, impressive mod, and more than worth checking out for anyone who owns Sonic Forces.

Overdrive is an ongoing project, and the mod promises more is coming in the future. I can’t wait!

Check out the Sonic Hacking Contest website for the mod, as well as instructions on how to implement it, here. You can find the mod here.

TSS Review: Sonic Colours Ultimate

It’s crazy to think that one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog games has been sat in console purgatory for over ten years, locked to (and in way, limited by) Nintendo’s Wii hardware. As a result, Sonic Colours has been in a strange sphere of existence in the eyes of Sonic fans; a game that many haven’t played, most definitely want to play but at the same time is seen as some sort of aberration in the series – most likely because of its graphical performance compared to competing consoles PS3 and Xbox 360 at the time.

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SAGE 2021 Hands-On with Pico Sonic

I remember the days of bootleg NES cartridges with ROM hacks that would bring Sonic to the NES with usually poor results. Titles like “Sonic 6” would take an existing Mario or other platform game and drop a Sonic sprite into it and maybe change a few enemies. They were always a pale imitation of the Genesis classics. Pico-Sonic goes below even NES limitations and still manages to feel authentic to the Genesis Sonic era.

“Pico Sonic” by Komehara is everything a demake should be. It lowers the pixel count, coloring, and sound bites to an underpowered 8-bit engine, but still keeps the core of the 16-bit original intact. It’s a one-level demo of Angel Island Act-1 done on the Pico-8, a fictional mid-80s game console with specs that fall between an NES and an Atari 7800.

Even with those limitations, Komehara pulls off an amazing little port. Sonic’s animations are all there along with his cool spring bounce pose from Sonic CD. The physics are intact as well, and Sonic’s roll, spindash, and overall sense of gravity are done perfectly. While this level is inspired by Angel Island, there are some limitations that slightly hinder the experience. The rocks don’t break apart when you hit them and there are no real enemies to be found. Instead, your main goal is to find all seven chaos emeralds scattered throughout the level. This gives you a major incentive to explore. If you don’t get all of the emeralds before finishing the level, it asks you to try again, basically giving you the bad ending.

While I would have liked to have seen some enemies in the level, Pico Sonic is a surprisingly charming fan game that shows that Sonic can still work as a game even on very low-powered hardware (or in this case, emulated low-powered hardware.) I’m hoping to see Pico Sonic return to SAGE next year with some more updates.

SAGE 2021: Hands-on With Sonic the Hedgehog Classic 2, a Fan Game a Decade in the Making

It’s always awesome to see a long-time Sonic fan project reach its conclusion, and this year’s SAGE has brought us the completed release of a great one: Hez’s Sonic the Hedgehog Classic 2. Having been in development for more then a decade, Classic 2’s road to completion has been a long one. As a Sonic fan hungry for more classic content, it’s come at just the right time for me.

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SAGE 2021: Sonic Riders X Hands-On

It always fascinate me which aspects of Sonic’s game library engender nostalgia in fans. I got to say: I did not expect the Sonic Riders series to be one! This year’s SAGE plays host to not one, but two Sonic Riders projects, and I decided to take a look at one of them. I enjoyed the original and its weird, creative mechanics back in the day, though I didn’t love it (and I was never great at it). So while I’m familiar with it, I’m hardly an expert at its mechanics, so please keep that in mind!

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SAGE 2021 Hands-On With Sonic Rush 3D

Sonic Rush has always been my favorite portable (non-Switch) Sonic game, so to hear there was a demo of it done in full 3D interested me greatly. After playing the demo, I will say it resembles Sonic Unleashed as much as it does Sonic Rush. It’s also a fun ride that needs a bit of work.

Project directors ChickenWingJohnny, EnderElectrics, and Temzy have done an impressive job taking Sonic Rush’s low-poly 3D graphics into a fully 3-D environment. It includes the same boost and trick system as the DS original, but with a modern touch taken from Sonic Unleashed levels like Windmill Isle and Jungle Joyride. The level environment in the game is a mix of those two levels and Water Palace from Sonic Rush. This felt appropriate, as the background of Water Palace has always reminded me of Apotos/Windmill Isle.


In fact, in the opening cutscene, it’s Apotos that Sonic tells Tails he’s dropping into as in this version, Water Palace and Apotos are connected! This cutscene also perfectly encapsulate what I love about this game’s visual style: it replicates the low poly models and low res textures of the DS original. I love it when newer games combine retro 3D visuals with modern HD resolutions. It helps give it a sharpness while still having a dated look. As you jump into the level, a nice mix of “Back to Back” by Hideki Naganuma and “Windmill Isle Act 1” by Tomoya Ohtani plays as you run down, hit your first bumper, and attack some badniks in mid-air.

This moment is where the first problem lies: Sonic Rush 3D has very poor homing attack implementation. When attacking badniks or pawn bots, Sonic’s targeting reticle has to be on-screen. If he hits an enemy and pops up into the air, the robot in front will often be just out of view, and when you tap “A” again, Sonic will pass right over the enemy if the timing is just slightly off. It’s partially due to Sonic’s wonky physics in this game. At times, he controls well, at other times, you can boost off a ramp and fly through the air, missing where you’re supposed to land. You can also easily run onto walls and pathways you’re not meant to go to. This could lead to some shortcuts for speedruns, but also lead to drops and deaths that are entirely not your fault.

Despite them standing right in front of you, you can easily miss them.

The same cannot be said for Sonic’s drifting controls, which are perfect. When playing Unleashed or Generations, I always felt Sonic’s drifting had him sliding too far. In this game, you have perfect control of the blue blur when drifting into corners. I was impressed with how well it worked. The boost works decently as well, resembling its visuals from the DS game.

However, moments where the boost is actually needed are few and far in between. You can go through most of the game at a fairly decent clip without boosting at all. There are a few exceptions, like a rush of water you have to outrun and a lower path near the end where you need to slide under then boost again to avoid drowning. There’s also a hallway of pawn bots you can plow through with it. If you want to add some flash to your playthrough, you can press the “Y” button repeatedly after being launched off a ramp or spring. This lets you do the same trick maneuvers as the DS original, and even ends the same way, with a flicky flourish animation. That’s a nice visual touch!

Easter Egg?

While it’s definitely rough around the edges in its current state, Sonic Rush 3D is pretty fun. I can’t wait to see Sonic Rush 3D come back next year with more updates, along with some fixes to its physics. It feels like an Unleased de-make as much as a Sonic Rush remake. I think “Sonic Rush Unleashed” might be a better name for this project. Now, they just need to add Blaze the Cat into the mix.

You can find the SAGE demo of Sonic Rush 3D on the official SAGE 2021 website.

SAGE 2021: Hands-On With Sonic Red Ridge

Fan games have been at the forefront of Sonic game design experimentation for a long time, and among the most interesting concepts fan have been pursuing is the idea of combining large, open levels with lots of paths with a momentum-based movement system. Games like Sonic Utopia and Sonic GT have made stellar use of the concept, and Tigersonalex’s Sonic Red Ridge has now joined their ranks as another excellent example of the idea, albeit with its own twists that make it feel quite different.

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SAGE 2021: Hands-On with Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit

Yesterday we were given the exciting opportunity to reveal an exclusive first look at one of Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit’s new levels, and now that we’ve gotten our hands on the demo for SAGE 2021 this year, we’re more hyped than ever! The sheer love put into this game is absolutely astonishing, and it’s evident in the attention to detail in this great fangame.

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TSS Previews: Sonic Colours Ultimate Feels More Right Than Ever Before

Ah, Sonic Colours. How we’ve missed you. When it arrived on Nintendo Wii in 2010, it offered a real breath of fresh air for the Sonic franchise; we were turning a corner from all the doom and gloom of previous games and were heading straight for a vibrant, punchy new platformer with environments, enemies, music and gimmicks that felt much closer to the spirit of the original Mega Drive titles than any 3D Sonic game that came before it.

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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.

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!

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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: 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!

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.

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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: 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.

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TSS Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

There was once a time where the idea of two bitter industry rivals sharing the same game (let alone the same console) would have you laughed out of the school playground; yet, Mario and Sonic have been collaborating with each other for over a decade now. In this latest installment for the Nintendo Switch, we find the two beloved platforming mascots once again battling for gold in the Olympic Games, and it’s a concept that may have lost its initial novelty. Does that mean that the game is doomed to fail? Far from it: there’s actually a fair bit to appreciate here!

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TSS Review: Sonic the Hedgehog Movie

The Sonic Stadium sped its way down to the premiere fan screening of Sonic the Hedgehog Movie in London late last month, for a chance to catch the film in its entirety before general release on Friday, 14th of February 2020!

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TSS Review: Sonic Racing

Sonic Racing was one of the first titles announced for Apple Arcade, a subscription service exclusive to Apple devices meant to provide mobile gaming experiences free of loot boxes and microtransactions. As one of the service’s premiere exclusives, does Sonic Racing make good on Apple’s promise for better mobile gaming?

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SAGE 2019 Review: Sonic Smackdown

Sonic Smackdown was one of the many games featured at this year’s SAGE event, and probably one of the more notable. The game pays homage to the Capcom style of fighting games, drawing it’s inspiration from the Marvel series of beat ’em ups.

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TSS Review: Tangle and Whisper Issue #1

While at Comic Con last week, I managed to grab a SDCC exclusive copy of Tangle and Whisper issue number one, The very first IDW spin-off mini series based on comic exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog characters. Written by Ian Flynn with art by Evan Stanley.

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TSS @ E3 2019: The Sega Genesis Mini (and not-so Mini) Hands-On

While a good chunk of Sega’s booth was dedicated to Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, there was a corner showing off some of Sega’s other properties slated for release later this year. Among them was the Sega Genesis Mini, Sega’s answer to the NES and SNES Classic. I sat down in a bean bag (which means my fat rump had a hard time getting back up) and sampled SEGA’s miniaturized console.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing the demo at E3 is that the part of the booth you’re at looks like a living room, complete with a bean bag to sit in. Much like the virtual living room in some of the recent Genesis compilations, there are posters of Genesis games everywhere, along with with old VHS tapes with cheesy labels like “Cartoon collection! Do not erase!!” on them. They really went all-in on the “90’s bedroom” aesthetic.

The nostalgia doesn’t stop with the booth aesthetic, as the mini console itself gets a lot right. Its controller has an ergonomic feel and shape that perfectly replicates the original, and the console itself is a faithful, shrunk-down recreation of SEGA’s 16-bit system. Once you boot the mini console up, you’re treated to a screen filled with about a dozen Genesis titles, with the rest coming into view as you scroll down. I don’t know if I care for this, as it shrinks down the box art and makes each game feel less important. Hopefully, the interface can customized in the final product.

Despite the September release date, the console already feels ready for release, as all 42 games were playable on the show floor. I went with Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Road Rash 2 for this preview. Both played great and judging by Road Rash 2 alone, are identical to their original versions. The emulation is perfect.

Holding start for five seconds brings up a menu where you can make a save state and exit back to the main menu. There’s your usual options such as screen filters and what aspect ratio you want the game in, but one of the most interesting features is the language menu. You can set the game menu to many different languages and the games will play in their original language as well. Going back to aspect ratio, another neat feature is that many of the games feature a more natural 16:9 aspect ratio by zooming in on the game while keeping the UI in place. Sonic 2 was shown off as an example of that. It keeps the sprites from looking stretched, but at the cost of zooming in on the picture a bit.

Overall, with a great controller, cool menu features and pixel perfect emulation, the Sega Genesis Mini is something to get hyped for. It blows the old AtGames Genesis consoles out of the water in every way, and should definitely be worth picking up come September.

Adam Tuff on SEGA’s giant controller

In addition to the regular kiosks, SEGA also had a Genesis Mini running on a giant, 5-foot-wide Genesis controller that folks could play Streets of Rage and Sonic 2 on. When I tried to play Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant level, I had to stretch my arms out and punch the A button with my first just to get around. While it was a neat novelty, it wasn’t exactly the most wieldy controller, since I couldn’t even spindash with it.

 Still, even on this giant cumbersome monstrosity, I was able to get enough rings to enter the special special. As I began maneuvering Sonic and Tails through the half-pipe, a crowd formed around me. Despite the massive controller, I made it through and even got a small amount of applause! Here’s hoping SEGA’s booth features and equally cool gimmick next E3.

TSS @ E3 2019: Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Hands-On Impressions

Three years after they last went head to head, Sonic, Mario and friends are finally back at the Olympics with Mario & Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. SEGA is making sure everyone is aware of this, as the two mascots are not only on the E3 badge insert this year, but take up a huge chunk of real estate in the LA Convention Center’s West Hall. Continue reading TSS @ E3 2019: Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Hands-On Impressions

TSS REVIEW: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE – Team Sonic Racing Original Soundtrack

If you aren’t already feeling ancient at the prospect of Sonic the Hedgehog turning 28 next month, here’s a fact that’ll age you; it’s been 7 years since SEGA Sound Director Jun Senoue led the creation of a Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack (Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2, for those who can’t remember!).

Senoue’s absence has been by no means a sabbatical, having been involved in several other SEGA titles – as well as peripherally with most Sonic games – and regularly performing with a multitude of live acts across four continents. Those who have taken the reigns in the meantime have accomplished some phenomenal feats, particularly Sonic Mania composer Tee Lopes who pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a perfectly blended score of old and new material, while simultaneously tipping the hat to the synonymous tones of the 90s titles. But with the classic itch well-and-truly scratched, many have longed for the return of Senoue and his trademark rock sound, in the context of a modern Sonic game.

As such, the anticipation for MAXIMUM OVERDIRVE, the Team Sonic Racing Original Soundtrack, reached fever pitch. Expectations have flown high based on the calibre of the tracks that had been drip-fed to us via Sonic the Hedgehog’s social media channels over the last few months. Now that the full OST has been released, we can firmly say that it does not disappoint.

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TSS Review: Team Sonic Racing

It says a lot about Sumo Digital’s developing competence when the team can create a sequel to a much-loved racing spinoff series, nearly seven years after the last entry, on (seemingly) a much tighter budget, and yet still manage to find ways to make the experience appear like a full-priced premium package. Continue reading TSS Review: Team Sonic Racing

TSS Preview: Team Sonic Racing

We were invited this month to attend SEGA’s Team Sonic Racing Preview Event, hosted deep in the heart of London’s Shoreditch, and get our hands on the game’s latest build! What happened was an action-packed day filled with tournaments, time trials and a LOT of gameplay impressions. So, let’s get right to it!

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