This Month: Balan Wonderworld’s definitely-not-chao, retro IDW, and what we played for SAGE 2020.Continue reading Sonic Talk Podcast, Episode 71: Pop Vinyls Full of G Fuel
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!
This year’s SAGE has been filled to the brim with quality, creative, and odd games. Fewer, however, so perfectly represent all three of these qualities like Virtua Sonic does. “Virtual reality Sonic” sounds like an awful idea on paper. VR games in general tend to struggle with allowing for movement without giving the user motion sickness, so how is a game about a high speed hedgehog that constantly spins around supposed to do it? Well, I don’t know…but somehow, Virtua Sonic isn’t the vomit-inducing VR experience I was expecting, and on top of that it’s…actually a surprisingly decent Sonic game!
First, it’s important that I talk about my own tolerance for VR, and my current set-up before I go on. Experiences like this are certainly not for everyone. I’ve been exposed to VR gaming for roughly four years now, starting with the HTC Vive back in 2016. Like a lot of people, I’m able to handle room scale VR (where you physically walk around a virtual space) for long stretches. Also like most people, standing VR games (where movement is handled via a controller while you just stand or sit) does make me sick, and my tolerance level for these games used to be 10-20 minutes, but that has marginally improved.
If you can’t handle these kinds of VR experiences, Virtua Sonic is not for you. That said, Virtua Sonic is actually one of the better standing VR experiences I’ve had. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the game design or my own tolerance, but I was able to play for 20 minutes before I started to feel sick, and I was able to play it for 40 minutes without having to put it down. Not bad! I played the entire thing on an Oculus Quest, connected to my computer via its Oculus Link feature. Oculus Link can be a bit jittery, and this occasionally got in the way of the experience, but I won’t be noting those aspects of the experience here, as that has nothing to do with the game.
Virtua Sonic plays surprisingly well and it is…mostly intuitive. You move by holding down buttons on the motion controllers and pumping them up and down like you’re “running,” and jumping is done by holding down the triggers and thrusting a controller down. Aside from running and jumping, all of Sonic’s moves are here, from the homing attack, to the light speed dash, stomp, spindash, and roll.
All of these moves are handled via a combination of motion controls and button presses. None of these moves are as intuitive to pull off as they are in the official games, but I eventually got used to them. That said, I did run into some problems. For one, the jumping controls just don’t feel natural in this game.
You jump by holding the triggers and thrusting a controller down, which just kept conflicting with what my brain wanted to do. I wanted to thrust the controller up, in the direction I wanted to move. I’m not sure if it would have interfered with other parts of the controls, but it took me until my third play session with the game to finally get used to it. The stomp, likewise, feels unnatural: you do it by raising your hands after a jump. Again, thrusting my arms down would feel more natural for a downward stomping motion.
But once I got used to everything, playing through the game actually felt pretty good. Like, way better than I ever would have expected a VR Sonic game to feel! Homing in on enemies, rolling, spin dashing, and light speed dashing all felt supremely satisfying. There’s even a move in the game where you basically need to “Naruto run” once you achieve a high enough speed. This allows you to retain your momentum and pull off all sorts of neat tricks like running on water or along walls. I admit, this could make me feel pretty goofy, but actually replicating Sonic’s running stance to run along a waterfall is also probably one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had in VR.
You’re going to need to master these moves to get through the demo. Aside from the tutorial stage, which is pretty linear and basic in its design, Virtua Sonic sports one full level and boss fight, and that level, Sakura Sanctuary, is big. It’s got multiple paths to to run through, and it gets increasingly large and expansive as it continues. It features design sensibilities similar to the superb Sonic GT, which isn’t surprising, since it’s based on the same tech as GT. The boss battle’s also pretty fun: you’ve got to chase down a big robot, using the physics and your moves to keep pace with it and bring it down.
It isn’t all roses, though, as the levels do have a few rough edges. In the tutorial stage, the hill that’s supposed to teach players how to jump is just a little too high, and I found myself consistently struggling to successfully scale it. There’s also an incline towards the end of Sakura Sanctuary that’s nearly impossible to get up consistently. Even spin dashing didn’t seem to work! These are small issues, but ones I found detrimental to the overall experience.
The game’s short, but it’s a complete package all the same. It tells a simple, complete story with good writing and solid voice work. Sakura Sanctuary and the tutorial stage are both gorgeous, and the selection of music (which includes a nice little track from NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams) works well with the levels. Once you beat the game you can play through both levels and the boss battle in Time Attack mode, which adds a bit of replay value.
I hope we get more projects like this. During an event that was full of surprises, Virtua Sonic may be the biggest of the lot. If you’ve got a VR set up and your stomach can take it, check it out! You wont be disappointed.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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+.
SAGE 2020 is doing so well this year that the event’s website has broken from the sheer amount of traffic! As we reported when the event launched yesterday, the website has been down since everything started. Despite this, the website logged more than 3.5 million hits in its first 16 hours. Although these are for visits, not individual users, this is a significant uptick from the 100,000 hits the event scored in its first 24 hours last year.
Thankfully, SAGE 2020 has been doing everything it can to keep the event going despite these technical issues. While they work with the site’s ISP, SAGE 2020 has launched a back up website with secondary links to many of the event’s games. You can check it out here.
If you’re a SAGE exhibitor, and your game does not yet have a secondary link on the back up website, be sure to let SAGE know through its discord server!
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.
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.
The 20th edition of the Sonic Amateur Game Expo, SAGE 2020, has officially launched! The long running online fan event will have a whopping 250+ games this year, including loads of Sonic fan games, mods, and original titles. This massive selection shows just how far this event has since its inception as a small Sonic community event back in 2000.
Be sure to stay tuned to Sonic Stadium throughout the event for coverage of some of the events games! You can already see our coverage of one of the games here.
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.
September 5th – 11th, the week of SAGE 2020, is almost here. And that means it’s time to see what games will be playable. So, the team has released a lengthy trailer showcasing the many games that fans will soon be able to enjoy.
The trailer goes for nearly 15 minutes, and there is no shortage of games. People have been hyped for Sonic Chroma, which is one game that will be at SAGE 2020. Rad Venture and Hover Warz are making their SAGE debuts this year.
Another game that will be playable is Sondro Gomez. It’s returning to SAGE, but this time they have had some help from someone that may sound familiar to you. Headcannon, one of Sonic Mania’s developers, contributed to Sondro Gomez’s development.
But that’s not all. Submissions are still open until August 21st, so these aren’t even going to be all the games playable. And there’s still time to submit one, if you have been planning to do so. But, in the meantime, here’s the trailer:
SAGE 2020 is just a few months away, and it’s time for creators to submit their fan games. The SAGE team have officially released this year’s deadlines and guidelines for the event. Compared to last year, there have been some changes, especially in regards to the method of submitting your project.
A lot of annual events may be getting canceled this year, but there’s at least one we can still look forward to: the Sonic Amateur Games Expo. The expo, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, will launch on September 5th and run until the 12th. As usual, you will be able to check out lots of fan projects, both new and ongoing, as well as some original projects.
SAGE will have more details on booth submissions, streams, and trailers soon. Until then, you can check out this year’s logo:
And while its running, be sure to check out our coverage of the event!