TSS @ SHC 2021 SNOLF: Tournament Edition

Sonic hacks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from character swaps, to whole new games, to things that use the existing physics and levels to do something completely crazy! Drmelon’s SNOLF goes for the latter, offering a very different spin on Sonic 2 as Sonic is now a golf ball. But is this hack a fun spin on Sonic 2, or is it too frustrating? The answer is both.

SNOLF: Tournament Edition basically turns Sonic 2 into a 2D golf game, with the end of the stage acting as the hole. You line Sonic up and take swings to get him through the stages. Each button acts as a different kind of club, so you can get weak to strong swings. Button A is a putter swing for light taps, B is regular, and C is a driver, which offers the strongest swing. To measure, you have a ring that goes left and right and then up and down so you can get the proper angle. You also have some control of the ball when it is rolling, but not in the air. Because of that, the are moments where you can’t get the momentum to go further, whether it’s rolling from the top of a cliff, or going straight up and down on a spring. When this occurs, the trick is to try and get a swing in mid-air to get a bit further. There’s also a multiplayer mode for up to four players in competitive and cooperative play.

Swatting Sonic through the Sonic 2 levels is both novel and frustrating at the same time. It took me a long time to get any good at this hack and I still had to just give up at Chemical Plant Zone Act 2. There are moments when it seems like it’s just near impossible to traverse any further, not to mention many moments where you can get stuck for tens of swings (I still don’t know how I managed to beat Robotnik in Emerald Hill). Many times, I felt like throwing down my controller in defeat. That said, there are some options to make your experience less frustrating. For example, you can set it to only do Act one of each zone so you don’t have to go against Robotnik. 

After everything that’s been said, SNOLF is definitely something you should check out at least once. It’s difficult and frustrating as hell to play, but its unique challenge kept me coming back despite the times I wanted to toss the controller. It’s just crazy and unique enough to give it a go.

TSS @ SHC 2021: Dash Adventure 2

There are plenty of ambitious mods at this year’s Sonic Hacking Contest, but Dash Adventure 2 is definitely among the more unique ones. This mod seeks to alter all of Sonic Adventure 2, turning it into a hypothetical evolution of what might have happened had SEGA gone with the rabbit character instead of Sonic back when they were searching for a mascot. While the most striking changes may initially appear to be superficial, Dash Adventure 2 has plenty of character and level tweaks that make it a rather unique way of experiencing this twenty-year-old game.

DA2’s most obvious change is, of course, its cast of characters. Instead of Sonic, Knuckles and Tails, we’ve got Dash the Rabbit, Jabs the Kangaroo, and Bolt the Maned Wolf. On the villain side of things, Eggman is a professor instead of a doctor, and Dusk the Rabbit and Pikara the Owl replace Shadow and Rouge. All of their designs seek to mimic Yuji Uekawa’s art style, and they not only accomplish this effectively, but they all look great and fit in well as early 2000s mascot characters.

Don’t mistake these characters for mere reskins, though, because they each introduce brand new mechanics that, in some cases, significantly impact how the game is played. Dash can jump much higher then Sonic, has a drop dash in place of a bounce attack, and can double jump with the Y button, giving him a lot of aerial maneuverability. This allows for Dash to move through a level very differently, letting him pull off feats Sonic never could. Dusk, likewise, can also jump higher than Shadow, has an air blast that lets him shoot forward, and even has a unique spindash move that lets him move forward while its charging. Other characters have similar improvements in their jump height and aerial maneuverability, especially Pikara, who can outright fly. As cool as these new abilities are, however, they also give rise to…issues. For one, Pikara’s aforementioned flight ability isn’t really practical to use, since it requires holding both the Y and A buttons, which forces me to contort my hand. The abilities can also kind of…break the level design a little?

Perhaps the most obvious of these issues is the simple fact that Sonic Adventure 2’s levels were not designed with these abilities in mind. This means some levels are easy to break and cheat through, while others (primarily the speed levels) have certain design bits that don’t work as well. For instance, in City Escape, after running down the side of the building and hitting the springs, instead of reliably bouncing into the swing bar, it is now very easy to overshoot. It’s possible to maneuver into it of course, and none of these moments typically result in death or otherwise break the level, but it does interrupt the level’s flow in a way I don’t like.

DA2 is at its best in its handful of fully customized levels. While most of the levels have been significantly altered aesthetically, a few boast some notable design alterations. Metal Harbor (changed into Chemical Plant here) features some pretty major changes, including an opening bit of platforming that encourages heavy use of Dash’s double jump. That, combined with some new paths through areas, make this level among the best experiences currently available in the mod. 

Speaking of the levels, the new looks they sport are also pretty nice…for the most part. I’m just not a huge fan of the look of Weapons Bed, which employs a lot of purple for the floor texturing. I also find the usage of classic Sonic level aesthetics in this game to be a bit odd. Why is Marble Zone being used for the Chao Garden? Why has Aquatic Mine been turned into Hydro City? It still looks nice, but given that SA2 was an even bigger visual departure from classic Sonic then SA1 was, I’m not sure why a hypothetical DA2 would utilize retro aesthetics outside of Green Hill Zone (which has been turned into Marble Zone here). This is something that would probably only bug a video game history buff like me, as when I sweep all that aside…I do rather like seeing these classic Sonic level aesthetics in SA2’s visuals!

Dash Adventure 2 was one of the mods I checked out last year, and while I found it curious I ultimately decided not to write about it. It has come a long way since then, and while it still has some issues, the sheer ambition on display here is wild. There’s a brand new soundtrack and new, well done voice work for each character. While it does currently have some issues, the mod as it is is still well worth checking out. I do hope the final mod features more level alterations, and maybe figures out a better way to map Pikara’s flight. But even if it doesn’t, I definitely intend to play the mod’s final release. Anyone who owns SA2 should at least give this a shot!

You can find the mod here. You can learn how to install it here.

Sonic Hacking Contest Announces This Year’s Winners

Sonic Hacking Contest has announced the winners for the more than 50 trophies up for grabs this year. The community, the contest’s judges, and the media panel (which included us!) got to vote for their own favorites. You’ll find a few familiar names, as we covered several of these games throughout the week. You can find that coverage here. And while the event may be over, and the winners have been chosen, stick around! We’ll be doing more SHC 2021 coverage over the next few days.

Sonic Hacking Contest has also confirmed its 2022 dates: October 10-16. You can find out more info about this year’s SHC, and what they have planned for next year, in the 2021 Winners newsletter here.

The winners for each of these votes are as follows:

TOP THREE RETRO (JUDGED)

1st – Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

2nd – Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

3rd – Sonic The Hedgehog: Ancient Isles by Catswell

TOP THREE RETRO (COMMUNITY)

1st – Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

2nd – Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

3rd – Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Epilogue by Hardline Team

Best Retro Voted by Media Panel

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team and Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Epilogue by Hardline Team

TOP THREE 3D (JUDGED)

1st – Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

2nd – Sonic ’06 – Emerald Coast by Nonami

3rd – Sonic Forces Re-imagined – SHC 2021 Demo by brandonj

TOP THREE 3D (COMMUNITY)

1st – Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

2nd – Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

3rd – Sonic Forces Re-imagined – SHC 2021 Demo by brandonj

Best 3D Voted by Media Panel

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer 

Honorable Mention: Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

TOP THREE 2DPC (JUDGED)

1st – Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcNuggie

2nd – Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

3rd – Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

TOP THREE 2DPC (COMMUNITY)

1st – Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcNuggie

2nd – Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

3rd – Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Best Voted by Media Panel

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honorable Mention: Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

Of course, there are far more SHC categories than just the best overall games. Games were competing in a variety of categories. For the complete list of winners for each available Sonic Hacking Contest trophy, look at the list below:

RETRO CATEGORY

Best Visual – Judged

Sonic the Hedgehog: Ancient Isles by Catswell 

Honourable Mention –  Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Best Visual – Community

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Best Audio – Judged

Sonic the Hedgehog: Ancient Isles by Catswell 

Honourable Mention –  Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Best Audio – Community

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Best Technical – Judged

Sonic 1 Blastless DX by vladikcomper

Best Technical – Community

Sonic 1 Blastless DX by vladikcomper

Best Level Design – Judged

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Honourable Mention –  Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Best Level Design – Community

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Honourable Mention –  Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Most Entertaining – Judged

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Honourable Mention –  Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Most Entertaining – Community

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Most “WTF?!” – Judged

VTuber in Sonic 1 by ProjectFM

Honourable Mention –  SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Most “WTF?!” – Community

SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Honourable Mention –  VTuber in Sonic 1 by ProjectFM

Best Team Entry – Judged

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Best Team Entry – Community

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Best Multiplayer Entry – Judged

SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Best Multiplayer Entry – Community

SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Best Character Implementation – Judged

Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Pink Edition by E-122-Psi

Best Character Implementation – Community

Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Pink Edition by E-122-Psi

Honourable Mention –  Big the Cat in Sonic the Hedgehog by E-122-Psi

Best Boss Design – Judged

Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Epilogue by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Best Boss Design – Community

Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Epilogue by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Best Fresh Concept Using Existing Concepts As A Backbone – Judged

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Honourable Mention –  SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Best Fresh Concept Using Existing Concepts As A Backbone – Community

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Honourable Mention –  SNOLF: Tournament Edition by drmelon

Most Potential – Judged

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Most Potential – Community

Sonic 1 Definitive by RadiantNexus Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic the Hackable – Splash Hill Demo by CHRdutch

Most Improved – Judged

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic the Hackable – Splash Hill Demo by CHRdutch

Most Improved – Community

Hellfire Saga by Hardline Team

Honourable Mention –  Sonic the Hackable – Splash Hill Demo by CHRdutch

3D CATEGORY  

Best Visual – Judged

Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Honourable Mention – Sonic ’06 – Emerald Coast by Nonami

Best Visual – Community

Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Honourable Mention – Dash Adventure 2 by Revenir

Best Audio – Judged

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Best Audio – Community

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Best Technical – Judged

Yoshi’s Island Zone DLC Restoration by DeaTh

Honourable Mention – Sonic 06 Definitive Experience by brianuuu

Best Technical – Community

Yoshi’s Island Zone DLC Restoration by DeaTh

Honourable Mention – Sonic 06 Definitive Experience by brianuuu

Best Level Design – Judged

Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Best Level Design – Community

Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Honourable Mention – Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Most Entertaining – Judged

Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Honourable Mention – Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Most Entertaining – Community

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Honourable Mention – Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Most “WTF?!” – Judged

Sonic 06 Definitive Experience by brianuuu

Honourable Mention –  Dash Adventure 2 by Revenir

Most “WTF?!” – Community

Sonic 06 Definitive Experience by brianuuu

Best Team Entry – Judged

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Honourable Mention – Sonic Riders DX by Extreme Gear Labs

Best Team Entry – Community

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Honourable Mention – Dash Adventure 2 by Revenir

Best Multiplayer Entry – Judged

Sonic Riders DX by Extreme Gear Labs

Best Multiplayer Entry – Community

Sonic Riders DX by Extreme Gear Labs

Best Character Implementation – Judged

Sonic 06 Definitive Experience by brianuuu

Best Character Implementation – Community

Dash Adventure 2 by Revenir

Honourable Mention –  Sonic 06 Definitive Experience by brianuuu

Best Boss Design – Not Awarded in Judged or Community

Best Fresh Concept Using Existing Concepts As A Backbone – Judged

MISSION REPLACEMENT: SA1 Gamma-Timer Variant over Kill X Many Missions by Twilord

Honourable Mention – Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Best Fresh Concept Using Existing Concepts As A Backbone – Community

MISSION REPLACEMENT: SA1 Gamma-Timer Variant over Kill X Many Missions by Twilord

Honourable Mention – Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Most Potential – Judged

Sonic Forces Re-imagined – SHC 2021 Demo by brandonj

Honourable Mention – Shivery Mountainsides by Goalringmod27

Most Potential – Community

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Honourable Mention – Sonic Forces Re-imagined – SHC 2021 Demo by brandonj

Most Improved – Judged

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Honourable Mention – Sonic Forces Re-imagined – SHC 2021 Demo by brandonj

Most Improved – Community

Sonic Forces Overclocked – Freight Frenzy DEMO – SHC2021 Edition by TheDuckDealer

Honourable Mention – Dash Adventure 2 by Revenir

2DPC CATEGORY  

Best Visual – Judged

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Best Visual – Community

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Best Audio – Judged

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Best Audio – Community

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Best Technical – Judged

Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

Best Technical – Community

Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

Honourable Mention – SONIC CD: EPISODE METAL by jackelzxa

Best Level Design – Judged

Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Honourable Mention –  Sonic The Hedgehog: Lost Island Demo by CartoonsAnimate22

Best Level Design – Community

Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Honourable Mention –  Sonic The Hedgehog: Lost Island Demo by CartoonsAnimate22

Most Entertaining – Judged

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

Most Entertaining – Community

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

Most “WTF?!” – Not Awarded in Judged or Community

Best Team Entry – Judged

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Best Team Entry – Community

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Sonic the Hedgehog Forever by Team Forever

Best Multiplayer Entry – Not Awarded in Judged or Community

Best Character Implementation – Judged

SONIC CD: EPISODE METAL by jackelzxa

Best Character Implementation – Community

SONIC CD: EPISODE METAL by jackelzxa

Best Boss Design – Judged – Not Awarded

Best Boss Design – Community

Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Best Fresh Concept Using Existing Concepts As A Backbone – Judged

Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Best Fresh Concept Using Existing Concepts As A Backbone – Community

Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied by campbellsonic

Most Potential – Judged

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Sonic The Hedgehog: Lost Island Demo by CartoonsAnimate22

Most Potential – Community

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

Honourable Mention – Sonic The Hedgehog: Lost Island Demo by CartoonsAnimate22

Most Improved – Judged

Sonic 2 Mania SHC2021 Demo by AChickMcnuggie

TSS @ SHC 2021: Sonic Mania Mod Roundup

Sonic Mania… mania wasn’t as pronounced this year as it was previous years, but that hasn’t stopped many fans from bending this engine in cool, entertaining ways. The contest and expo have a handful of entries this year using the Mania base, and here’s how they stack up.

Mystic Cave Zone Mania-fied

Submitted by campbellsonic
Mod Download Page

Mania as a game wasn’t merely about bringing back Classic Sonic. It felt fresh, surprising, and hard to match without a good eye for detail and willingness to add to the experience. Mystic Cave Zone achieves feeling like an actual Mania stage ripped from some fictional director’s cut, and it does so as a reskin of Press Garden.

MCZ Mania-fied captures the claustrophobic, winding, and threatening feel of the Sonic 2 original while speeding it up with some remixed sections and more opportunities to play with ramps and curves. The stage uses the classic icons of the level such as the lever doors, the spinning boxes, narrow moving platforms, and plenty of spikes, but reinterprets a few Mania elements in novel ways.

The best example of this is in Act 2. Where Press Garden has sprayers that freeze Sonic & company, MCZ Mania-fied has minecart dispensers that take you for a ride until you hit a wall or forcibly break it. Splats, the bouncing rubber stamp that emerge from inkwells, are now burrowbot spawning locations complete with warning sign. Finally, the boss at the end pits you against a giant burrowbot (graphically remixed from Eggman’s octopus robot from Oil Ocean) but with falling stalactite hazard above in place of the sinking floor below.

As a thorough reskin, MCZ Mania-fied is a fantastic remix on the source material and captures the Mania spirit. If you’ve got nostalgia for those purple and green depths, be sure to check it out. Also, hey, it has an Encore version too!

Sonic the Hedgehog: Lost Island Demo

Submitted by CartoonsAnimate22
Mod Download Page

Lost Island builds an original game on top of the Mania framework, fully reskinning levels and characters. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles have modified spritework, while Ray and Mighty have been fully replaced with Sonic X-treme’s Tiara (outfitted with Sonic 2 GG’s hang glider) and an original character, Millie, who resembles a Minnie Mouse take on Tails (if I’m wrong and this is some sort of established character I’m not familiar with, I’m sure the comments will correct me). The demo spans 7 zones, with 10 acts total among them.

The visuals and level design spark inspiration from a number of other Sonic games, though the strongest point of comparison is probably Sonic 1 for Master System/Game Gear. It even directly pulls the 8-bit exclusive Sky Base into its roster. The level reskins have a basic but still attractive aesthetic. Simple patterns make it feel a bit more flat than you’d expect from a 16-bit game. Not bad, but also not especially iconic or embellished.

I found Lost Island to be a cute but light experience. It trades Mania’s branching, frenetic action for an experience that’s very straightforward. I have a specific nostalgia for the sort of B-tier platformers that dotted the early 90’s landscape, stuff like Bonk and Cool Spot. Lost Island seems to scratch that itch: platforming that is pleasant, even if it’s not fancy or exciting.

Sonic 2 Mania

Submitted by AChickMcNuggie
Mod Download Page

Sometimes a mod is just straightforward enough that you don’t have to explain much. Sonic 2 Mania is simply an attempt at recreating Sonic 2 within the Sonic Mania framework, and in that goal, it’s pretty faithful with a handful of additional visual flourishes, and only a couple places where you can see the seams of how X was reskinned to be Y.

The demo features both acts of Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Aquatic Ruin, Hill Top, and in interpretation of the beta Wood Zone, Secret Woods. However, this demo does not include any bosses (new or old). Certain elements could not be fully reproduced, such as the growing pillars in Aquatic Ruin, but in the very few places it falters, it makes up in added background animations and remixed music. And you can play as Mania-perfect Mighty and Ray!

Sonic Vintage

Submitted by ZachmanAwesomeness
Mod Download Page

Each year it gets harder and harder to stand out as a project whose aim is to reproduce classic Sonic’s preview and beta build elements. Sonic Vintage takes inspiration from other ROM hacks and attempts to bring some of these obscure beta elements to the Mania engine, offering a slightly different take on Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Flying Battery, and Stardust Speedway.

…Sort of. Of the four Mania mods I played this year, this is the only one that gave me technical trouble, and I was only able to play two of the four listed zones without issue. Flying Battery Act 1 would only load if I went to Act 2 (where my character died immediately after the stage loaded), and Stardust Speedway would cause Flying Battery Act 2 to load. I don’t know if this issue is unique to me, but I attempted a number of times in a number of ways, and was unable to access Stardust Speedway at all.

The mod has a couple of neat touches. Most notably, the level design of Chemical Plant was expanded. However, this isn’t a project about immediate noticeable changes. If you’re deep into research on Sonic pre-release builds, this might strike your fancy as a chimera of demos, prototypes, and Nick Arcade variants. But between the technical issues and generally subtle changes, it might be worth waiting another year to see how this develops.

TSS @ SHC 2021: Sonic Debut

Sonic 1’s earliest tech demo is something that has only been preserved in screenshots from game magazines, and was only ever shown publicly at some events in 1990. This demo featured many different backgrounds, enemies, and visual elements. Fans have long wanted to get a taste of what this old demo was like, and MCTravisYT and crew’s hack, Sonic Debut, gives us all a chance to live out that fantasy, by giving us a glimpse of what could have been if Sonic 1 had been produced with its earliest concepts intact.

The first thing of note is that Sonic looks and feels just a bit different here. MCTravisYT has put in new sprite animation to better represent the artwork of early screenshots. Also, Sonic is now more vulnerable in the way he jumps. One button press gets him to jump while a second rolls him into a ball. It’s not bad, but a little hard to get used to. I tend to forget that I can’t attack an enemy from below and end up getting hurt.

Speaking of getting hurt, there is a new life and damage system in Sonic Debut. Rings are now just coins. Fifty coins get you a new life represented by a star on the bottom-left screen. When you get hit, coins don’t explode out of you, but rather, you gain health by hitting monitors with hearts on them. The hearts are also numbered on the bottom left screen. On the plus side, this results in you not losing your coins when hit, so getting enough coins for an extra life is easy. However, it’s much easier to lose track of how many times you’ve been hit. Thirty years of losing rings when damaged is in my muscle memory, so it feels strange that one ring won’t save you anymore. 

Besides new sprite work for Sonic, there are new Badniks about. One is a robot pig who shuffles to the side and drops bombs out of his belly while the other is a blue, gremlin-looking thing that looks more like a tooth-shaped monster than a Badnik. I call him a “Cavity-Creep”. The two returning Badniks include Buzz Bombers and yellow Choppers. The only other new obstacle is a large ball that rolls along, though it’s more in the way than a threat.

The level layout is very different, as it’s now more linear and a bit larger. That said, neither the upper or lower path seems to offer the player any advantage. The level design leaves a bit to be desired as there are a few instances where going too fast can lead to your death. There’s one spot that always seems to get me where I’m rolling and a spike trap comes up and bounces Sonic back and forth until he runs out of health and dies. It becomes a case of studying the level rather than having fun with it. Robotnik’s boss fight is different as well. There’s still a large wrecking ball on a chain, but now it’s separated from him. The boss fight is a bit more vertical and you have to use elevated platforms to attack him. It’s a fun change as it requires a bit more skill to finish Robotnik off.

That said, MCTravisYT’s Sonic Debut isn’t about its level design as much as it’s giving us a bit of a “What if?” in terms of looking at Sonic in his earliest form. When it comes to early Sonic, we only have screenshots to go by and Sonic Debut is a very interesting look at what might have been. If this was what Sega put out, would it still have been a huge hit? It’s hard to say. Still, it’s compelling to see someone try their hand at filling in the blanks with this entertaining Sonic hack. I’d recommend this to anyone curious about Sonic’s roots, or those who would enjoy a different take on a classic game.

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 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.

Submissions Are Now Open For The 2021 Sonic Hacking Contest

It is that time of the year again. In 2 months, the 2021 Sonic Hacking Contest begins. And if you have been in the process of creating an entry for this year, then you will want to get ready. The SHC 2021 website is open, and you can now send in your submissions.

Continue reading Submissions Are Now Open For The 2021 Sonic Hacking Contest