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.