Sonic Amateur Games Expo 2009: Game Reviews Part 2
Sonic Zeta Overdrive
It’s difficult to get excited about a ROM hack. While hacks have been getting more technically impressive in recent years, they still rely on something that has already been created which makes the ‘fan’ input feel quite small.
Take Sonic Zeta Overdrive for example. While this hack is doing some cool things with the Sonic 2 engine it doesn’t really impress in the same way that fan games that have been developed from the ground up do.
For instance, despite a change in the colour palette and some slightly altered backdrops, the game looks too similar to Sonic 2 to be considered original. The colour palette for the first act is particularly muddy and uninspired. Thankfully the rest of the stage makes up for this featuring a high level of vibrancy that is missing from the first act. The custom music is also quite nice and it gives the game a happy, up-beat vibe that’s more reminiscent of Sonic’s 8 bit outings than anything else.
The quality of the gameplay is actually quite high but this is mainly due to the fact that the Sonic 2 engine still plays magnificently, even today. The levels have been greatly altered to feature some interesting action that is remarkably fresh and makes great use of the engine. The addition of a ‘thwok’ attack similar to the one in Sonic Robo-Blast 2 seems a bit pointless but the addition of the Super Peel-Out is a nice touch and it’s very quick to charge which is a nice improvement.
All in all, a good hack that’s a good distraction for half an hour but nothing that will set the fan-gaming community on fire.
First things first; enough with the Advance sprites! Now that’s out the way, let’s talk Sonic Fusion. 3 characters are available to play; Sonic, Knuckles and Shadow. They’re all fun to play with and each has their own unique attacks and special moves for added replay value. The game’s engine is accurate and very responsive; everything we’d come to expect from a ‘proper’ Sonic game.
The stage on offer is really well designed but still favours speed over platforming. The foreground graphics are consistently good looking while the background in the first half of the stage is a bit dodgy. The music is easily the best fitting song we’ve heard in a fan-game so far and makes the game feel authentic.
The big disappointment with Fusion are the rooms that lock in your character and remain locked until you defeat all the enemies. This kills the pace of the game the same way it did in games like Sonic Rush. Also, the one stage on offer is a bit of a let-down but the one on offer plays so well we can’t really complain.
Sonic Gemini is amazing to look at. Without a doubt, this is one of the best looking games at this year’s SAGE. There’s a small let-down with the fact that the game forces full-screen on you and the background doesn’t extend all the way to the bottom of the stage making it feel a little unfinished.
Thinking about it, this concept of feeling ‘unfinished’ can be applied to a fair bit of Gemini. For instance, the badniks don’t hurt the characters. You can literally walk straight through them and carry on. This is quite a big error on the developers’ part as it eliminates a lot of the challenge. More errors include the fact that game’s engine requires you to build up a lot of speed and momentum just to get round loops. I found myself having to spin-dash too many times to get round loops. Even when I did get round the loops I found myself in too many gigantic spike pits which seemed to be gratuitously included just to watch me suffer.
That said the music is top quality, the engine is very solid and most of the stage is particularly fun to play through. We also enjoyed the sprites for both Sonic and Metal Sonic but we found the inclusion of Metal Sonic to be a bit pointless. This was mainly due to the fact that Metal attacks with a lazer instead of jumping on enemies. This makes his controls a little fiddly and you find yourself running into danger a lot as you attempt to shoot enemies.
Sonic Time Twisted
We love to see Sonic fan-games taking inspiration from Sonic CD which (in our opinion) was the greatest 2D Sonic game (sorry to all the CD haters). Sonic Time Twisted is one such game and it tweaks the time-travel posts so that you don’t need to be travelling at high speed for a certain amount of time to initiate the move. You simply have to run past the sign at top speed and you’ll be flung into the past (or back to the present depending on where you are). The big problem with this is that the time-travel posts are high in volume so you constantly find your play being interrupted by a change in time.
Either way, Time Twisted has a great playing engine and features a vast amount of platforming in comparison to a lot of other fan-games at this year’s SAGE. The stages are particularly large which is great for exploring different routes and seeing everything the demo has to offer. With graphics as awesome as this, you’ll want to do a bit of exploring as well. Time Twisted is another stunning looking game filled with original graphics and sprites as well as an original soundtrack which gives the game its’ own identity.
Our big problem lies with Sonic’s speed. Yes, we realise we’re contradicting ourselves a bit as I’ve never been a big fan of the super-fast Sonic game’s we get nowadays (I’m looking at you Unleashed), but this Sonic is just too slow. We could be playing a Mario game with this speed. I can’t tell whether or not this is down to the game running slow on my laptop but I’ve had no problem with any of the other game’s created in Game Maker at this year’s SAGE. If anyone out there is having the same problem or is running the game a lot quicker then please let us know and we’ll revoke this comment.
Sonic Rebirth of the Azure Wind
When I realised that this was an RPG, I was already concerned as to whether or not the developer could change the RPG formula enough to make this exciting and relevant to Sonic the Hedgehog. What I played is actually quite surprising. It is in no way perfect but some tweaking could certainly make this a very uniqe experience.
Gameplay appears to be split into action stages and town stages. The action stages contain a time limit and you must control Sonic from a top-down perspective and get him to the end of the map before it’s time up. There is no jumping but there is plenty of ring collecting which acts as currency to be used in the town stages. The top-down controls are surprisingly effective and Sonic is nice and easy to control.
Running into a enemy will initiate an RPG-based battle. You can attack, defend, use items or the Sonic equivalent of ‘magic’ for a bit of variety to the standard attacks. The battles are actually quite fast-paced and very fun to partake in. However, the early enemies seem to do a lot of damage making death inevitable on your first go.
The main issue we noticed with these stages is that the camera doesn’t scroll very smoothly. This makes the game very jerky to look at and generally cheapens the gameplay experience a bit.
Onto the town stages. These stages do not suffer from the camera scrolling issue I mentioned early but Soni does move a lot slower which is a bit annoying. These stages act as hub world’s for Sonic to interact with NPCs and buy new items such as weapons and armour. This is where most of the game’s story will progress as well but it isn’t particularly gripping. Luckily, talking to NPCs is optional so you can go about your business however you want.
Presentation is very good quality, especially on the menu front. There’s some smooth little slides and wipes between menus that makes the game look very professional. The map graphics are also quite nice even if we want to see the Advance-styled sprite burn in hell.
In a nutshell, Azure Wind is a decent crack at the Sonic/RPG crossover. It has a fast pace which gives the game a Sonic vibe that is missing from most Sonic RPGs. However, the pace is somewhat killed by the town stages which are nowhere near as exciting as its’ action stages.