How community coders are remaking the best - and the worst - Sonic games
As Mario and Mega Man have repeatedly proven, taking a beloved video game character back to its roots can be a real treat. Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog — and its many iterations — were huge hits in the 16-bit gaming era, but Sonic’s evolution since then has been a mixed bag to say the least. Now, decades after the blue rodent first raced over pixelated landscapes to free his woodland kin, Sonic is getting an all-new, retro-inspired side scrolling adventure, and it looks perfect.
The new game, titled Sonic Mania, is pure fan service for anyone who owned a Sega Genesis or Mega Drive. It looks exactly like the Sonic games of yesteryear, complete with highly colorful backdrops, plenty of different enemy types, and lots and lots of speed. And, since it’s slated to hit modern game systems like the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, it’s a good bet that it’ll run buttery smooth.
Mania‘s levels are a mix of all-new zones and spruced up classics, with Dr. Eggman — or Dr. Robotnik, if you’re a real Sega purist — serving as the primary protagonist. The title will be available for digital download on the aforementioned systems, along with PC, for the totally reasonable price of $20. However, if you really want to go all-out, you can pick up the collector’s edition, which comes with the game, a Sega Genesis-style faux cartridge (which holds a gold ring, obviously), and a foot tall Sonic statue perched atop a Sega Genesis stand. Sonic Mania launches August 15th
It's been a year to remember for fans of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic Mania blew the doors off, becoming one of the finest platform games ever made, while yesterday saw the conclusion of a fantastic online event - the Sonic Amateur Games Expo 2017. SAGE brings together creators and Sonic fans the world over to deliver brand new experiences based on Sega's blue hedgehog. It's this event that sparked the creation of Retro Sonic by Christian Whitehead which, after a long and winding path, ultimately led to the creation of Sonic Mania. SAGE is also the catalyst which resulted in excellent titles like Freedom Planet and Spark: The Electric Jester - two great action games well worth checking out.
Clearly, SAGE is an important birthing ground for new Sonic concepts and two fascinating demos were released this year: modernised remakes of the very best and the absolute worst titles in the Sonic canon. Sonic 2 is a game ripe for remastering for current hardware and with the Sonic 2 HD demo, we're getting a highly promising remake that looks beautiful in the high definition age without sacrificing the playability of the original. And then there's Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 PC - a brave attempt to rehabilitate the darkest chapter in Sonic history. The great thing is that both are available for anyone to download and play now on PC - the links are at the end of the article.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a fascinating title - and our favourite of the series. This second installment featured refined level design, incredible visuals and a great soundtrack. It's also the sequel that almost didn't happen - after the first game, series creator Yuji Naka famously walked out on Sega of Japan before a certain Mark Cerny managed to persuade Naka to instead join his San Francisco-based Sega Technical Institute, which lead to the creation of Sonic 2.
And now, thanks to the hard work of a group of dedicated fans, Sonic 2 returns with an interesting HD remake. It' a project that has been in limbo for years but was restarted in 2014 with new recruits joining the team. After a tremendous effort, the team has released a brand-new demo, including three full stages all recreated using high resolution assets. This includes Emerald Hill Zone, the Chemical Plant Zone and Hill Top Zone.
Despite the leap in fidelity it manages to feel incredibly faithful to the original game. When you compare the two side-by-side, it's clear that the artists did a remarkable job capturing the essence of Sonic 2. The design of the foreground tiles is spot-on while the backgrounds feature new, smoother gradients. The same per-scanline scrolling that Sonic 2 relies on is also fully present in this iteration of the game - backgrounds look excellent in motion. But it's all the new subtle animations that really stick out. Trees blow in the wind, pipes sparkle in chemical plant and clouds smoothly glide across the sky in Emerald Hill. Characters and objects also benefit from a vast increase in animation frames, all completely redrawn from scratch.
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While not quite perfect, we have huge hopes for Sonic 2 HD. Bearing in mind the success of Sonic Mania and the quality seen in this demo, we'd hope to see Sega sitting up and taking notice - and possibly making the title official. While fan-made demos and remakes tend to result in legal shutdowns, the fact is that Christian Whitehead's SAGE work resulted in brilliant mobile ports of the Sonic titles plus Sonic Mania itself. There's the sense that Sega doesn't feel threatened by fan-made projects, instead viewing them as a potential resource for future Sonic titles.
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