Fan-made Sonic game mixes 3D environments with '90s platforming nostalgia.
Image: The Great Lange
It's amazing that Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega's once beloved mascot, still has such a dedicated following given that it's been more than a decade since he starred in a good game. Not a good game when compared to other terrible Sonic games, but an actual hit.
Fortunately, Sonic has fans who can maintain his reputation even when the official stuff coming out of Sega cannot. Even now, arguably near the nadir of his fame, fans are getting together at shows like last week's online-only Sonic Amateur Games Expo (SAGE) and sharing their own creations showcasing the direction they believe the series should take or should have always taken. And sometimes, much like Sonic himself, they find gold.
The gold in this case is the fan-made Sonic Utopia, announced at SAGE yesterday and designed by Jordan Lange and his co-developers Murasaki Fox, Tpot, and Pixy. It takes the bright aesthetic of the original platformers and uses it to create an open world game where Sonic zooms and rolls over open spaces and around loopy ramps which vault him yards away onto the heads of passing crabs.
In trailer form, at least, it looks brilliant. Through careful alchemy mixing the nostalgia for the 2D old platformers and 3D open-world environments, Lange and his cohorts have seemingly created a promising prototype. It's fast and pleasantly dizzying, although the frequent breaks in the footage leave me worried that there are long breaks where Sonic needs to backtrack and hunt down the coins he missed, thus breaking the flow. There's currently no download link, but Sonic Utopia's page at SAGE claims one is coming soon.
There's a clear desire for this type of game right now. Sonic Utopia follows in the footsteps of this summer's Green Hill Paradise Act 2, designed by Daniel "SuperSonic68" Coyle and other programmers from a 3D development kit created by a fan named Xaklse. Much like Sonic Utopia, it delivers a mix of platforming and 3D environments, although with what seems to be less fluidity and adherence to the original style. Unlike Utopia, though, it's at least available for download.
To be clear, these are just very early prototypes rather than hours-long experiences with multiple levels, and it's much easier to come up with cool ideas than it is to see projects to completion. But those concepts alone are more intriguing than what Sega has been pitching in recent years.
Sega itself is poised to pump some life into the franchise with a couple of titles due for release next year, although we currently know little about them. There's Project Sonic 2017, with its obviously "in-development" title and spiffy cinematic trailer that nevertheless shows nothing in the way of gameplay. There's Sonic Mania, a platformer in the style of the 90s classics that clings religiously to the old formula. Both have generated goodwill, but that can also be said of previous Sonic releases that turned out to be duds.
Ah, well. If they turn out to be garbage, at least the fan community is proving that it can keep Sonic alive regardless.