We come back after a long break with another big post talking about Sonic! This comes out on Sonic’s Birthday, so lets celebrate the Blue Hedgehog’s adventures on the Saturn, Arcade and a few Genesis spin-off adventures.
Spinballing Around the Toxic Caves
Sonic ventured into other genre’s outside of 2D platforming, with one being pinball! Sonic got his own pinball adventure, produced in just a few months, to help SEGA have a holiday Sonic title ready as Sonic 3 wasn’t ready to be released at the time.
Sonic Spinball is loosely based on SatAM TV show, with Sonic visiting Robotnick’s volcano base and ends up spinballing through four pinball tables until you take out Robotnick. You do this by collecting Chaos Emeralds across the different tables and by racking up a ton of points. The game is fun, as it blends the platforming abilities of Sonic (moving left and right on the ground, jumping, spin dashing) with more grounded pinball mechanics.
Sadly, the game doesn’t have the ‘feel’ of Sonic 2’s physics, so Sonic feels off at points. To fix this somewhat, the game has a fast option making controls a bit better. Overall, Spinball is a solid title that will have you bouncing around some toxic caves with style.
One heck of a 3D Blast
Sonic shifted hands to people outside of Sonic Team after the release of Sonic & Knuckles, as the studio moved on to different projects like Ristar at the time. So, SEGA got a studio called Travelers Tales to come on board to make a Sonic title on the Genesis. They wanted it to use 3D technology, after being impressed with the studios past work on the Genesis with Toy Story & Mickey Mania.
The game has Sonic moving around on a isometric-plane, retaining his great speed and rolling abilities. But the gameplay is different, in the sense that while you are speeding through levels, you are saving little birds called ‘Flickies’. These are needed to open up special ring portals that warp you to different parts of the stage. Once you go through one-two of these portals, the act of a given zone ends.
But each Flicky is different; some bounce around after you free them, some hover around you after getting hit and the like. This means getting hit by foes does more then make you lose rings but like rings, you can collect the Flickies again.
Bosses are fun, playing with the new perspective well enough for the Robotnik fights and the Saturn version of the game needs to be noted here; its specials stages are some of the best in any Sonic. They are in full 3D, were produced by SEGA of Japan, and they are a lot of fun by mirroring the ones found in Sonic 2.
Sonic 3D Blast is interesting in the sense that not unlike Sonic CD, it got two unique soundtracks. They can be found in this playlist here, so give them a listen. A lot of great tracks across both OST’s in my option.
Overall, 3D Blast while flawed at points, is a very strong Sonic title that shows western developers can make good games in the series.
Scraping Some Knuckles & Super Sonic Racing
Sonic had a tricky time jumping into the 3rd Dimension. Sonic Team were busy making new IP like Burning Rangers and NiGHTS into Dreams on the Saturn, leaving SEGA scratching their heads at what a 3D Sonic should be like. This lead to two studios taking a stab with the Sonic; AM2 and Travelers Tales.
The former had a lot of work done on SEGA’s own Virtual Fighter series while the later worked on Sonic in the past through 3D Blast. They were tasked with bringing Sonic into the third dimension and each studio did so in different ways.
AM2 did what they know best, make a fighting game using Sonic’s extensive cast of characters across console and handheld adventures. So characters like Sonic, Tails & Knuckles joined the brawl facing Fang the Sniper from Sonic Triple Trouble and Espio from the 32X Knuckles Chaotix. With fun fighting mechanics, great presentation and capturing the spirit of Sonic; we got a decent fighting title. While not the studios best work, it was very solid and was later ported to PS3/360 with cut characters like Eggman, Metal Sonic and Honey the Cat.
Travelers Tales took Sonic into 3D with a more literal direction; racing. Sonic is fast, so making him race others is a logical conclusion. With former level designers from the Genesis titles coming back to design the tracks level layout and Travelers Tales strong presentation skills on display, we got Sonic R on the Saturn and SEGA PC. It was a flawed racer, with odd controls for some and a low amount of replay value. But it is remembered today for its amazing soundtrack and fun gameplay despite the problems it does have.
Remember when I said Sonic’s jump into 3D had issues? They reared their ugly head with the next title on the list; Sonic X-Treme.
It was going to be Sonic’s first official 3D platforming adventure (not like 3D Blast with it being top-down, but completely 3D). If you played games like Klona or Pac-Man World on the PS1, this style of gameplay would be familiar; Sonic can walk into and out of the screen but the gimmick is that was using fish-eye lens. What does this mean?
The camera goes into and out of the screen as Sonic walks around and his moveset heavily mirrors his Classic style gameplay; he can run, jump, roll and spin-dash through the levels. Your goal is to collect special rings that Eggman is after.
Sonic has some new abilities like a Spin Slash that has his spikes point out and drill through objects but the gameplay footage released never showed this in action. Yes, footage released, as this game never happened; it was put into deep development hell.
This site tells the story well, with it starting out as a 32X game but then migrating over the Saturn. Along the way, they started developing it for the PC but it wouldn’t run as well on the Saturn hardware.
So, they decided “We need to use another engine”. A head of Sega walked in and offered the Nights engine, to make development easier. I will just link to what that link states happen next….as it really angers me.
Eager to help, Stolar promised the tools, and delivered with editors and the engine code not long afterward. The problem was that the creator of NiGHTS and the man credited with the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog, Yuji Naka, was not consulted on this, and became very irate, and, according to Stolar, forbade the team from using the engine, even threatening to leave the company if it didn’t happen. The team was back to square one, with two weeks lost developing on an engine that they couldn’t use. Things didn’t look good; in fact, they were downright awful.
What does that mean? Simple; Naka refused to let a struggling team use an engine he made and thus they had to reset a lot of work and start over again. And this is after having a lot of trouble to begin with.
The team using a ton of different engines, story changing over time, gameplay styles with Knuckles/Tails/New Character added in, and unique engines for the levels & boss fights; they tried hard to get the game in finished state but nothing was sticking due to political problems behind the scenes (heads of Sega wanting them to use the boss engine for everything, different members making sections of the game, ect).
One developer, Chris Coffin worked hard to finish this game despite horrid working conditions and after so long, working over 16 hours a day, living in his damn office to get the game done and almost dying getting the game finished…..the game never saw the light of day.
If he continued working on the project, he would of gotten a fatal illness and died. So it ended and as a back-up plan, Sega commissioned Sega Japan and Travelers Tales to get a port Sonic 3D Blast for the Saturn.
More Lost Adventures……
There also was a Sonic SatAM game pitch that was going to be 2D Action game but unlike the Genesis games, Sonic would be a bit slower and it would focus on stealth/combat more. The sprites are much larger then the past games and the game appears to be a lot slower. The freedom fighters likely would of had a big role, as by the end of the pitch, Sally hacks a door using Nicole, then her and Sonic enter it.
Sonic has a few new moves here too; the Spin-slash which helps him drill through objects, a ring-toss ability that we see carry over into the main-line games (Sonic Battle) and the Pin Strike, which has Sonic explode some of his spines into foes.
But we have one more lost game to discuss; Sega Sonic the Hedgehog.
It was a simple arcade game where you played as Sonic alongside new characters Mighty and Ray. Mighty was one of the earliest designs for Sonic, so they edited it to be more original and Mighty was added into the game.
You move the characters around with a track ball and you have to keep moving it in different directions to keep your characters moving. You have a jump button and it can attack foes and brake objects.
The main thing to take away here is the animations for the characters, as its very detailed.
The games soundtrack is sold too, so give that a listen if you have the time.
One last thing before I close, the game supported 3-Player co-op, so that could make things crazy. The game is sadly, locked in Japan. It was never localized and it is very hard to emulate. Maybe SEGA will put this in a future Sonic Compilation but I doubt that would happen.
An Adventure Is Coming: Open Your Heart to Live & Learn
Sonic is clearly showed issue jumping into 3D, but Naka and his team worked hard on a new game idea for the Saturn which later migrated over to SEGA’s Dreamcast console; Sonic Adventure. We will be covering Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic’s first leap on Nintendo Platforms in the third part of our celebration of Sonic!
This will be coming out very soon, so keep an eye out on the site for when it goes live tomorrow.