Well, it's SAGE time again. I must admit that this is the first SAGE I've "attended", and some of the booths this year are quite interesting. What follows is a rundown of my thoughts on some of them, in no particular order.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Mecha Madness
It appears that Mecha Madness's claim to fame that sets it apart from the pack is a heavy roster of well-thought-out combat moves. They are very well done, and don't have the floaty physics you might expect from original moves that don't have behaviour in the real games to be based on. I worry, though, that because of the sheer number of combinations that they may be difficult to remember, and some of them might be executed accidentally due to involving taps of the directional buttons. Also, combat is notorious for slowing down Sonic games so I'm looking forward to seeing if it can be incorporated seamlessly.
Finally, in the Intro Movie were several graphical glitches. The production values in this title are high, so it makes me wonder if the blame doesn't lie with Multimedia Fusion itself. It's presumptuous of me, but I'd recommend the developers switch to Game Maker if that were the case.
Project Mettrix, E02 Multi-Purpose Game Engine
This one is exciting because not only is it a game, but when it is finished, the engine will allow users to make their own fully customisable games themselves. The engine itself is pretty darn accurate, but there are some issues with the camera when spindashing. The new level, Bronze Lake, is impressive in the sense that is has completely original graphics and music. The trouble is, the music is a little annoying.
Shadow the Hedgehog 2
While I am not a big fan of Shadow the Hedgehog, this is easily the most impressive custom level I've seen. The level art itself is gorgeous, and the effects, such as the lightning, are really nice touches. It suits Shadow perfectly.
For an added good time, play the level while listening to P!nk's "Funhouse" song.
I look forward to playing the entire game. This may be my favourite of this year's SAGE.
This level is also very professional looking. I would accept this immediately in a Sonic Advance 4. Yes, some of the graphics are borrowed, but they are used very nicely.
The enemy design, level layout, and elements like the flying device Sonic can grab onto, are also exceptional. The level is actually fun to play. It's not just a proof of concept with a loop here and a ledge there. I'd play a whole game with level design of this calibre.
The first thing you notice about Sonic Gemini is the - how do I describe it - fluffy art style. From the cottony clouds to the swirly trees, and the cutesy, stocky sprites, the game exudes charm. It is a breath of fresh air from a thousand Sonic Advance knock-offs. You can recognise the game at a glance, because it has its own look. You can't buy that with money. Good job.
I do think that the engine needs a little work - Sonic should push against walls, and tip on ledges. Also, Metal Sonic should spin when he jumps (or at least have a jumping animation, rather than just lifting upward with the standing sprite).
I like the bonus stage concept, but the floor takes too long to flash, and the Goal Post shouldn't retrigger when you return from it.
Sonic Zero Remastered
This is pretty much everything that is wrong with Sonic fan-games.
You've got the generic, borrowed-art Green Hill rip-off zone. You've got borrowed, completely inappropriate music that's remixed with too much bombast. The shiny ring gather effect and level clear music add to the "lookit me, I'm so damn awesome" feel. So you rehashed Green Hill in a ready-made engine. I'm not impressed.
It's rare to see DIC universe games, and this one exudes style.
Unfortunately, I don't know whether or not I'm repulsed or intrigued by the style. But the game engine is so broken the game is barely playable. Furthermore, the original graphics aren't concerned with contrast at all, so you can die 5 times on a hazard before you even know what's going on.
It has potential, but it's gonna need a lot of polish before it starts to sparkle.
* * *
Overall, I'm impressed with the average increase in engine quality. However, originality is still sorely lacking except in a few key titles. I continue to be frustrated by the shoddy joypad support. Even the games that deign to support a joypad have no customising features, such as button mapping. Perhaps they feel that this is too little of a point to worry about, when the games are just demos anyway. But Sonic the Hedgehog is not meant to be played with a keyboard. To make a good first impression, pay attention to the little things that make actually playing your game comfortable. No amount of custom art is going to make up for a game with clunky key mappings in a choppy window.
Okay, I'm getting too negative. I don't want to discourage anybody. Get out there and create! See you at SAGE 2010.