Posted 18 September 2011 - 11:43 PM
Sonic Axiom Review
By Legendary Emerald
Fan games are a dying breed these days. Long past is the time when a single person could put together a simple platforming game with Games Maker or Multimedia Fusion, send it off to a website, and entertain hundreds if not thousands of people. With the rise in quality of game creation tools, more has become expected from fan games, and more effort has to be taken in create an experience not only comparable, but on the same level as the source material. As a result, somewhere close to 90% of all fan games never make it past the demo phase, as pressure becomes too much to bear for the teams of developer who receive no monetary compensation for their efforts.
However, once in a great while, a fangame achieves the impossible: it reaches completion. At that point, there is still only a small chance that it will reach the audience it intended. Annual events such as SAGE, the Sonic Amateur Game Expo, exist to raise awareness of these rare gems. Case in point, the subject of this review: Sonic Axiom.
Friends, Sonic's 20th anniversary game has come early.
Sonic Axiom is, to my knowledge, this first Sonic fangame to be completed using the popular “Sonic Worlds” engine. The engine itself is known for being extremely faithful to the classic Sonic games on the SEGA Genesis, to the point where unless you have spent an exorbitant amount of time with the official games, you will not feel the difference between controlling Sonic in a Sonic Worlds game than in an actual Genesis game. It isn't quite pixel perfect; Sonic seems to maintain a bit too much momentum when jumping, but it isn't anything that can't be adjusted to over the game's generous length.
As in all classic Sonic titles, the game is split up into a number of zones and acts. For this particular installment, there are 9 unique zones, with 2 acts and a 3rd boss act each. Each zone introduces new elements to the level design, such as switches which reveal hidden walkways, bumpers that impede progress, teleportation pads, and in one infuriating moment which harkens back to the fabled Carnival Night Zone barrel, large blocks that must be pushed out of the way. Outside of the first, easier zone, you can expect yourself to take upwards of three minutes to complete a single act stage. This is due to the overall pace of the game, which is much more reminiscent of Sonic 1 and CD than the faster and more visceral Sonic 2. As in Sonic's first outing, moments of exhilarating speed are plentiful, but just as much so are platforming challenges and multiple paths to explore.
However, Axiom does not only take after Sonic 1. Included in the mix are Tails and Knuckles as, each retaining their trademark abilities from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and each with their own save file separate from Sonic. Each play differently enough from Sonic to warrant a second and third playthrough. Elemental shields are only represented by the water shield in this game, which retains its ability to let one breath under water an infinite length of time, but bafflingly loses the bounce ability it gave Sonic its debut. It is still better for it to be in the game though, rather than outright ignored as it has been in every subsequent SEGA produced game.
Boss battles are the norm for a Sonic game. Equipped with a handful or more of rings, you face off against Doctor Eggman in his newest contraption. While some of the bosses on display are quite creative, rarely if at all will any boss prove a significant obstacle. Most amount to dodging a simple to read attack, and then waiting for the opportunity to dish out a single attack before your opponent goes back out of reach. Special mention goes to a boss fought later in the game though, who does not follow this whack-a-mole pattern; I will not ruin the surprise as to what it is, though.
What is a Sonic game without Chaos Emeralds, though? Luckily, Sonic Axiom is not forced to answer such a question, as it includes both special stages and emeralds to be gained. Via the Sonic 2 method of collecting fifty rings and passing a checkpoint, you are able to jump through a ring of stars and enter a bonus stage loosely based on the Sonic 1 GG special stage, with elements from the Sonic & Knuckles bonus stage as well. While I myself never collected all the chaos emeralds, it can be safely assumed that doing so provides a more satisfactory ending than if you neglect them. One odd feature of the special stages is that after completion, you are allowed to jump back through the ring of stars and enter the next if you still have at least fifty rings on hand. Whether this was intentional or not, I could not tell.
Visually, the game is very attractive. Environments were put together using assets from Sonic CD and other Sonic games, as well as brand new textures and platforms. Rather than appearing as a hodgepodge, the game has a cohesive and singular style from start to finish, thanks to heavy editing of any objects borrowed from Sonic's past. Parallax scrolling is as apparent as it has ever been, and particular notice is to be taken of other visual effects, such as the fire that leaps from the bottom of the screen and cools to ash in the Molten Meltdown zone. In short, the game looks just as good, if not better, than the previously most visually impressive 2D Sonic titles, Sonic CD and Knuckles Chaotix.
Aurally, the game fares even better. Again, Axiom's love of Sonic CD is apparent. Axiom's soundtrack echoes back to the American version of CD's ambient and at times somber score, without ever lifting a single piece of music from the game. Styles vary from zone to zone, but all of the original tracks on display are of the same exceedingly high quality, and none feel out of place. So good, in fact, is the cohesion, that I instinctively assumed that one person had composed the entire soundtrack. Instead, I was surprised to find out that it had been completed by an array of artists, many of which are involved in Newgrounds and Overclocked Remix. As impressive as the level themes may be, the incidental music in the game is far more questionable in its inclusion. Rather than an original song, the Japanese Sonic CD “speed up” music plays when you collect a pair of speed shoes, and similarly does a quite bare-bones rendition of Sonic Heroes' invicibility music play when you are in your fear-no-pain state. Most unfitting though are the 1-up and Act Complete jingles, which horrendously clash with the rest of the music in the game. The “got a chaos emerald” screen is also lifted straight out of the Genesis, but at least that tune had some class.
Without focusing too much longer on the negative, I would not be providing a fair review for this game if I did not mention its biggest flaw. Sadly, this game is in need of a revision. In my first and so far only play through, I only encountered only one legitimate glitch, but it was so glaring as to knock me right out of the illusion that I'd stumbled across a lost SEGA title. It occurred during the boss fight that takes place in the Glacial Galaxy zone; I hope the creative team responsible is aware of this, because the glitch the particular glitch I encountered rendered the boss' weapon invisible and the boss invincible, and I had to let myself be killed in order to progress. I do not know how common, if at all, this issue is, but I hope this can be taken care of sooner than later.
Questionable design is also apparent in the Sandy Sinkhole zone, which features segmented platforms that can be spin-attacked through to destroy individual sections, a design first employed in the Icecap Zone in Sonic 3. However, unlike that classic game, in Axiom, it is possible to accidentally destroy every platform in the totem, rendering progress impossible. Avoiding this outcome is extremely easy, but if you don't know any better, you'll end up stuck and having to resort to the secret kill code in order to lose a life and restart at the previous check point. That code is K-J-N on your keyboard. Afterward, walk off the screen which has stopped scrolling relative to your movement, and wait until the game decides to kill you. And make sure you remember that code, because the game contains no documentation or in-game hints to alert you to its presence. I encountered it only by accident.
Sonic Axiom is not a perfect game. Then again, neither were the originals. What Sonic Axiom succeeds at though is nearly perfectly emulating the style and gameplay of those original games that gamers across the world still love. The scant flaws that exist are easy to give, once taken into account the high quality of every other aspect on display. Sonic Axiom is not only the current best Sonic fangame, it is an absolute triumph. After seeing it through from beginning to end, I can't help but wonder if SEGA themselves will be able to top it with their 20th Anniversary game, Sonic Generations. It remains to be seen. But for now, we have be given the opportunity to play a brand new Sonic game, with all the excitement that it brings. And I am truly thankful for that.
SONIC AXIOM (PC)
Overall Impression: 9/10
~ Legendary Emerald