I love to play things created by the fans; fans truly know what makes a game series great, even if the original creators do not. Which brings us to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise... Not doing so well overall in recent times. However, the fans of this series have made some pretty stand out stuff. This is why I am creating Fan Works - a series of articles dedicated to the works of fans. It won't be all Sonic stuff, either. But today, I have two special fan games:
Where do I even begin with freedom planet? I guess I should mention it's not really a Sonic fan game. That's right, it's actually something completely original, but with a Sonic base. Much like many Sonic fan games, it's created in Multimedia Fusion (using Sonic Worlds), which is a click-n-create program. However, unlike a lot of things made with this program, this game is totally solid. The creator is most likely going to sell the game in the future, but there is a demo out (currently version 1.2) definitely worth checking out.
The gameplay isn't 100% Sonic. You have lots of sonic staples such as rolling, momentum based platforming, collectables, etc. Interestingly, the games gives you a Rock Knight Adventures style blast off move. In order to do this move, you have to charge a blue meter by either just moving, or by collecting blue gems. FP also does away with Sonic's have-at-least-one-ring life system, instead you have hit points represented by a flower in the top left corner. To refill life you grab flower petals, of course. To kill enemies you no longer jump on them, you're given a slash move. The controls are nice and responsive, and the game even supports controllers built in. (Which works great with an Xbox 360 controller) Also worth nothing is there's a second character (the green one on the right in the image) who plays differently, but you have to unlock it and I haven't been able to do so, so I can't comment on that. The demo version of this game contains two stages: Dragon Valley, which is just a regular stage from the game, and the Shang Mu Academy which is a dojo like stage that is a set of training stages to test your skills. The Academy is actually pretty fun and pretty challenging in the later stages
The art is simply amazing -- It's all pixel art, but it's beautify crafted. If someone had told me this was a 2D game on the Sega Saturn, I would believe them. The game is set in an interesting fantasy setting, not unlike that of Rayman or Ristar. There also seems to be quite a bit of Japanese influence in the art, which is alright in my book. The characters obviously have a lot of Sonic influence, but don't really seem like Sonic fan characters or anything. The enemies are varied in design, and are pretty interesting. I would never listen to the music on it's own, but it fits perfectly in the game; the music matches the fantasy theme set.
Freedom Planet is highly recommended. Visit the official website.
Sonic Robo Blast 2
Sonic Robo Blast 2 (aka SRB2) has been in development since the late 1990's. In 1997 John Carmack released the source code to Doom, so a couple Sonic fans (who had already made a couple Sonic mods for Doom) decided they should use it to make a 3D Sonic fan game. After many years and many releases, SRB2 as we know it today is the result. The story behind it is actually a little more complicated than that, but I won't bore you with the details. Let me also go on the record by saying I love Doom, and I love Sonic, so seeing the two combine is something amazing.
To that end, SRB2 really feels like a 3D game from the 90's. This game adopts Doom's pseudo 3D, but adds several features, such as the much touted floor-over-floor of the Doom Legacy engine. This allows SRB2 to use an FPS engine for at platformer game: It has a third person perspective, lifts, floating platforms, underwater segments, and much more.
Gameplay is handled much like the classic Sonic games, but in three dimensions -- to kill enemies you jump on their heads, you have to have at least one ring to die, you pass a sign at the end of the level, levels are split into acts; all the sonic staples are in this game. The game contains three playable characters which act as sort of a difficulty system: Miles "Tails" Prower who can fly and acts as sort of an easy mode, Knuckles the Echidna who can glide and climb and acts as sort of a medium difficulty, and of course Sonic the hedgehog who can jump-dash forwards in air (referred to in the game as thoking) and who is definitely the game's hard option. Playing as Sonic is very frustrating because as him you are not allowed to make as many mistakes while platforming. This game has lots of death pits, don't play as Sonic your first go around. I'm not gonna lie to you, the later stages become Nintendo hard with any character, prepare to be frustrated. In fact, I haven't even beaten SRB2, which is shameful I know. There are some unlockables in SRB2 which are pretty interesting, but I won't spoil anything.
The art keeps with it's 90's Sonic style as well. The textures are very clean, and the lighting is very bright (probably the farthest thing from Doom's dark and gritty artstyle). The game's sprites have a very unique art style that's consistent across the board. All the playable characters have full animation sets that are animated quite well. The enemy designs are pretty interesting, but some enemies are very similar to others design-wise, which I guess makes sense storyline wise. The levels are very angular in design, but that's just due to engine limitations. Their interesting designs more than make up for it. The music is very MIDI sounding, but is very fitting to the style of the game, and some tracks are quite catchy.
The multiplayer mode is very disappointing, though. Cooperative mode is can be pretty fun, but it's just the single player. There's no teamwork mechanics (except Tails being able to pick up other characters and fly with them, ala Sonic 3) or tons of enemies to kill or anything like that. You just run through the levels like normal, but you just happen to have more than one person. The best gametype is called race mode, which is just a race to the end. This gametype makes perfect sense for a Sonic game and can be quite fun, but most rounds are everyone playing as Sonic and thoking constantly. The rest of the gametypes are played from a first person perspective and involve shooting red rings at other people. The powerups are varied and interesting, but can't make up for the biggest flaw: Sonic's have-at-least-one-ring health system does not work in a multiplayer setting where you're trying to kill other people. It's hard to kill someone when they're temporarily invincible after you hit them, and in that time they can regain full health (having at least one ring) Rings are also your ammunition, so if you run out of ammo, you're also exposed to being killed. This, along with the very quick pace, makes it hard for beginners to get into. SRB2 also has dreadful network code, so you will probably never play a match without horrible lag. I would stay away from the multiplayer, but you might want to give it a shot.
Also worth noting is that SRB2 inherits Doom's modability. There's lots of custom content created for SRB2 by players, and future releases are looking to even expand the modding capabilities.
SRB2 is highly recommended, its multiplayer is not. Visit the official website.