Reviews: Sonic Robo Blast 2
Sonic 3D Done Right
Sonic is a classic character for a reason. He had a kickass cartoon from the 90's, a pretty good couple of comics also from the 90's and, lest we forget, a gianormous series of games that are still a massive success to this day. But ultimately, it's the classic games from the early-mid 90's that people continue to come back to and remember, while most of the 3D games don't exactly get a lot of love. It's not that they're bad; far from it, but most of them aren't quite able to translate just what made the classic games work in 3D, and what they instead give us in their place, while enjoyable at times, still doesn't quite live up to those first several games from the glory days of old. Surely pulling off a Mario couldn't be that hard. Could it? Sonic Robo Blast 2 shows that, in fact, it isn't, or at least it shouldn't be. Despite being a fangame likely made on a shoestring budget, it manages to do what most official 3D Sonic games have failed to do; successfully bring the feel of the original 2D games into the third dimension. Everything from the physics to the level design oozes that classic Sonic feel, with the only difference being that now, it's all in 3D, giving things an extra dimension while not taking away from what made the classics classic. Is it perfect? Probably not, but darn if it still isn't so enjoyable to play. If this were an official Sonic game with a real budget behind it, I would slap down mah money in a hearbeat, but as is, it's still one of the best Sonic fangames you will ever play. Anyone who loves Sonic and wants to see him done justice in the third dimension owes it to themselves to play this game. Even Sega could take a lesson or two from this one.
A Diamond in the Rough
It's such a cliché phrase, but it's true. Sonic Robo Blast 2 is truly a diamond, but there is a lot of rough to it—and the first time you play the game, the rough is pretty much all that you're going to see. "Sure, it's okay for a fangame," you think. "But the camera is awful, there's no air control at all, and the controls are so slippery it makes platforming impossible!" As you play SRB2, however, the diamond glimmering beneath will slowly start to shine. You begin to get accustomed to the gameplay and the rather odd physics, the level design becomes more interesting, and the things you initially wrote off as bugs may turn out to be features. Slippery controls? Bah! Those are momentum-based controls, and once you get used to them they allow for precision platforming at both low speed and high speed, something few games get right. Levels in this game are huge and have many multiple paths and secrets within each one, leading to plenty of replay value. While exploring the stages looking for secrets and alt-paths can be fun, I suggest avoiding doing this within a level until you have beaten it once, as the downside to having large levels is that you can become lost if you don't stick to the main path. SRB2 has three characters to choose from: Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. When playing SRB2 for the first time, it's highly recommended you begin playing as Knuckles. He has by far the best handling and his glide and climb abilities let you avoid difficult platforming sections, which is helpful when you're still learning the ropes of the game. Tails is the easiest to use character in theory, but his flying mechanics can be tricky for newbies. Tails is best used for exploring stages after you have already beaten them once. Sonic is the best and funnest character to use once you're good at the game, mostly due to all the levels being designed specifically with him in mind. However, his speed and hyper-mobility make it very hard for a new player to play as him. All in all, SRB2 is an excellent, if somewhat rough, fangame, and is even on my list of favourite games ever due to its well-designed levels and fun gameplay—not to mention its online mode and expansive community. The game is free to download, and can run well on even low-powered machines. Try it.
Does a lot of things really well, but has some trouble understanding why some things don't work well in 3D
Sonic Robo Blast 2, despite its painfully generic name, is a rare exception to the "fangames are terrible" rule. It has a ton of the old-school Sonic feel, and plays a lot like the 2D Genesis-era (or Megadrive-era for you Europeans) Sonic games transferred into 3D. But despite the parts where it shines, it's very rough around the edges. Let's start with the good. Level design is often fantastic. There are very clever ideas all over the place, and even some of the "thrill rides" that Sonic is often known for, such as a level that features fast-moving up and downhill rivers and has multiple routes you can take, sometimes by jumping from one river to another. You never know what kind of obstacle or design element will happen next in any level. The play mechanics are generally very good as well, with Sonic being heavily affected by momentum. This makes controlling long jumps a challenge, but one I find fun, and I love running at high speed through the levels. The game also avoids fanwank tendencies and sticks to mostly what the Genesis games themselves would have done, albeit in 3D and using the Doom engine. Even the "play without saving" option from Sonic 3 is there! Levels are massive (to me, a plus), and the 10-minute time limit is gone. There are problems though, and while not insurmountable, they're pretty big. The game is at its best when it recognizes what works in 3D, and at its worst when it fails to recognize what doesn't work. There are platforming segments that involve jumping on some very small platforms, some of which fall down shortly afterwards, as well as stupidly designed boss fights where the controls and camera really work against you, and other poorly thought-out aspects. The default controls are Doom-esque of the "forwards, backwards, turn" variety, though a buried option to enable "analog controls" changes that. There are pros and cons to both, as oftentimes, particularly later on, levels feel as if they were designed with the Doom-esque controls specifically in mind. The moments where the game tries things that really do not work in 3D really hurt it and are frustrating, and it's a real shame that one of the few fangames that's otherwise excellent in a lot of ways is held back by such a massive flaw. It's still worth checking out.