What are your top 3 favorite Sonic hacks?
This is a difficult question to answer because I don’t really like ROM hacks. I understand that they take an extraordinary amount of skill to create - I’ve been told by a few people I should make hacks instead of fangames, and ROM hacking is definitely beyond my skill set.
The problem is hacks are made by programmers. Their skills often lie more in programming, not in level design or art direction. I remember when Sonic 2 Delta first came out, it was an incredible hacking achievement but the level design was completely and entirely abysmal. Gigantic mazes of tiles with no sense of flow or momentum, with cheap hits and cheap deaths at every turn. I mean, look at this. Sorry, Esreal - you’re a wonderful hacker, but your levels aren’t very fun to play.
It’s not limited to Sonic, either. Here’s a blog I wrote about a NSMB hack with some pretty egregious level design problems. This is kind of what I was getting at when I was talking about the Unleashed Project’s ranking scores - hackers don’t get this stuff right. This is one of the rare times you’re going to see me openly indulge my own ego, but I’ve been making (fan)games for more than a decade now and I’ve been playing games for even longer. And I’ve seen this over, and over, and over again. Creators are blind to just how good they are at their own creations and never account for the average joe. Unless you’re making a hack about difficulty specifically, there’s no excuse for it to be hard to play.
So, largely, the Sonic hacks I like are not “total conversions”, to use that term. The hacks I like are ones that take existing content and twist it a little bit. For example:
I was kind of mystified by this one because it kind of took me by surprise. Sonic Retro user E-122-Psi has made a number of hacks like this, where you get to play as Amy Rose, or Sally Acorn, or what-have-you. Vector’s the most fun, in my opinion. When you have hacks that add Tails or Knuckles to Sonic 1, the games become trivial because you can just fly or glide over everything. Vector’s 8-way air dash provides just enough boost in mobility without completely breaking the game.
So I don’t like ROM hacks because they’re often prohibitively difficult for no reason - except hacks like this, which are explicitly designed to challenge you in a fun, new way. This is the Sonic 2 you know and love, but rings are now your enemy because they make you fat. The fatter you are, the less agile you are, until eventually you become immobilized. Only exercise can shed that excess weight. I can’t ever imagine completing the game like this, but I don’t expect many can. It’s plenty humorous, though, and that’s what counts in my book.
I really struggled to think of a third hack that I would consider my “favorite”. I am probably starting to sound like a huge asshole here, but a lot of level and game design in hacks really does bother me this much. Sonic Megamix is one of the few Sonic hacks out there that actually has kind of decent level design. It’s still a little haphazard in places, but there’s enough people working on it who are putting enough thought and care in to the why’s that it comes out alright enough. I just wish there was a newer build to play around with.