Friday, 17 June 2011

Sonic Unleashed? Well not always…

  Sonic Unreleashed

I have to admit that the Sonic the Hedgehog games have always been one of favourite series, ever since I played the very first one on my shiny new Master System. But this isn’t going to be a fan-gush on the brilliance of the games, and I’m the first to admit that that initial shine got more that a little tarnished as Sonic got on in years. To be faire though, the old Sonic seems to be making a bit of a come-back lately, but I digress…
What I want to look at here are the miss-starts and blind-allies of the Sonic race. I want to take a look at the games that didn’t make it, and it may turn out to be a more interesting story than you may first think. At one time there was a lot of miss-information and out-and-out fiction circulating about ‘lost’ Sonic games. As such, I can only recant the things I have acquired, seen or heard about. I will leave it up to you to decide how much truth there is to any of this. All I can say is that I genuinely have, or have ‘officially’ heard about, everything I have included here.

The SEGA Saturn’s lost 3D Sonic…
Ok, big guns first… We all knew it was going to be called Sonic Xtreme, and we all knew it was set to be launched as a Saturn title.
Other than this… well, there have been many rumours regarding the games genesis, and about what form it was initially intended to take, including some speculation that it was initially intended for SAGA’s ill-fated 32X add-on.  There was even some talk, or at least hope, about it being a Saturn launch title.
The first proof-of-concept video clip that I ever saw had Sonic running around a 2.5D’ish type landscape that seemed to consist of similar graphics tile-patterns and layouts to the 2D games, but looked to be a truly 3D rendered environment, which appeared more vertical in structure. To me it gave the impression of the land simply hanging in the air. But that’s just my opinion. Why not watch the video yourself and see what you think. Unlike some of the later efforts, it did look like it was going to be a fast-paced game.
When I came across the next, apparent, prototype for this project it looked very different from that first video. This was a dump of playable, well movable character, code that allowed you to propel Sonic around a small piece of 3D land. Don’t get too excited over this though. It isn’t much more than a basic implementation of environment and movement routines. Overall this did give the impression of a very simple precursor to the system used in the Sonic-Adventure games. You can have a look at this yourself; just don’t expect to find anything remotely resembling agame.

The end-point of this speculation, if there was an end-point, seemed to be the inclusion of a remixed version of the uncompleted Sonic Xtreme game code as a sort of pseudo front-end to the Sonic Jam collection, also released on the Saturn.
For those who haven’t seen Sonic Jam, it is basically a compilation CD holding emulated versions of older games in the Sonic series, with one exception…
And it’s this exception that stands out, rather awkwardly, from the crowed.
To me the tagged-on 3D ‘game’ looks, and plays, like the missing link between the 2D platform games and the fully 3D Sonic Adventure games. The recognisable platforms from the 2D games are there, but not the speed. It is definitely not the game intended from those initial Sonic Xtreme promo videos.
To be honest this 3D effort seamed a bit clunky and thrown together to me, but that may only lend weigh to SEGA’s explanation of it being a tailored implementation of the abandoned code from the unfinished Xtreme game engine. It looks like this is the closest implementation of the original game code that anyone would ever be likely to see in a commercially released game. Although there are rumours that some of the code was re-worked and included in later games, this doesn’t mean that those games were anything like the intended Sonic Xtreme.

So how about Sonic for the Saturn, but not so Xtreme?
A separate, fully 3D, Saturn game simply called 'Sonic Saturn' was rumoured to be under internal development.  This was apparently a completely different project, which predated Sonic Xtreme and was dropped in favour of the newer project before a full game-engine could be produced, although one of the 'bonus' rounds, based on a game of pool, was rumoured to be in a playable format.

However, the unreleased Sonic story wasn’t limited to the ill-fated Saturn. As I said at the start, there have been a fair amount of miss-starts and dropped developments throughout the development of the Sonic franchise.

Sonic in the arcades... or not!
Evidently there were two failed attempts to produce a Sonic arcade-cabinet based game before the eventual release of the SegaSonic and Sonic The Fighters arcade games.
Al Nilsen, Sega's president at the time, is attributed to having said that they had "developed two Sonic arcade games that have never been released because they were not the specialness that Sonic was."
Although I haven't personally seen any proof of these titles, and don’t know how far along development was, I believe they probably did look at other options before releasing the games they did. It would be nice to know how far along these were!

Dropped ideas:
Of course some of the ideas pitched at the Sonic franchise didn’t ever get off the ground at all. But that don’t mean there weren’t some interesting ideas doing the rounds...

An early 3D isometric concept print:
 All I have ever seen of this, pre Sonic3D, idea is the rather intriguing artwork. It seems that this was produced by Chris Senn, a designer with SEGA, as an early pitch at an isometric Sonic concept. I don’t think any code was ever produced.

A cartoon Sonic:
A Sonic game based on the cartoon, initialy named Sonic-16, was pitched at the Genesis by the Sega Technical Institute. A US based subsidiary. A concept video was produced, but didn’t receive a warm welcome in Japan and the concept was dismissed.

Sonic goes Pre-school… but not really:
With the advent of the Pico system SEGA was looking for kid-friendly ideas. So one of the obvious choices was to produce a Sonic game for this system, which lead to the announcement of a ‘Sonic Junior’ game for the fledgling system. The game would star a younger, cuddlier, version of the character. The game was dropped at some point, apparently quite early on, in the development. Although SEGA didn’t make this game they did, rather bizarrely, used the same concept to produce the ‘Ecco Junior’ game, using a younger version of the Ecco the Dolphin character, which apparently had a fair degree of success.

Other oddities: 

Sonic wants a Cracker:
Although not technically 'unreleased,' as it was only ever intended to be an internal proof-of-concept prototype. "Sonic Crackers" was produced and distributed, although not commercially, as a playable version of what would eventually become "Knuckles Chaotix."

The un-named Sonic DS tech demo:
Basically just a simple demo showing a running Sonic character, where the user could adjust the running-speed by sliding a hand over the screen using their finger.
Not exactly a game but an interesting oddity!

This has sometimes been referred to as Sonic DS, and was rumoured to be a dropped game concept. However I have seen nothing from SEGA to suggest this was even anything other than a tech-demo. Let me know if you know different! 

Learn with Sonic:
Sonic's Edusoft was an educational software suite developed for the Sega Master System by Tierex software in 1991. The package remained officially unreleased although it appears to have been largely completed, and various versions of the ROM have been leaked.

And that’s pretty much it for now… I’ll add more if I ever remember or come across anything else. 

Thanks for looking…

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