Ultimate Sonic: Hedgehog-centric platform antics based closely on the original.
Anyone who has ever claimed to be a fan of gaming in general should be comfortably familiar with the classic games which defined their console of choice. In the modern day for example, gaming is slightly different than it used to be, with no single title really being able to definitively stand out as the pinnacle game of its respective console. Half-life could stand toe-to-toe with World of Warcraft in its claim for PC platform top spot; it simply comes down to the personal preference of the individual. In classic console gaming, however, it is almost certainly the lovably Italian plumber Mario who sits in the Nintendo corner, with our unreasonably fast blast-from-the-past Sonic the Hedgehog typifying Sega in this figurative corner, weighing in at, well, however many rings you’ve managed to collect at any one time plus the weight of your average highly-mobile hedgehog.
‘Ultimate Sonic’ is a flash-based game which attempts to mimic the original game in pretty much every way. It looks the same, it sounds the same, and I’m pretty sure that if games emitted an objectively identifiable odour, it would also smell the same. The trouble with flash games modelled on such notoriously revered titles such as Sonic is that they’re never going to truly feel the same. With this distinction noted, I would like to attempt to judge ‘Ultimate Sonic’ as a standalone game and not to drown it too readily in the reputation of the Sega classic, existing as an overarching silhouette of which the resulting shadow is too large for any rival game to hope to escape.
Much like the original, ‘Ultimate Sonic’ is split into different zones of which we have two in total: Leaf Forest and Ice Paradise. True to the original Sonic, these zones are then split further into two acts each, with Leaf Forest broken down into Chill Gardens and Emerald Forest and Ice Paradise offering Snowy Mountain and Frosty Island. These zones are made available once you manage to speed your way through the levels, and offer a little variety by way of differing aesthetics; this helps with the gameplay since your eyes eventually begin to grow tired of the green background of the forest, which moves at a challenging pace for even the most experienced of gaming retinas.
The gameplay itself is pretty much identical to the original Sonic and pretty much all other flash platform games: Movement is controlled with the directional arrows and jump with the space bar. The only differentiating factor to any other flash game is Sonic’s ability to enter into a super-spin which is achieved by holding the downwards directional arrow and repeatedly pressing the space bar. With no further directional or movement issues to worry about, ‘Ultimate Sonic’ is as readily playable as the original Sonic and can be picked up easily by any player who wishes for a light afternoon touch of gaming fun.
Encountering enemies in much the same manner as the original, Sonic comes across the usual culprits who are basically hell bent on going politely about their own business, occasionally throwing out the odd exploding ball or damaging projectile which must be avoided. Failure to do so results in damage to yourself by losing all of your carefully collected gold rings.
In the first act we are subjected to such forest/jungle-appropriate creatures such as wasps, monkeys and altogether less fitting crab-like creatures. The second act being set among colder scenery, we encounter creatures more fitting for winter weather such as pesky sliding Penguins. All enemies are dealt with in the usual way of performing a well-timed jump and landing on your attacker’s skulls; it is also just as easy to avoid them altogether and treat the game like a glorified Olympic running event with hedgehogs, though this really does take half the fun out of the game.
Your health/life system is a remarkably simple one that also adheres strictly to the original premise: You collect golden rings throughout the levels (with the satisfying glistening sound only differing enough from the original as to not raise too many eyebrows over copyright infringement concerns) and a clumsy encounter with an enemy will make you drop your rings to the floor. If you are hit by an enemy or their projectiles whilst being unfortunate enough not to have any rings, you essentially die and lose a life. The rings are kind of a first-line defence against the enemies, and accumulating 100 of them will allow you to gain an extra life, which shouldn’t be all that necessary considering the relatively low difficulty of the game.
The level design also tips its hat to the original series of Sonic-containing games. Elaborate track-runs which see you spinning for quite a considerable period of time at a high speed are part and parcel of our little hedgehog’s travel arrangements. Encountering various acceleration springs and speed boosters helps you along your way to conquering the horizontally and vertically-challenging landscape, often requiring you to make a boost or utilise the environment in a specific way that allows you to gain enough speed to traverse the high-rising obstacles and loop-the-loops. One thing I noticed is that some areas are very difficult to properly move through, feeling more like a minor failing of the game (possibly some technical issues with the programming) rather than that of the player.
‘Ultimate Sonic’ has an impressive choice of characters to assume the identity of in your quest to complete the game’s four levels of topsy-turvy twisting and spinning. Characters instantly familiar to me came in the form of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. I failed to recognise the rest of the team, which consists of Cream, Amy and Shadow to complete the full line-up, which you steadily unlock as you progress through the game and earn passwords/cheats for your efforts.
Having played the game with all characters, it appears that the various creatures offer very little relative differences in terms of performance in the game. Cream, for example, has a small accompanying creature that follows her but she seems as equally matched as the rest of the characters apart from slightly increased speed. Shadow the (other) hedgehog has flames emanating from his heels, though this visual nuance doesn’t seem to translate into a practical advantage in terms of increased speed or agility. However, in allowing the player to unlock these various additional characters, the game’s replay value is immediately increased.
I moderately enjoyed the boss battles, which again had a striking similarity to the first boss in the original Sonic game. After battling through leaf forest you encounter Dr. Robotnik’s unusual and hugely inefficient method of defeating his enemies: The ‘Swinging Egg’. I’d love to surprise you with further description but this is exactly how it sounds; Dr. Robotnik hovers in the air, moving away from you at a fast pace, inviting you to come and destroy him. It’s an enticing offer, and one you simply can’t refuse since you cannot complete Act 1 without causing his temporary demise. The ‘egg’ which swings in a circumference around Robotnik can harm you if touched and eventually increases its speed of revolution. It’s simple enough to defeat if you time your jumpy effectively.
The second boss which you take on is Robotnik again, who seems to be unwilling to accept his previous defeat and is remarkably unwavering in the use of his previously unsuccessful hovering ‘egg’ vehicle which this time around seems to be gently ejecting bombs from its undercarriage. This behaviour is typical of Robotnik and this time around he is marginally more difficult to defeat, though again it’s just a matter of timing your jumps correctly and collecting the available rings should you send yourself flying into the path of an oncoming explosive. His bombs drop with increasingly frustrating frequency until you manage to defeat him.
Standing at only four levels and two boss fights, ‘Ultimate Sonic’ will feel like a relatively short game to those who have played Sonic on the Sega Megadrive and other such consoles. It is of average length for a flash game, however, and given the limiting constraints of creating the game with flash, it offers pretty much everything that a Sonic fan could hope for. It adheres loyally to the original in its movement of the characters, level design, sounds, and boss-fights; the only thing lacking is the option of the power ups (flame ball, invincibility, water bubble etc: These brought new levels of fun to the game) which are all but absent from its impressive like-for-like repertoire of characteristics from the original.
Precariously yet successfully walking the treacherous tightrope of gaming remakes, yet failing to plunge into the bubbling pool of virtual (but never actual) copyright infringement, ‘Ultimate Sonic’ is a formidable addition to the collection of Sonic-themed flash games available to play online. It can be enjoyed by all ages and indeed all levels of familiarity with the original; prior gaming knowledge is not necessary due to the simplicity of picking up the controls and the uncomplicated feel of the game. I recommend giving it a go, if only to wipe the smile off Dr. Robotnik’s smug, evil face. I’m not a fan of his moustache either.