In honor of Source Gaming’s Sonic the Hedgehog week, I have decided to give the venerable Sonic franchise a go on my Attack of the Clones series. The clones I will be examining are those of the Genesis/Mega Drive Sonic titles (the first game in particular), and as always, I will be focusing on games that took obvious inspiration from Sonic but that added their own unique spin and can stand out as solid titles on their own.
When the original Sonic the Hedgehog launched on the Genesis way back in 1991, it opened the floodgates for “cool” animal mascots, and video game developers began to scramble in an attempt to find their own Sonic. Some, such as Bubsy the Bobcat or Aero the Acrobat, followed Sonic in spirit but not in gameplay. Others, like Awesome Possum (just a word of advice, if you have to constantly tell people you’re awesome you’re probably not), tried to steal the entire formula but failed spectacularly. Still, there were a few that managed to get things right. Those are the games we will focus on today.
Rocky Rodent (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
Rocky Rodent isn’t the most original looking platformer. The character himself looks like what someone might draw Crash Bandicoot like if they had only heard about who he was second hand from a person that played the game once, while most of the game’s environments are generic and drab, consisting of mostly urban street and/or building levels. The gameplay featured a fuzzy but “extreme” protagonist that had to run through levels that combined heavy speed elements with a few spots of precarious platforming. This is where the game most resembles Sonic. The game is fast, and for kids that only owned a Super Nintendo this made it an obvious alternative to SEGA’s blue megastar. Heck, Rocky even steals the spinning “end of stage signs” directly from Sonic.
The general mechanics of the game are actually quite a bit different from Sonic, though. Rocky has the ability to change between various hairstyles that act as powerups. Think of them as roughly analogous to Mario’s many suits and powerups. The various hair styles do a variety of things, such as give him a projectile weapon or allow him to swing from the ceiling. This powerup system really helped set Rocky apart from many of the other swift and attitude filled mascots of the day. It was not enough, unfortunately, to make the game good. Rocky Rodent is not a bad game, but uneven controls and repetitive level design keeps it from being truly memorable. Still, it is certainly worth picking up if you are a fan of the platforming genre and the price is right.
Jazz Jackrabbit PC
Now while Rocky Rodent is a good example of the sort of forgettable games Sonic inspired in the 90s, Jazz Jackrabbit is the rare example of a Sonic clone being good. Many would even consider Jazz Jackrabbit a classic, and truth be told it is much more of a clone than Rocky ever was. Jazz’s world looks and behaves a lot like Sonic’s. You have the same two tone checkerboard pattern on the earth, the same uneven grounds, palm trees, spikes, and even springs that look and function almost identically to Sonic’s. There are even several enemies in the game that act similarly. To top this all off, Jazz is very fast character, and speeding your way through levels can be just as satisfying with this green rabbit as it ever was with a blue hedgehog. One big difference, though is that this rabbit is armed.
Yes, years before Shadow the Hedgehog was ever a thing, someone decided combing Sonic style gameplay with a gun toting hero was a good idea. And in Jazz’s case, it actually worked, and was a necessary gameplay addition since Jazz can’t roll into a ball or spindash his enemies. The run and gun elements proved a natural fit, and the catchy music and smooth animations made the game a hit with PC gamers looking for their very own Sonic stand in. Interestingly enough, Jazz Jackrabbit was actually created by Cliff Bleszinski and Epic Megagames, who would go on to make, amongst other things, the Gears of War series.
Freedom Planet (Wii U, PC)
Rounding out this list of clones is Freedom Planet, a modern game with very direct ties to the Sonic franchise. Freedom Planet shares a general aesthetic with Sonic that hearkens back to the 16-bit heyday of platformers, and many staple gimmicks from the venerated series, from loops to swinging platforms to springs, can be found in this newer title. This it to be expected, though, as Freedom Planet actually began it’s life as a Sonic fan game. This is evident in the gameplay, character design, and even the style of music found in the title. That is not too sat that Freedom Planet doesn’t have a few tricks of it’s own, though.
While the DNA of Sonic is more than evident in this title, the game’s playable characters (including the main heroine, Lilac), have quite a bit more variety in their move sets then Sonic and friends did back in the Genesis games. That is because these characters have a dedicated attack button that can be combined with other button presses to do a variety of attacks. There is also no spin dash, but there is a “dash” button that sprints your character in various directions. The game also includes many modern gaming attributes, such as full voice acting, that the classic Sonic games were never able to take advantage of.
The Legacy of Sonic
Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s many sequels, are the quintessential mascot platformers. An entire slew of games, most notably in the 90’s, owe their existence to the franchise. The lasting effect of the series, however, is not as great. 2D platformers have become a much more niche genre, and animal mascots have largely faded away. Truth be told, Sonic is one of the only holdovers from that era. Perhaps it speaks to how much he embodied the genre, however, as he might be the only animal mascot we really need.