It has been two long years since Sonic Mania gave video game fans around the world their perfect fix of Mega Drive inspired retro action and if you’re anything like me — you’re feeling it!
While we all wait to hear from SEGA about what’s next for the blue blur — (just do another retro Sonic game already, please!) — here are what I consider to be the five best Sonic the Hedgehog inspired Indies and fan-games that will scratch that itch in the meantime presented in no particular order:
Perhaps the most well-known game on this list, GalaxyTrail’s Freedom Planet stars Lilac the Dragon, Carol the Wildcat and Milla the Basset Hound as they team-up to help the alien Torque defeat the forces of the nefarious (and Eggman-stache browed) Lord Brevon before he steals the mystical Kingdom Stone that provides power to their whole planet.
Although the project started out as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game and was definitely inspired by the momentum driven gameplay and storytelling style of the series, Freedom Planet in fact takes inspiration from a wide array of 90s video game properties including Gunstar Heroes, Ristar and Mega Man X. It’s a true love letter to the era.
While the three playable characters feel like they could be a few of Sonic’s many friends, none of them feel like a simple gameplay clone of their forerunner. Each has a unique move set that provides varied, interesting gameplay throughout whichever version of the adventure you choose.
The game rather often feels like a SEGA Saturn game release that never was. Freedom Planet is well worth checking out — especially as then you’ll be ready for the sequel that’s currently on the way.
Sonic: Before the Sequel
Felipe “LakeFepard” Daneluz’s 2012 fan game Sonic: Before the Sequel was his first release and used the open-source Sonic Worlds engine to great effect in the creation of an interquel game set between Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Set to an amazing soundtrack from a team led by Falk Au Yeong (who would later go on to work as a sound engineer on Sonic Mania) it’s an adventure set across 12 zones, where you mostly alternate between the iconic characters Sonic and Tails until they finally meet and team-up to take down would-be world conqueror Doctor Ivo Robotnik together.
Although there are some lovely, fully animated pixel-art cutscenes, Sonic: Before the Sequel mostly took a back to basics approach that reminded players that the core gameplay loop and level design style of the 16-Bit Sonic titles was still amazing even after so long had passed.
Sonic: After the Sequel DX
Felipe “LakeFepard” Daneluz, Falk Au Yeong and company returned in 2013 with Sonic: After the Sequel, a game this time set between SEGA’s Sonic 2 and Sonic 3. If you imagine that the first release was them out on familiar waters in a rubber dingy, this one showed they’d spent the year between the first game and this one investing in a speedboat.
Everything has been improved in this sequel interquel. It looks better, the soundtrack is better and almost all of the levels feel more unique than last time. Sugar Splash Zone for example is an exceptionally fun idea that combines a water level with a sugar factory — and if you thought controlling Sonic was fast at top speed before, just wait until you try to do it when he and Tails are feeling a sugar rush.
Notably, the animated scene transitions between levels are expertly done and fun to watch every time they play. It’s a similar presentation method to Sonic 3 & Knuckles or Sonic Mania Plus but has been improved upon with a style comparable to a Platinum Games title or Capcom’s Hideaki Itsuno’s three Devil May Cry sequels. You’ll always know how Sonic or Tails got to a location and it will usually be radical as can be.
The After the Sequel DX release from 2017 not only improves the physics engine but also gives Sonic the Drop Dash move from Sonic Mania. More important than that, it shows yet again that this sort of game is just fun to play. After the Sequel is in all aspects one of the best examples of a game of its type and you owe it to yourself to check it out. There’s a reason it got so much media attention back in 2013.
Sonic: Time Twisted
First starting development in 2005 and finally releasing in 2017 just before Sonic Mania, Bryce “Overbound” Stock and company used Game Maker to create a Sonic game that looks like it could’ve released on the 32X add-on or even the SEGA Saturn.
With physics as close to the original 16-Bit titles as possible, the game set out to improve upon all of the best features and ideas from the games that came out before the release of Sonic Adventure.
As basically a sequel to Sonic CD, Time Twisted brings back not only the interesting time travel idea from 1993, but has even brought back and improved upon the 3D special stages. These gameplay concepts work much better now that they’re no longer restrained by the disc load times, graphics processors, draw distances and framerates of the early 90s hardware.
With a playable Sonic, Tails and Knuckles across 8 original zones (28 acts) and 14 special stages, it is a fairly lengthy game — but also a fun one that is worth your time. It’s a must play for any fan of well-done Classic Sonic game design.
Spark the Electric Jester
I’m aware that this list is starting to sound a bit like a newsletter for the Felipe “LakeFepard” Daneluz and Falk Au Yeong fan club, but Spark the Electric Jester is honestly one of the finest 2D platformers I have ever played.
After rebranding as FepardGames, casting off the constraints of being Sonic the Hedgehog fan game creators and using the crowdfunding power of Kickstarter to put out a full-on retail release on Steam, Spark the Electric Jester told a simple story that saw the titular character fired from his job and replaced by a robot duplicate called Fark before going on an adventure to stop the robot invasion of his entire planet.
With fantastic pixel art and gameplay that often feels made up of equal parts Nintendo’s Kirby and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Spark actually ends up feeling like it probably should’ve been on the Game Boy Advance when the two developers became pals back in the day. It’s an adrenaline pumping game of high-speed thrills where you use collectible powers and fast reflexes to run past goal sign posts and defeat several bosses across two characters distinct adventure modes.
I honestly think it might be my favourite indie game ever released.
It also has a sequel that is more heavily inspired by the more recent 3D Sonic games that I have yet to play, but that’s probably another article. I hope you enjoy playing these games as much as I did. If you do please reach out to me through Simfluent’s comment section below, or even one-on-one through Twitter at @LimeyOtoko.