5/03/2012

Sonic Crackers


Welcome back to Hedgehogs Never Tell, a rosy, and informative retrospective on the Sonic the Hedgehog series, focusing on unreleased games, and content left on the cutting room floor. Today we'll be answering the question you never asked before, "What is Sonic Crackers?"

Skipping ahead a bit from where we left off, Sonic 3, just like it's predecessors, was the focal point of a media blitz. Even after the game was released, SEGA teased the public with hints that, unsurprisingly, a follow-up was due soon. However, SEGA had hinted that a fourth (actually fifth) installment might come before 1994 was through. This was unexpected, as each game in the series thus far had spent close to a year in the oven. In October of that year, everyone discovered that this much alluded-to game was in fact Sonic & Knuckles, a game stitched together from stages that couldn't be finished in time for Sonic 3. But what about this other mysterious game?



The titles "Sonic Honkies" was already taken by an R-Type clone starring Redd Fox.
Sonic Crackers (Sega Genesis)
Developed by: SEGA
Compiled on: Apr 1, 1994

Now the very first thing you may notice, is the date the ROM was dumped, in the bottom-right of the title screen (April1, 1994, in Japanese notation) happens to be April Fool's Day. This fact alone has lead to people believing the game was in fact not an official proto at all, but rather an elaborate hoax; a joke game created to stir up nonesense on the message-boards, and internet forums of the early to mid-2000's. This however, was disproven in 2008, when drx (remember him?) provided the community with a dozen (!) pre-release builds of Chaotix, a spin-off which was released the following year, in 1995. The builds form a nice timeline leading from Crackers all the way to the release of Chaotix, and the earlier Chaotix games were very clearly built on top of Crackers, due to there being remnants from Crackers in the later protos.

"I suggest a new strategy, let the Wookiee win." Incidentally, Knuckles is pictured upsetting a droid.

The game itself, bares quite a striking resemblance to Chaotix, even at such an early state; the game featured all of the core-elements than defined Chaotix, chiefly the strange leash-mechanic, which I'll discuss more fully in a bit. Crackers also sported similar superficial elements with Chaotix, such as it's abstract stage art, closer in style to CD, than the numbered games in the series.

Crackers features very primordial versions of the mechanics that would later be refined in Chaotix. Chaotix was a three-button game, giving each button on the Genesis pad a unique function. Crackers features all of these same actions, but there all mapped to 'jump', resulting in a nearly unplayable game. Pressing A, B, or C will make Sonic jump, holding-down any one of the buttons will make Tails anchor himself, stopping you dead in your tracks. Furthermore, jumping while the two are next to each other will make one lift the other, making maneuvering in any meaningful way almost impossible.

Sonic defies physics in the most clunky and awkward way possible.

Many of the game's features are completely broken at this early point; Sonic & Tails can come to a complete stop, and even change direction while running up walls, or even on ceilings. They can take damage from spikes, and will lose a large amount of rings they never had. In fact the game dosen't even have rings, aside from the ones you inexplicably drop when hit. You can also see in some of the pics above, most prominently when going downhill, that Sonic & Tails' layered sprites (arms, Tails' tails) aren't correctly aligned and will frequently detach from their bodies. Don't worry, they have good insurance. These, however are expected from an engine still in progress, and it is still possible to navigate around if you get stuck by pausing the game; this will allow you to reposition your characters, a la Debug Mode. You can't write swear words with rings, though.

The games consists of either "4" or "a lot of stages", depending on whether or not you consider palette-swapped stages to be new.

Opening Stage & World 2

Get used to seeing this stage.

The first stage you'll encounter in Crackers is what is thought to be an early build of the final stage of Chaotix. This makes sense, as there are a lot of physical similarities between the two, specifically the tiered platforms, and half-loops, and also the general concept of the stages, being mechanical-looking towers with an emphasis on climbing vertically.

This(these) stage(s) are, as I had mentioned earlier are towers with a heavy emphasis on climbing upwards. It features quite a few gimmicks that would make it a blast to play, if only the engine weren't in ass-condition; there are half-loops that lead you to the next tier up, and catwalks that require you to 'slingshot' upwards by telling Tails to anchor himself, and pulling in the opposite direction. Again, this would be great, if only it weren't for the early engine. The stage(s) eventually got reworked into "Techno Tower", the final zone in Chaotix, so everything worked out, I suppose

This(these) stage(s) are the most complete, the first one having hazards, in the form of metal spikes, and each of them having an end goal. Either finishing the stage, or letting the timer reach 3 minutes will lead to the hub of  "World 1", a useless overworld stage, of which there are two. It is currently unknown what the intention for the overworld stages was.
 

World 1 Stage:


 "World 1" is the first stage you'll encounter after the opening stage, and, boy is it broken. At least the other stages are mostly complete, in regards to "collision" and "being solid ground". Here, you won't be so lucky; seemingly at random, certain platforms won't take hold of Sonic, and he'll simply fall through them. However, Tails, for some reason, is perfectly capable of walking atop nearly everything he should be able to, which will result in Tails yo-yo'ing Sonic over the abyss. There are also many collision errors (more like lack of collision altogether) in regards to loops, and such, not unlike in Sonic 2 Beta. For some bizarre reason, the collision is present when you enter the stage through the stage-select screen, as opposed to actually getting there the proper way

The stage itself is Carnival themed, featuring, the aforementioned loops and such. It also features intersecting downhill pathways, which you can crossover from one to the next by jumping. In fact despite it's tacky Carnie trappings, this stage is actually quite similar to Chemical Plant, from Sonic 2. The time limit here is strict, only giving you a single minute, before kicking your ass back to the hub-world.

Behold:

Overworld Stages

Crackers does not include light-cycles.

These stages, known as "Field" stages in Crackers terminology, are strange, mostly not-functioning overworlds. They are viewed from a top-down perspective, not unlike an RPG. You can walk around them freely, paying no heed to the very obvious gaps in the ground, which you can walk over like it ain't even a thing. You can't interact with any physical objects here, but you can wrap around the screen infinitley. It is unknown what these stages where meant to do, but likely acted as a preliminary version of the island that would later serve as Chaotix's hub. Notably, you can proceed forward from the overworld, but only by pressing 'A' while paused, which seems to be a debug command, as opposed to a legit method of transport.


Now I said today we would just discuss Sonic Crackers, but by extension, it's also worth noting that both Sonic & Tails are somewhat present in almost every proto of Chaotix, through indirect means; there are 1up graphics, directory data, Tails' palette and more. In fact, some of the Chaotix protos still address themselves as Crackers,. It's pretty obvious they were originally set to make the transition from Crackers to Chaotix.

I'm not going to go into explicit detail about the Chaotix protos, as they are so far ahead in production than Crackers, that they're barely the same game anymore. The protos are simply progressively more complete versions of Chaotix, whereas Crackers is... not. However, I will take this opportunity to discuss Crackers impact on the final retail version. Tangent Time!

ORIGINAL CHARACTER. DO NOT STEAL!

In Chaotix proper, there exists a character not normally accessible in-game. He is a palette-swap of Knuckles with another character, Mighty's moves. He is a white echidna, contracted down to 'Wechnia', althought his official name, at least according to the game data, is "**********". Perhaps he's foreign?

Wechnia, or ********** resides in the second character slot, right after Mighty the Armadillo (Chaotix's Sonic stand-in). The motions of Mighty's animation is almost exactly the same as Sonic's, and was likely that Mighty was in fact Sonic, before they decided to use mostly new characters, instead.  After "Sonic's" slot, comes Wechnia, who in the very earliest Chaotix proto we have, is not white, but is rather colored using Tail's palette. And he could fly in the very same manner as Tails up until the fifth prototype.

Case closed. Tails getting cut caused the game's protocol to load Nonesense the Echidna.

Next up: Sonic Xtreme 

 All prototypes courtesy of the fine chaps at Sonic Retro.
All second hand information from:


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