Sonic fan games typically set the bar pretty high for themselves. Before Sonic 4 was the Sonic 4 we all know and acknowledge as existing today, plenty of fans tried to fill the gap, touting their game as the next title in the original trilogy. It wasn’t until more recent years that we’ve seen fan games reach completion with more frequency. Titles like Sonic Classic, Sonic Before (And After) the Sequel, and Sonic Axiom are just a few of the games that did the impossible and actually gave us complete games.
With all that in mind, we now have Sonic Overture to look forward to, a promising game that aims to be a prequel to the very first Sonic title on the SEGA Genesis. Sonic Overture began its life as “Sonic: From the Beginning,” and at the time, took a more fan approach to the title’s background and setting. It wasn’t until leadership and team changes occurred in mid-2013 that Overture became what it is today.
Overture takes heavy cues from the early concept art and prototype screenshots to create “Christmas Island,” the isle where the game takes place. The team has continued to find the right balance between sticking as close to the source material as they can, while also bringing their own ideas and concepts to the table. When playing Overture, the player may notice that badniks release fireworks instead of the normal animals from traditional Sonic games. The team explains:
“The reason why the badniks in Overture release fireworks is because they are powered by what we call “Phossil.” It is based on phosphate, one of the real life Christmas Island’s major resources, which is used in the making of fireworks.”
Once again trying to stick as close to the canon as possible, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is the first time that Robotnik used animals to power badniks. However, Sonic and Robotnik have clashed before this, so the team reasons that the mad doctor had to be using something other than Sonic’s friends. The Overture team hopes to stick as close as possible to the unrealized concepts that were scrapped for one reason or another:
“We are trying to be as faithful to source material as possible, while extrapolating on the ideas of Sonic’s creators. We want this to feel like something they may have created, and hopefully do justice for the things they started and never fully realized.”
Of course, plenty of liberties have been taken in terms of Overture’s look and sound. Almost all of Overture’s sprite work is custom made by the team, with lush colors and vibrant characters. The staff is more than aware that these things couldn’t be accomplished on the original Genesis, and have instead decided to aim for a decidedly more 32-Bit look with Overture. Each level contains art that was carefully lifted and modeled around scrapped material from Sonic 1.
The team elaborated with plenty of examples; for example one of Sonic’s earlier designs as a rabbit was turned into an independent character. Players will find Eggman in Act 3 in his pajamas from an earlier Eggman concept, (fitting as the stage takes place during morning.) The entirety of Act 3 is based around a stage concept that was never used, while various other features in the demo are already based on unused material, such as this magazine scan of an early Green Hill which inspired the Christmas Island sign that greets players at the start of the game. And of course, Splats, a small rabbit-like badnik that was seen in promo material and found as a sprite in Sonic 1’s data, naturally found a place in Overture. The team followed up by saying they had even bigger plans for Overture’s future:
“Sonic Overture will feature many more things from Sonic 1’s mysterious origins, and we’re aiming to make it as interesting and cohesive as possible. This is challenging however, as Sonic Overture is meant to tie into the official canon, leading into Sonic 1 itself. We have to be careful that there isn’t too much of a reality clash and everything harmonizes in a believable and entertaining way.”
Overture’s team is aiming for a game that’ll be decidedly longer than the original title. They hope to have longer acts but are also keeping a realistic perspective. They plan on having additional content such as stages to keep players engaged as well. As far as a definitive number of stages, they couldn’t say. In fact, there was a lot the Overture team kept hidden. Right now, Sonic is the only known playable character, and while they couldn’t say much about the title’s bosses, they did assure everyone to not be deceived by the simplicity of Overture’s first boss. With Robotnik using the aforementioned “Phossil,” it’ll be interesting to see what the team has in store for every encounter Sonic has with him.
Most Sonic games typically follow the same tropes of green hills, casinos, and lava, with fan games rarely deviating from this formula. The Overture leads joked that snow would be one of many to tropes (because Christmas Island), the reality is that the game is planned to feature traditional settings that Sonic games have seen with the team giving them their own special spin.
As anyone who has ever seen a fan game in their lifetime knows, release dates or periods are a game’s worst enemy. We asked the Overture team instead on where they thought they were relative to the game’s completion. That’s where the team leads felt things go hazy:
“…right now, the progress of our content is quite fractured. As we said a while ago, we had to drop MMF2 as our engine and we’re moving on to something new and that’s a huge factor in this not being fully back together yet. We’re getting close to everything being solid again, and that’s going to be accompanied by a huge update.
Regardless, we’ve made a ton of progress that isn’t public yet.”
The team has created a new system that is in-house, but couldn’t say anything outside of that, other than “it’s freakin’ spectacular.” Even still, the staff recommended Sonic fans to check out their current demo from SAGE 2014, if at the very least to make the grand improvements in the next release all that more noticeable. You can check out Overture’s current demo here and follow their topic on the Retro forums for the latest updates.