Sonic fans are a dedicated bunch - and the most dedicated are currently gathering to show off their own hand-made Sonic game projects.
One thing that's unique about the Sonic the Hedgehog community is just how dedicated fans are to preservation and innovation around their favourite game franchise. Websites like Sonic Retro keep a detailed record of beta versions and hacks of official games, and there's a thriving Sonic fan game community over at Sonic Fan Games HQ. Here, aspiring game designers cut their teeth by trying to make new games in their most-loved franchise.
Once a year those nuts, ambitious fans put together SAGE - the Sonic Amateur Game Expo. Think of it as E3 for Sonic fan games and associated projects, where a slew of demos are released alongside other 'live' events. SAGE first took place in 2000 and has been annual since 2005, so it's a well-oiled machine at this point - and some of the projects at this year's SAGE are stunningly impressive.
It's worth bringing SAGE to your attention because of recent developments around the Sonic franchise. The excellent Sonic Mania was developed by a team of outsiders to Sega - people who in days of old were intimately involved with SAGE. Sega pay attention to these fans and are pleasingly happy to let them continue without threats of a cease and desist. The projects are not only interesting and exciting to play, but there's also absolutely potential for these projects to have an impact on the Sonic series at large, or for some of these creators to either go on to work on Sonic games or create their own platformers.
Take Sonic Chaos and its embedded trailer above - this project is a gorgeous-looking 16-bit reimagining of the Game Gear spin-off Sonic Chaos, complete with new mechanics and boss fights in redrawn versions of familiar levels. It's all incredibly well produced, and honestly, could probably pass for the next project from Sega after Sonic Mania. There's a demo available to download now as part of SAGE.
Then there's Petit Hedgehog, a small-scale, all-original 2D platformer with a cute, vibrant art style that makes it look like it would've been at home on handheld hardware. It's even got four playable characters with unique abilities - but the art style is the real stand-out.
If you just want a new Sonic game that's familiar, there's titles like Sonic Eternal, based off the Sonic 3 & Knuckles style, or Sonic All-Stars, which continues ideas found in Sonic Advance.
These fans offer up a mix of entirely original projects and ones that stick closely to Sega's own work. There's even a new PC port of the famously terrible Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 available at SAGE, with fans making a concerted effort to port and polish that mess of a game.
While Sonic is the focus of SAGE, there are a few other fangames. Check out ‘@CrashBandicoot N-Tense’, Crash in 2D!
— Sonic The Hedgeblog (@Sonic_Hedgeblog) August 28, 2018
SAGE isn't even just limited to Sonic games, either. Kyle & Lucy: Wonderworld with a SAGE demo - and one day, this may lead to a full release. Excellent PC, PS4, Wii U and Switch platformer Freedom Planet began life a similar way - as a Sonic fan game. There's even a few showings from Sonic's rivals as well - including Mario, Kirby and Crash fan games.
By no means is SAGE all 2D, either - while 2D Sonic dominates because it's easier to get involved with, there's also some fascinating 3D proof-of-concept demos around like Sonic Islands. Sonic Islands caused a bit of a splash before with its interesting mix of Sonic speed and Tony Hawks style tricks, and now it has an even more polished SAGE demo.
These are all just a few projects available at SAGE, and if you're a fan of 2D or 3D platformers you'll find a lot to love in the many free downloadable levels. It may well be that the next generation of indie platformer developers are here, now, getting their practice in with Sonic.
I want to close out my little shout-out to SAGE with Sonic Z-Treme - something that'll set the heart racing of anybody old enough to have owned a Sega Saturn and remember the promise and first images of a Sonic title for that machine.
Sonic X-Treme was an ill-fated project with multi-perspective 3D diorama style elvels that never released or even made it past early demos, but it was shown off in magazines and at trade shows, making it a legend to fans. Sonic Z-Treme is a real Sega Saturn game that attempts to recreate its concepts with all original code - you simply need to burn it to a disc and pop it in your Saturn. That's super cool.
Be sure to check out the full list of SAGE games over on the official site - there's truly something for everyone.