After nearly 18 years of what ifs and what could have been, the fabled and elusive Sonic X-treme is now available to the public free of cost as a prototype, with the complete game to eventuate at some point. The last time a playable build of Sonic X-treme existed, it was the raw test engine, but the what’s playable today showcases an actual level, albeit in a raw prototype form with all the functional mechanics in place. This is attributed to the hard work of a dedicated group of independent programmers who were set on working magic with the original source code to finally release Sonic X-treme in some playable form.
The build available now showcases the level that was presented at E3 back in 1996, which at the time was hyping up what was almost SEGA’s biggest holiday season exclusive that year. Sonic X-treme simply wasn’t meant to be; it had the right heart and passion, but due to constant miscommunication and dirty politics, things were doomed even before development. This was mostly caused by the divide between the North American and Japanese branches of SEGA.
The leading figure of Sonic X-treme’s development, Chris Senn, quite literally nearly died due to the inhumane amount of man hours he was pumping into the doomed project, just so it could somehow see the light of day on the Saturn. Of course Sonic X-treme was cancelled for the system, and any attempts to recoup losses with a SEGA PC release never really lead to anything. Some years ago, Chris Senn attempted to release a PC version with the help of the community, but even those plans fell through. The history of Sonic X-treme is a messy and fascinating one, and there is a wealth of resources that will give you detailed account of it all, most if not all of it coming straight from Chris Senn himself.
Of course, what matters right now is that the original source code is in the hands of some hard working Sonic super fans (and no we’re not talking about the frightening Deviantart community). In case you missed the memo, you can grab the playable prototype right now and it runs with ease on modern operating systems. Just download and run the game with a simple click, these guys made it so easy for everyone.
So we waited 18 years to get our hands on this, and after the initial unreal excitement, here’s what we thought of Sonic X-Treme.
It still feels unreal that, after all this time, I can now play something of Sonic X-treme. I was salivating over a Saturn Sonic game ever since the game was first announced all those years ago, and then to have it cancelled was a real heartbreak that prompted me to fill the void with Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot (and it did a damn fine job too). Still, as a lover of all things Saturn (as many of us are at Hardcore Gamer), I really wanted the Saturn to have a major exclusive Sonic release to its name. The consolation prize in the form of Project Sonic Trilogy (namely Sonic Jam, Sonic R, and Sonic 3D) couldn’t fully mend those broken hearts, as much I enjoyed them for what they were.
Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast was later released, and it was amazing to experience a true and impressive 3D Sonic adventure. But, despite the slew of 3D Sonic platformers over the years (some great, some atrocious) Sonic X-treme never left the back of my mind, and that may be because I still have my Saturn plugged in to this day.
Despite this recent prototype build almost being an engine test in a level with no real goal in place, I couldn’t be more grateful for just getting my hands on Sonic X-treme. Even at its very basic core, Sonic X-treme showcases some cool ideas that probably would have been well received during its time, especially in an era where 3D gaming was still very much in its experimental stages, and uncooperative cameras were more tolerable. I’d love to play more of Sonic X-treme as the final version eventually gets completed and released, but even now in this raw form I can sense Sonic X-treme’s direction and vision. I appreciate what it was going for, with its structure, pacing, and design offering a (at the time) new way to experience platformers. In particular, the layered and interconnected level layout stayed true to what defined Sonic at that time, despite the apparent sacrifice of speed. Sonic X-treme could have been a brave new direction for Sonic had it been completed, and it could have possibly done some good for the Saturn, too.
I’ll let Alex talk you through the gritty details of Sonic X-treme now.
The build we played was a very rough one, but I’m incredibly surprised at how many of the original ideals of Sonic X-treme were preserved. I was able to move and jump with ease, but the most curious mechanic was the ability to rotate the map. Once out of “rotation mode”, I could move Sonic along a new axis. This perspective is very similar to that of Super Mario Galaxy (though considering Sonic X-treme’s original era, you could say that Super Mario Galaxy copied Sonic X-treme and not the other way around). The build featured versatile level structures where platforms could be rotated, offering new planes to walk on, similar to how Sonic: Lost World operates.
The camera was probably the hardest aspect to contend with, as it didn’t offer free movement a la Super Mario 64. Combine that with a slippery movement speed and a high jump, and things get pretty chaotic. Enemies were scattered about the stage, but the camera made it difficult to predict where they’d be. Of course, the simplicity of the build meant that not much was to be expected as far as level design, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the rotational mechanics function as many thought they would. The lack of speed was noticeable, however, mostly thanks to the build having a much less linear design. It almost felt like Super Mario 64 in construction, so I’d be suspect as to how much speed this type of design could offer.
Sonic X-treme’s enigmatic development left a lot of unanswered questions, but I believe this build answers quite a few of them. The level geometry is remarkably adept at offering multiple paths and a versatile play style. It felt wonky to control, but the ideals of Sonic X-treme shined through. SEGA had a good idea with Sonic X-treme, and while the game seems like an archaic artifact today, I’d be lying if I said that Sonic X-treme’s ultimate release wouldn’t be met with some anticipation back in the days of the Saturn, especially if its gameplay was as inventive as this.