Sonic: After the Sequel is a free fanmade PC game that uses art assets from existing Sonic the Hedgehog games in combination with new art to create a series of original levels. It is a two-dimensional platformer like the Genesis/Mega Drive games of the early nineties. In its imitation of the originals, it succeeds quite well but does little to improve on the ancient formula.
The game is surprisingly competent for a fanwork; Sonic the Hedgehog fans aren’t noted for their high levels of creativity but the creators of this one defy expectations and stereotypes. If it weren’t for the copyright notice on the title screen and the sounds and graphics lifted from some SNES games, I could have thought it was some long-lost official Sonic game dug up from Sega’s vaults. Sonic: After the Sequel is remarkably close to those early Sonic games in every respect, and that is both respectable as well as the game’s downfall.
Let’s start with the best part: this game is very aesthetically pleasing. The spritework is lushly illustrated. The architecture, backgrounds, enemies, and items are mostly a bunch of gorgeous new works, and the pieces taken from existing games mesh well and are rarely intrusive (with one serious exception, listed below). There isn’t any DeviantArt level ugliness here; it could have easily been a flagship product for the Sonic series in its prime. Though the levels are all functionally identical, they each have a unique theme and speak well of the game’s single artist/programmer who poured their soul into this work.
Levels in this game are gigantic and as well crafted as the Sonic levels of old. You’re still running right 90% of the time but there are multiple pathways depending on your skills, and you will be rewarded for searching high and obscure places. Unfortunately the speed of movement means that you’re going to end up in the least useful areas unless you feel like replaying the levels to get that useless 1-up. The problem is not the quickness of movement itself but the fact that quickness removes much of your control. Not to worry, though, the game isn’t very hard at all, and the level select system means you have effectively unlimited lives, eliminating what little hardship was remaining.
Controls are still a sloppy mess just like in those 2D Sonic games. Jumping is slow and clumsy unless you have a lot of momentum built up and it’s often frustrating to start the movement required to get anywhere. Running into enemies or traps that seemingly appear from the void is very common. A cautious player could avoid most of these by walking forward slowly but that would eliminate the appeal of playing a Sonic game and would still necessitate pausing to do a spin dash every time a curved path appears.
There are two new shields, a spike shield which gives you immunity to spikes and enables an instant drop, and a bubble shield that can utilize a double jump like the electricity shield in Sonic the Hedgehog 3. The latter is unoriginal but the former is a decent idea. Spikes in video games usually equal instant death or at least severe damage; the anti-spike powerups in several Mega Man games and the Spike Breaker armor in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are the only exceptions that immediately spring to mind. I wish the rest of the game could have been this creative.
At one point you get a powerup that requires you to hold still for a second or so while you press and release a key to launch a fireball to break through certain walls. This is an needless addition that serves only to slow down the pace while you sluggishly open a path. I can live with pressing switches or needing a certain shield/item in order to tear down walls, but why a clown hat and energy blast with out-of-place graphics taken from Kirby Super Star? Slowing the action down in this case doesn’t help me navigate the twisting stages any easier; it just means there are a couple points that instead of simply running down a corridor I’m stopping at the corridor to throw a projectile before I run down it. Nothing is improved with this gimmick.
The overall difficulty level in Sonic: After the Sequel is low. The Death Egg Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with its complete absence of rings was the only time I recall being challenged by a Sonic game. There’s the fake difficulty found here in the sudden enemies you find yourself barreling into, but nothing that requires much mental effort. The fact that holding a single ring renders you nearly invincible and that it’s easy to pick up scattered rings after taking a hit flushes any possible challenge down the toilet. This was a problem with the Sega Genesis games, and its legacy renders the game sadly impotent.
And to fit with the theme of the game, the bosses are also far too easy. In previous games the bosses required some technical skill, but here they consist of jumping over the plodding, easily-telegraphed lasers from Robotnik while he stands helpless and rings fly by to ensure you have very little risk of failure. Where are the decent puzzle bosses like the dual totem poles in Aquatic Ruin Zone of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or the ceiling laser/spiky platforms boss in the Wing Fortress Zone of the same game? The bosses here have more in common with that irritating stone golem boss from Sonic and Knuckles that you had to knock into quicksand.
One unambiguously positive thing about this game: the music can be quite good and there are huge amounts of it (76 tracks!) available for download from the same site you got the game from. Every tune is appropriately catchy without sounding like the typical cookie-cutter chiptunes, though they don’t reach the heights of the soundtrack of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or the Marble Ruin Zone from the first game. It is not magnificent but it is a labor of love and it shines through the mediocre gameplay.
Sonic: After the Sequel is an enjoyable little romp, but its weaknesses stem from it being nearly identical to the flawed Sonic games of old. I realize that if it was too different then people would complain, but they at least had the opportunity to include better level design and some cool tough bosses, and they unfortunately fell short. This game is still worth your time for the aesthetics alone, but its gameplay offers little to fascinate an eager player.