So, you’re a veteran gamer – You’ve played every game out there and you still want more? Maybe you’ve got a taste for the unusual, and dare I say, things that are slightly immoral? I’ve got just what you need – Welcome to The Dump, a look at the darker corners of video games, featuring the shadiest unlicensed releases, the most horrendous pirated titles and the most unusual of hacked ROMs.

You can say what you like about Sonic The Hedgehog – Whether that’s regarding the hit and miss quality of the videogames that bear his name, or SEGA’s mistreatment of the character in general, you can’t help but be impressed by the ravenous fanbase that dedicates so much time in creating all manner of artistic works related to the series.

If you want to see the very best of this community, I would highly recommend you look into the Sonic hacking community – Some incredible things have been done by Sonic fans to breath new life into these classic releases, and let’s not forget that the superb Sonic Mania was mostly developed by some of the people from these communities.

And so, I thought this first episode of The Dump would showcase possibly one of my most favourite hacked ROMs, simply known as Sonic The Hedgehog 2: XL.

Now, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is probably one of my favourite Mega Drive games, and easily my favourite Sonic title. It greatly expanded on the groundwork left by the original, while not being bogged down by elements introduced in future sequels. It’s a game I know back to front and have played through so many times that I can pretty much play the whole game through in my head – In situations like this, it’s great to find a hack that completely changes how you approach a well-worn game.

What I love about Sonic 2: XL, is that the creators, two hackers by the name of Captain Bozo and Ranger, came up with the most hilarious corruption of the series’ important mechanic of ring collection. Traditionally, rings are an integral part of a Sonic game – Collecting these pieces of gold jewellery can grant extra lives, unlock special stages and of course, just holding one ring can offer protection from enemies. It’s a mechanic that’s much more integral than coins are to Mario, for example.

So what happens when this precious lifeblood of platforming is morphed into something that hurts instead of heals? And secondly, what if those rings were turned into crispy, greasy, onion rings?

Well, Sonic The Hedgehog 2: XL answers these questions for you. Collecting rings in this hack has the consequence of making our hero obese. And it’s a subtle effect, too – There are levels to how much the collection of these rings harms you. It starts with Sonic getting some love handles, and as you collect more rings, not only does Sonic’s physical form change, but also his physical ability. Pile on enough pounds and Sonic’s mobility is severely hamstrung, as he struggles to run up the gentlest of slopes, fail to jump at a useful height, and even stops being able to look up and down. And if you really overdo it, Sonic will lose all mobility soon afterwards, being totally unresponsive to all controller inputs, before dying of obesity.

But before it gets to that, it is possible to lose weight, as well. There’s the occasional computer monitor that when smashed, instantly drops Sonic to his usual weight, which is the easy way. However, as Sonic runs, he visibly starts to burn the blubber. It’s this wonderful dynamic of avoiding rings while trying to fix the consequences of picking up rings, that really makes this hack a special one.

It’s all cleverly done, and not only is it a completely silly mechanic, but it’s also one that actually adds a new dimension of challenge to the entirety of Sonic 2 – Especially as sometimes it’s almost impossible not to pick up rings. Every ring collected, makes it that tougher to finish the game (and people have actually done it, somehow). Like most hacks, it starts with a silly idea, but unlike many others – Here’s one that does turn Sonic into something that bit more interesting, or at the very least, something that’s actually quite funny to watch.

There are a lot of terrible hacks out there, and believe me, we’ll be looking at a few of them – But it’s nice to start this series off with something that I think is genuinely cool and actually worth playing. Give it a try, and let me know what you think, and I’ll be back soon with another trawl through The Dump – Cheerio!

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