Disclaimer: Downloading ROMs for games you don’t already legally own is very naughty. You should be ashamed of yourself! Neither Orange Bison nor anybody involved with the site will be held responsible if bad stuff happens to you as a result.
I love Sega. No other big company seems to understand the appeal of retro gaming better than they do. Not only have they released a whole heap of their back-catalogue on Steam recently, they’ve also actively encouraged budding coders to tinker with the original ROM files and let their creative juices flow! This is done through a process called romhacking.
Romhacking obviously isn’t exclusive to Sega games. Theoretically, if you can rip the ROM, and you have the coding skills, you can create a ROM hack. The creation and use of a romhack is perfectly legal (providing you have obtained the original ROM legitimately of course), although certain companies do tend to get a little sniffy about people messing with their code. One company, in particular, has been known to throw its toys out of the pram, despite not being able to do anything legally. Not going to name the company obviously, but it starts with “N” and ends with “intendo”.
There are several different types of romhacks. Some merely make minor changes such as replacing Sonic with Mario or Sally Acorn, some might provide a full English translation for games that weren’t originally released outside of Japan (I personally use one for my Famicom copy of King Kong 2: Ikari No Megaton Punch), some might make fundamental gameplay changes (see my review of Sonic Classic Heroes for a good example) whereas others still may be entirely new games made using the engine of the original ROM. The community is very reminiscent of the good ol’ days of little Jimmy sitting in his bedroom tapping away on his ZX Spectrum and selling the result to Firebird, only these guys aren’t getting paid. At least most of them aren’t. Recently Sega commissioned a team of well-known (in the community) romhackers to create the critically-acclaimed Sonic Mania. If you’ve played that game, then you know how skilled some of those guys are.
If you look back over my previous articles (and the majority of this one, come to think of it), you’d be forgiven for thinking I had some kind of deeply-engrained hatred for the House of Mario. Au contraire, I was actually very much on the side of the big N during the console wars and even now I still own a SNES and at least five different Game Boys. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that there have been several hacks of Nintendo’s flagship franchise, Super Mario Brothers. One of the most (in)famous of which is Kaizo Mario World on the SNES.
An experiment in pain and torture, Kaizo Mario World is a hack of Super Mario World that is purposely designed to annoy. The level design is nothing short of sadistic and successful completion of the hack requires precision jumping, perfect timing, constant alertness and a good amount of trial-and-error. Despite this, the sense of achievement when you do finally complete a level without smashing your controller is well worth the effort.
One of the best romhacks on the NES is Super Mario Bros 3mix. This epic hack introduces many gameplay modifications to SMB 3 including the ability to choose between playing as Mario, Luigi or Toad, the introduction of Star Coins (used to unlock secrets) and all-new levels and bosses! It’s essentially Super Mario Bros. 3: Part 2.
Moving on to the Mega Drive, one of the most interesting hacks for the original Sonic the Hedgehog is a hack called An Ordinary Sonic ROM Hack. Don’t let the name fool you though – this hack is anything but ordinary. Also known as Phantom Sonic, and loosely based on the Sonic.exe creepypasta, this hack turns the game into something akin to a survival horror game complete with jump-scares, creepy messages and nightmarish imagery which actually succeeded in causing me to develop a mild phobia for a while. Play it… if you dare…
There are many more romhacks out there, waiting to be discovered. One of the best places to discover new hacks is romhacking.net, which features a comprehensive library of gameplay and graphics modifications for several retro games, as well as translation patches for foreign language games. If you’re specifically looking for Sonic the Hedgehog hacks, you might also want to check out sonicretro.org. this is the site where I initially discovered Sonic Classic Heroes.
Those of you who would like to try your hand at romhacking are probably going to want to check out the utilities section of romhacking.net. Bear in mind that you’re going to need some coding knowledge and you need to legally source the ROM. You can do this by ripping directly from a game that you own using something like a Retrode or Cyber Gadget’s Game Freak console – which is what I use – or downloading from a legal source as previously mentioned, Sega have released many of their old games on Steam and are quite happy to allow budding hackers to do their thing.
That’s it for my three part article on roms and emulation. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the ramblings of a nostalgic old fool. If you haven’t already, you can check out part 1 and part 2. You can also check out my review of the Sonic Classic Heroes romhack.