There have been a fair amount of spin off titles from the Sonic the Hedgehog series over the years. One of them, Knuckles Chaotix, would feature Knuckles the Echidna who, along with several new characters, would head off to stop Robotnik’s wicked schemes. Before the game was released, however, Sega created a prototype for the Genesis that featured ideas that would be carried over to Knuckles Chaotix. Known as Sonic Crackers and made in 1994, it is one of the few Sonic games that never saw the light of day. This is unfortunate, because from the information that exists on the game, it would have been a nice alternative to Knuckles Chaotix for those people who were not willing to spend money on an add-on device, which was basically what the 32X was.
Sonic Crackers had only two characters-Sonic and Tails-that were playable. Instead of having Tails following Sonic as in the classic Sonic games, the two characters would be joined together by a pair of rings connected by a magical band. In Knuckles Chaotix, the idea of having two characters connected by a band of rings would become important to the game play. Sonic and Tails could explore one of two stages, which in Knuckles Chaotix would be known as the Techno Tower and Speed Slider zones. In the Techno Tower zone, the goal was to make it to the top of the screen within three minutes. Oddly, this level would be shown with one of four palettes, which is perhaps an early example of the idea of having courses change with the time of day in Knuckles Chaotix. The Speed Slider zone would go around in an endless loop much like the Minus World from Super Mario Bros. In addition, there were two field levels, one featuring a floor with pink and yellow tiles in the clouds, and another located in a futuristic city.
The Techno Tower stage would have spikes that would cause damage if Sonic touched them. Other than that, there were no other obstacles, or even enemies, to be found in the level or anywhere else in the prototype. Once Sonic reached the top of the level, or three minutes had elapsed, the game over music from the first Sonic game would play and our heroes would be transported to a field level. By pausing the game and hitting a button, the player would head off to the Speed Slider level. This stage was a work in progress as the collision detection was not yet fully implemented and as such, it was hard to move on the floor unless the player entered the stage by using the level select. After one minute, Sonic and Tails would exit the stage and again find themselves in a field level. Pausing the game and hitting a button again would send the player back to the Techno Tower zone, which would have a different palette this time.
The prototype is filled with glitches that were never fixed. When the game was paused during a level, the player could move Sonic and Tails around. This resulted in their arms being detached until game play was resumed. Neither of the field levels had any collision detection, and if Sonic and Tails went beyond the top platform in the Techno Tower zone, the game would crash. On the level select screen, selecting Special Stage would also result in the game crashing. It is unknown what the Special Stages in Sonic Crackers would have been like…whether they would have been similar to those found in Knuckles Chaotix or if they would have been vastly different.
As to why Sonic Crackers was never finished, it might be because the prototype is thought to be an engine test. Perhaps Sega wanted to see what techniques would and would not work for the Genesis. At any rate, the game never went past the prototype stage, and as a result, it would become the most well-known prototype version of Knuckles Chaotix, even though Knuckles and his new friends, many of the levels, a lot of the music, and other features had not yet been implemented. Thus, Sonic Crackers, like Sonic X-Treme after it, never saw the light of day as a finished game.
Would Sonic Crackers have been a good Sonic game? I think that with a lot of tweaking, it might have been fairly good. The idea of having two characters joined together by a band of rings seems interesting, though when it was utilized in Knuckles Chaotix, it had its flaws such as characters getting stuck behind walls in some places. The normal levels would have likely been as neat as those featured in the classic Sonic games, while the field levels could have been filled with secrets, as would be the case for Sonic Adventure. If Sega wanted to or had the capability to do so, they could have even released Sonic Crackers as a Genesis game and Knuckles Chaotix as a 32X game. That way, players could enjoy much of what the latter game had to offer without having to pay extra money for an add-on device.
Sonic Crackers, like the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 prototype, is another example of a work in progress that could have resulted in a somewhat different game had it been finished. Indeed, if Sega had released that game instead of Knuckles Chaotix, perhaps the 32X would have never seen a Sonic-related title, especially since it ended up being one of Sega’s most well-known failures. We may also have never seen any of the new characters that debuted in Knuckles Chaotix in any other Sonic game. Of course, we will never know for sure what the Sonic series would be like today if Sonic Crackers had been released. What is known, however, is that the game is considered to be one of the most well-known prototypes in existence, as well as one more Sonic game that we will never have the chance to play.