Monday, March 11, 2013

Genocide City (Sonic the Hedgehog) (K. L. Simpson)

(KI Simpson)
Deleted levels in video games have always been a source of fascination for gamers, and one of the best known examples of them is the four deleted zones in Sonic 2. Hidden Palace, Wood Zone, Dust Hill, and Genocide City are all listed on the level select screen of a publicly available Sonic 2 beta. Hidden Palace and Wood Zone can be partially played, and there is an old preview picture of what is believed to be Dust Hill.

Genocide City, however, is a mystery. Selecting it in the beta will simply load a blank screen where Sonic will instantly fall to his death. The lack of information and excessively threatening name have made this zone one of the biggest mysteries in gaming. Recently, I came across what was claimed to be a more complete beta of Sonic 2, which had all the missing zones intact and fully playable. I was skeptical that such a thing would exist, since most deleted levels are cut because they were never finished, but the download description claimed every zone had been completed, and removed for an unexplained reason.

I started playing the beta, aside from Tails not being present in gameplay (he was on the title screen), the game initially seemed identical to the final version. After completing Green Hill and Chemical Plant Zone, however, I ended up in Dust Hill. Dust Hill was pretty similar to the lone screenshot of it, a standard desert themed level. The oddly slow banjo music in the background was a little unsettling, but everything else felt just like a normal Sonic 2 zone.

The Robotnik boss was his standard vehicle with robotic arms holding six shooter guns, although they fired the standard energy bullets. After Dust Hill, I went through Aquatic Ruins, Casino Night, and Hill Top Zone with no differences from the ones in the final game. After Hill Top, I entered Wood Zone. Like Dust Hill, this fit in perfectly, with the exception of some odd textures on carved wood platforms, they looked almost like faces. The music had a tribal feel to it, Robotnik was fought on a few floating platforms above a spiked pit, he used an axe attachment to his vehicle to eliminate platforms and attack you.

In Mystic Cave Zone, I noticed the first difference from the final version besides the added levels: I collected the seventh Chaos Emerald in it, and didn't get any message about Super Sonic, just a "Sonic Got Them All!" message. I couldn't turn into Super Sonic either. After completing Oil Ocean, I went to Hidden Palace Zone. It was pretty much like the version in the well known beta, nothing unusual until I got to the end of the second act. Tails was tied to the Master Emerald, Robotnik was hovering above him, doing a laughing animation. Sonic turned into Super Sonic, and ran past the Master Emerald, grabbing Tails, right before Robotnik fired a gigantic beam at the emerald, shattering it. I got a message saying "Sonic Saved Tails!", and the screen faded. Metropolis Zone started, I could change into Super Sonic with 50 rings now, and Tails was following me. The rest of the game was just like the normal version, Genocide City Zone never showed up.

Confused about Genocide City's absence, I looked around online trying to find information about the version I had just played. I couldn't find anything, so I decided to try replaying the game without collecting the Chaos Emeralds.

Everything in the game was identical until I reached the end of Hidden Palace. Tails was still tied to the emerald, Robotnik was still above him. Sonic ran to the emerald to try and save Tails, but Robotnik fired an energy beam diagonally, knocking Sonic back. Robotnik fired his huge beam at the Master Emerald, hitting Tails this time. I heard a loud, high pitched shriek, which I guess was supposed to be a voice sample from Tails. When the beam went away, Tails and the Master Emerald were both gone without a trace. Robotnik did a laughing animation, and flew away. Sonic did an animation I had never seen before, where he fell to the ground and just lay there. The words "You Couldn't Save Him." appeared on the screen, and the level faded out.

The next zone, as I was expecting, was Genocide City. When it loaded, it was a blank screen, just like the well known beta. Sonic fell to the bottom, and died. I had 14 lives when I reached it, and this falling sequence repeated itself 13 times. When I was down to one life, though, the level finally loaded. The best way I can describe the graphics is a combination of Chemical Plant and Metropolis Zone, with many objects in the background on fire. The music seemed like a remix of the title screen music, but played with nothing but deep bass tones. There didn't seem to be any rings in the zone, so being down to my last life, I proceeded with caution. There didn't seem to be any enemies in the zone either, in their place were the sprites for the animals you free from badniks, lying on the ground, not moving.

More and more animals appeared as I went deeper into the level, soon the floors were covered with them. The only challenges in the level were some simple platforming sequences, had to jump over gaps in the floor that lead to a burning fire at the bottom of the screen. After going through what felt like a normal Sonic 2 level in length, I reached the goal sign. There was a small gap in the floor before the sign, after touching the sign instead of running to the right like he usually does, Sonic turned around and just looked in the direction of the gap for about 30 seconds. Then he ran into it, falling to his death.

I got the game over screen, I had forgotten that I had earned a couple continues earlier in the game. I selected the Yes continue option, but I heard an earsplitting buzzing noise, like games do when you choose a menu option you aren't allowed to. I tried a couple more times, but the game clearly wasn't going to let me continue. I finally chose no, and got a game over screen similar to the bad ending in Sonic 1. Except instead of juggling emeralds, Robotnik was juggling the bodies of the creatures you free from badniks. I had to reset the game to get away from that screen.

I was disturbed by what I had just seen, this certainly explained why Genocide City had been removed from the game, but I couldn't imagine what made Sega even consider doing something like this. Even though I had already played through the game and gotten the good ending, I felt like I had to do it again, that I couldn't leave the game the way my second playthrough had ended. So for the third time in one day, I started the Sonic 2 Beta.

The first oddity was the title screen. Tails was gone from it, Sonic didn't seem to notice, there was just a bit of empty space the circle both of them are coming out of. I started the game, and it seemed normal until I collected 50 rings and entered the first bonus stage. Instead of rings coming at me, wave after wave of bombs appeared. I dodged them for as long as I could, but finally got hit. Instead of doing his ring losing animation, the 3D Sonic model did a death animation, and the bonus stage ended. The results screen listed 0 for every stat, but the message at the top was different, in solid black text: "You Can't Bring Back The Dead."

Getting really scared at this point, I collected another 50 rings as quickly as I could, but the bonus stage I entered was identical, ending with the same message. I deleted the beta from my computer, and downloaded it again so I could get the good ending again. I nearly screamed when I saw the title screen without Tails on it, and as I feared I got the impossible bonus stage again. But this time the message was different when I lost:

"You Can't Reverse Your Mistakes."

I was terrified, and was clinging to the irrational belief that if I could just get the good ending again, everything would be better. I went on a different computer, downloaded the Beta, and got the same title screen. Acting on baseless instinct by this point, I went into the bonus stage again. The message this time:

"You Have To Accept Your Mistakes."

I deleted the beta from this computer as well. I realized that the computers were sharing an internet source, that there was a possibility this was some kind of trick or virus. I went to my trusty Genesis, took out the Sonic 2 cart I had had for 17 years. If I could just see Tails in it, I knew everything would be okay.

But I still haven't gotten up the courage to risk it. Every rational part of me knows the beta couldn't possibly affect my cartridge, but I'm too afraid, afraid of what will happen if I see the title screen without Tails in it. I dream about it every night, but I just know that it could get so much worse.

+ + +

It had been about two weeks since I had played the Sonic 2 beta, I had kept dreaming about it every night. The dreams were getting worse and worse, I was waking up from them covered in sweat, I couldn't get back to sleep, I was too tired to function during the day. I knew I had to try my Sonic 2 cart, it was the only way I could move past this. I was too afraid to try it by myself, however. I invited a friend over, and not wanting him to think I was crazy, I casually suggested playing Sonic 2. I turned on my Genesis, heard the familiar "SE-GA!" voice, and then the title screen came up. Tails wasn't in it, and I screamed at the top of my lungs.

My friend was understandably startled, and asked what the hell was wrong with me. Barely holding back tears, I blurted out the whole story in a barely coherent babble. When I was finished, my friend just stared at me for a few seconds, then spoke:

"What are you talking about? Tails was on the title screen, just like he always is."

I wasn't able to respond, somehow this made things seem even worse, now I wasn't even sure if it really was some kind of curse, or if I had just gone crazy. I sat in complete silence for a few minutes, my friend made up an excuse about having to be somewhere and left, I can't blame him. After the initial shock wore off, I tried actually playing the game. Tails wasn't there, and the bonus round was impossible. I got this message after losing:

"You Can't Run From Your Failures."

I had absolutely no idea what to do at this point. I considered checking myself into a mental institution, but that last message about running from my problems made me afraid to ignore the game. Thinking about the messages, I decided I only had one option, even if nothing good was likely to come of it: I had to play through the game again.

I decided to do the next playthrough on my Genesis, holding a controller, being in front of a TV, using a system from my childhood made me feel safer than playing the beta. Aside from the lack of Tails and bonus stages, the first two zones were completely normal. I wasn't surprised at this point when Dust Hill came up after Chemical Plant, but after going a few screens into it, I saw something new in the background: Tails, hanging from a noose on one of those old west style stands you see in Hangman games. This image would repeat itself in the background every few screens worth of scrolling. When I got to where I had fought the boss before, there was another image of Tails being hanged in the background, Robotnik wasn't in his special boss vehicle, just the generic Sonic 2 floating vehicle he makes his escapes on. He did a laughing animation, and flew away. There was no victory screen, it just faded out and went to Aquatic Ruins.

The zones that are in the final game were normal, but when I got to Wood Zone, there was another change. I had noticed textures in the wood that looked like faces on my first two playthroughs, but now they were much clearer: Tails' face, in a twisted scream. These were carved everywhere in the level, when I got to the boss the biggest carving yet was in the background. Again, Robotnik just did a laughing animation and left, causing the screen to fade out. Mystic Cave and Oil Ocean were normal, then I reached Hidden Palace. Hidden Palace had changed a lot more than Dust Hill and Wood Zone, there was no music at all, and no enemies either. I walked through two empty levels, until I reached the part where Robotnik had killed Tails. Nothing was there, not the Master Emerald, Tails, or Robotnik. Sonic went into his despair pose from when Tails had been killed, and stayed like that for about 30 seconds, until the screen faded out.

Genocide City started, and it to was very different. This time it was filled with enemies, demon shaped robots covered in fire. There was no way to kill them, and the level was still lacking rings. There were also lava spouts shooting up from the bottom of the screen, and fireballs falling from the sky. This was one of the hardest platforming levels I had ever played, but after several deaths I made it to the goal sign, which still had the floor gap next to it. I touched the sign, and this time I did the trick that lets you control Sonic during the end of level score tally. It worked, and Sonic didn't run into the pit. The victory message was in that familiar black text:

"It Won't Bring Him Back."

The screen faded, and Genocide City Act 2 appeared. The graphics were different here, the fire had burned out, replaced by ashes and soot covered ruins in the background. Again, there were no enemies, the corpses of the animals that became badniks had returned, but this time they were all laying in a pile of ash. Also like my first visit to the zone, the only obstacles were some small gaps in the floor, this time they looked like holes that had been burnt through it. I reached the end of the zone, Robotnik was in his vehicle, at the right end of the screen, about level with Sonic. He didn't move, so I attacked him. He made the usual flashing damage animation, so I kept doing it. After eight hits, he still hadn't reacted or been defeated, but the black text appeared again.

"What Do You Hope To Accomplish?"

Not sure what else to do, I kept attacking Robotnik. After a few more hits:

"Killing Him Won't Bring Your Friend Back."

I continued to attack Robotnik, the message changed every few hits. I'll post them in the order they appeared.

"You Let Him Die, That Will Never Change."

"Revenge Won't Soothe You Forever."

"Like The Past, He Is Lost Forever."

"You Can't Get Your Innocence Back."

"Your Enemy's Blood Can't Wash Away Your Mistakes."

"You Have No One To Blame But Yourself."

"Take Responsibility For Your Failure."

"You Are Attacking The Wrong Person."

After getting all these messages, I got an idea of what the game wanted me to do. Instead of jumping at Robotnik to attack him, I walked into him, causing Sonic to take damage and die. One final message came up:

"You Have Paid The Only Acceptable Price."

The game reset, and the title screen came up. This time Sonic wasn't there either, there was just an empty circle. I started the game, and the screen the common beta sends you to when you select Genocide City appeared. There was no timer, no Sonic falling to his death, nothing. I turned the system on and off and tried again, the same thing happened. I tried the beta on my computer, same thing, same screen. I tried another Sonic game, it was the same, everything in the series had erased him. I haven't tried to play a Sonic game in quite a while now, but I see that one screen every time I close my eyes.

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