Sonic Crackers

From Sonic Retro

Crackers title.png
Sonic Crackers
Prerelease of: Chaotix
System: Sega Mega Drive
Build date: 1994-04-01
ROM size: 1 MB
Found by: MORGOTH[1]

Sonic Crackers (referred to as Sonic Studium in the ROM header) is an early prototype build of what would become the Sega 32X video game Chaotix. It sees the player controlling Sonic the Hedgehog and Miles "Tails" Prower tied together, using each other's momentum to navigate through stages.

It has been suggested that the title may have been a mis-romanisation of the katakana "ソニック クラッカーズ". Translation difficulties with "r" and "l" could mean the title was meant to be Sonic Clackers, named after the toy, which consists of two balls connected by string.


Sega of America's Clint Dyer poses for a photograph with a Sonic ice cream bar.

Sega of America product specialist Clint Dyer is identified as the individual who leaked the Sonic Crackers prototype. Dyer worked in Sega’s marketing department from 1993 to 1996, giving him access to development materials and prototypes. His name even appears in the credits of Knuckles’ Chaotix under “Special Thanks”, indicating his direct involvement during the game’s development.[2]

Respected prototype dealer Jason Wilson confirmed that Dyer had sold multiple Sega prototypes, including a number of Sonic Crackers cartridges, over the years; this claim is supported by other collectors and community members, who noted Dyer’s history of picking items from Sega’s trash and selling them, including prototypes and mock-ups of unreleased company hardware (such as a Sega Neptune mockup and a prototype Sega Venus handheld). Further first-hand accounts from collectors like Adam Harvey, as well as Dyer’s presence on classic gaming community platforms like IRC, further reinforce his role in leaking the prototype.[2][3]

Sonic Crackers is largely suspected to have been created as a pitch within the company to Sega executives, which was later picked up and turned into Chaotix. While there was initial speculation that its claimed "19940401" build date signified an April Fool's joke, the Sonic Crackers name was later found in 1207 prototype of Chaotix. Graphics from a later build of Sonic Crackers were also found in a June 1994 prototype build of Yuu Yuu Hakusho: Makyou Toitsusen.


There are four playable levels in Sonic Crackers, which are accessible either by selecting the "1P START" or "2P START" options on the title screen, or by using the "SELECT" menu. Many levels appear to have been planned, split up into seven "Worlds", two "Premiums" and a Special Stage. Each World lists five "Attractions" and one "Field", and each Premium is paired with one Attraction and one Field.

In total this would mean 37 Attractions, 7 Fields and 1 Special Stage are catered for, but the vast majority of level slots do not function as intended.

Sonic Crackers begins at what is listed as World 2, Attraction 4, and loops through a never-ending pattern:

... -> World 2 Attraction -> Field 1 -> World 1 Attraction -> Field 2 -> ...


Much like Chaotix, Crackers calls its levels "Attractions" (as opposed to prior Sonic outings which opt to call them "Acts" and "Zones"). At this stage of development there are only two meaningful Attractions on offer, neither of which are explicitly named and are not seen in Chaotix.

Attractions are side-scrolling levels similar to those seen in previous Sonic games, and see the player, controlling Sonic, attempt to navigate the map with partner Tails, who is only partially controllable in single player. A, B, C, X, Y and Z all share the same functionality, causing Sonic to jump, Tails to stop moving and, if close enough, Sonic to pick up Tails (and throw him). Spin Dashes can also be peformed by pressing any button while crouching with Down. These controls are similar to that of Chaotix, only that Chaotix separates jumping from holding (and adds a recall button should the partner get stuck). When playing with two players, the second player can fully control Tails and make him pick up Sonic, however Tails has no flying ability and thus plays exactly like Sonic.

Pressing Start allows the user to move Sonic and Tails' X and Y positions with the D-Pad, giving them access to any part of the level (much like the debug modes of Sonic 1, 2 and 3). Sonic and Tails' arms and Tails' tails are treated as separate objects by the engine so they become detached from their bodies, remaining at at their original location until the game is resumed.

Sonic and Tails are not fully affected by gravity, thus can walk on walls and ceilings, and it is fully possible for characters to either get stuck in scenery or simply stop moving. There are no hazards, save for spikes which cause the player to drop rings (despite being no rings to pick up) and make characters dizzy if they take repeated damage too rapidly. Nothing can kill the player, including going out of bounds, however once the in-game timer reaches a certain point (or, in the case of the first level, the player reaches the top of the screen), the level will end.

The only other objects which can affect the pair are red and yellow springs, which come in horizontal, vertical and diagonal varieties.

World 2 Attractions

For the most part, Sonic Crackers involves Sonic and Tails making their way up this industrial structure at differing times of day. This is the most complete level in the prototype and can almost be completed through normal play, though awkward tile positioning at the top of the map makes it extremely difficult to do so. Having a goal at the top of the stage, and a vaguely similar aesthetic suggest it may have a relationship with Chaotix's Techno Tower, though the layout and graphics are entirely different.

There are four music themes for this level, all of which are prototype versions of Chaotix songs (Walkin', Hyper-Hyper, Evening Star and Moonrise, respectively). Upon "completing" the stage, caused by either getting to the top of the level or waiting three minutes, the Game Over jingle from the original Sonic the Hedgehog is played before being taken to Field 1.

Every time the player revisits the level during "normal" play, its colour palette will change. This day/night cycle was also implemented in Chaotix, though the music only changes in the World Entrance.

World 1 Attractions

While five level slots are filled in World 1, all point to the same stage - a brightly coloured and somewhat nonsensical circus/carnival-themed level which can't be beaten (unless the user waits one minute). Again, this is thought to be a very early prototype form of Speed Slider, though is radically different to anything found in the final game.

This level loops indefinitely to the right, even looping beyond the camera boundary after the first loopback, and garbage data interpreted as level chunks can be found on the bottom of the level in the first loop, including chunks that are normally unused in the layout. The level also has severe collision issues, initially mitigated by entering via the level select rather than through "normal" play. Unique to this level is the inclusion of "outside loops", causing Sonic and Tails to run in a figure-eight motion. Unfortunately, changes between collision planes are not treated equally for both characters, leaving to the likely situation where Sonic or Tails will fall through the ground, only to be dragged around for the rest of the session.

These Attractions use a (surprisingly more complex) version of the theme "Electoria" from Chaotix, used in the final game for Techno Tower. The field levels share this theme, also.

Worlds 3-7 and Premium 1-2

While level slots exist for the rest of the game, selecting these stages (via the level select) will cause the title card to appear and World 2 music to play for a few seconds, before playing the Game Over theme and being sent to a Field level. Nothing within the ROM suggests these levels exist in any form. Likewise, the Special Stage will also fail to load.


Unique again to Crackers is the concept of top-down "Field" levels - empty areas in which overhead versions of Sonic and Tails can walk around indefinitely, and lack anything to interact with. While the graphics seem to suggest pathways were planned, there is no collision, and indeed the only way to exit these levels is to press a button while paused, which will take the player to another attraction.

Holding a button will cause Tails to remain in place, as in the Attraction levels; but this time there are no rubber band physics holding the two together, thus Sonic can move any distance away from Tails without consequence. There have been suggestions that the two Field levels correspond with the two Attractions (World 1's Field actually sharing background graphics with its paired Attraction), but development on these areas is simply too early to know.

Hardware issues

The prototype ROM will crash the system on a real Mega Drive console, but only if the player does not skip the SEGA screen quick enough or delays at the title screen for too long. The cause of this crash is due to the sound driver (which is held on and controlled by the Z80 sub-processor) - if it isn't given a music track ID to process quick enough after being set up, the game will fail. A detailed explanation of the crash and how to fix it, can be found here.

When bypassing the crash stated above and obtaining access to the other selections in the menu, the game can crash in the level select option named "SELECT". When selecting the "PREMIUM1 - ATTRACTION" selection, the game crashes with a plain blue screen. The same happens when selecting "PREMIUM1 - FIELD", which will lead to the World 2 Field stage first, and will happen upon pausing and pressing A.


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File: Sonic Crackers.7z (368 kB) (info)

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Sonic Crackers, prototype version of Chaotix
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