This week’s Sonic Mania may be the best-reviewed Sonic the Hedgehog game in nearly two decades, but a free fan game could challenge that top spot. For those of us whose fondest memories stem from Sonic Adventure 2’s best feature, Chao Resort Island is a must-play.
The cornerstone of Sonic Adventure 2 wasn’t its dueling dark vs. light storylines, but it’s Chao Island minigame. Players had up to three Chao Gardens they could tend to as any of the game’s playable characters, with that person’s alignment influencing how the Chao grew up. If you bring Dr. Eggman to the Garden to swaddle some baby Chao, well, you’ll end up with a demonic little guy when it’s fully grown.
Items collected throughout the main levels also affected the Chao, so that players could customize their colors and designs with different animals and food. There were even minigames within the minigame, like Chao Racing and a stupidly cute sumo wrestling match. It was a perfect time sink for someone who loved games like Nintendogs and Animal Crossing as much as the Hedgehog’s high-speed platformers — of the hundreds of hours I spent on Sonic Adventure 2, I’d imagine that at least half took place on Chao Island.
Sixteen years later, there’s now a way to play Chao Island without even messing with the Sonic Adventure 2 part. Chao Resort Island comes from indie designer and Sonic fan Nefault1st, who launched it earlier this month for Mac and Windows PC. After demoing a more traditional 2D Sonic fangame starring Sonic and Shadow last year, Nefault1st turned toward Sonic Adventure 2’s real sweet spot. The 2.5D game is all about raising Chao who live on a tropical resort, where there are plenty of toys and fruits to mess around with.
Like the original minigame, every Chao has its own heroic alignment and special abilities. There’s also accessories and activities to pit your Chao in; this isn’t just a game about breeding and watching cute creatures do their thing. Being a Chao daddy takes some work.
Players can raise up to 24 Chao across three resorts and in real time. The seasons change just as they do in real life, and I fully expect to see my resort through all four of them. Even in its first version release, Chao Resort Island satisfies that need for a much more low-key Sonic game — one that has very little to do with Sonic at all.
Chao Resort Island’s up for download on Mac and Windows PC now. If you need more convincing, for whatever reason, watch some gameplay below.