Eternity in an hour
Enemy Variety & AI Updates
A lot of the AI in SRB2 is 30 year old, dated DOOM AI. It would be neat if each enemy had updated AI to make them more unique or real. A lot of times it feels like the enemies are just “there”, and there’s no real reason to go out of your way to bust them. Their whole purpose is to be an obstacle for the player to avoid, I don’t wish to force the player to fight them, but rather to interact with them and acknowledge their existence.
The levels would definitely feel less empty with enemies being overhauled. And the enemies with dated sprites getting their re-sprites. It’s quite notable how bad the old AI is. I’d recommend looking at Chaos’ AI. Enemies should keep the player on their toes!
I think it's actually beneficial for enemies to be mostly inconsequential in GFZ. New players won't necessarily know how to control their chosen character yet, and having to deal with enemies on top of getting the hang of the controls might be a bit much. SDURF's do a decent enough job of teaching the player that enemies can be harmful if you just charge ahead blindly while Crawla's do a nice job of teaching the player that with careful aim you can bounce on enemies, and even chain these bounces together if you grow your skill level up a bit. I would like to see at least one more enemy type in GFZ though, maybe some sort of mostly harmless butterfly enemy that teaches the player that enemies aren't always grounded or leaping up and down.
However, yes. Over time enemies should become bigger and bigger threats in addition to the level design itself growing trickier to navigate, though I feel this is rather already the case. There might be some room for rebalancing here and there but overall I think SRB2 already does a decent job of this in the vanilla campaign. Perhaps the solution to your issue might be to provide additional incentive to fight enemies, such as for example adding a random chance for badniks to drop a ring in addition to the usual flicky?
I actually quite like the idea of every zone having special recolored "elite" badniks that function as stronger versions of other badniks. It helps to give SRB2 even more of it's own identity, and once the player realizes that this is a thing they might grow excited to find out what the elite versions of other badniks are like. This also helps out with your previous point in regards to enemies not being threatening enough, as elite enemies could challenge the player more than their regular counterparts especially if placed in tandem with particular types of level design.On variety, SRB2 also has a problem. Greenflower only has 2 notable enemies, and one of them is a recolor and isn’t even in the first level really (it’s in a cage).
I think each level should have 4 new enemy types. At this point I think SRB2 shouldn’t have recolors. They’re a lazy way of “including a different enemy”. Back then it was fine but now I think they should replace them with all-new enemies, with new sprites, code and all. The classics never had recolors anyway.
I do somewhat agree that they shouldn't necessarily be straight up recolors though, perhaps giving their sprites some touch ups to look slightly more unique could go a long way, such as perhaps giving Red Crawla's angrier eyes and a larger engine sticking out giving more of a visual indicator that these Crawla's are a bit more speedy and dangerous than their more passive blue counterparts.