Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 received mixed opinions from fans and critics, to say the least. The game set out to satisfy fans of the series’ nostalgic itch by making a game that was supposed to be a direct sequel to the amalgamation Sonic 3 & Knuckles and continue with the same style of gameplay.
Despite the game’s commercial success and generally good reviews from mainstream critics, there were no shortages of people who deem themselves ‘fans’ out there with the aim of ripping the game a big gaping one. The main problem people seemed to have with the game was that it wasn’t a carbon copy of their much loved Sonic Mega Drive triumvirate, and actually tried to do its own thing to some extent.
Problems and nit picking aside, Sonic 4 Episode 1 sold well, over a million copies in fact. And so thanks to that success, people who did like the game would be treated to an Episode 2 of this Sega throwback. And the people who complained about it will probably still buy it too.
Sonic 4 Episode 2 didn’t come as a surprise though, the ending of the first game pretty blatantly teases Metal Sonic, coupled with the fact that the first game had a large ‘Episode 1’ banner plastered across it made a second game a pretty safe assumption. As Episode 1 was to take place, chronologically, shortly after the events of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Episode 2 continues that story, taking place a few months after the fight on the E.G.G. Station.
As the ‘Little Planet’, a small satellite that appears in the sky one month out of every year, once again floats in the sky, Dr. ‘Eggman’ Robotnik’s real plan is about to come to light. With Metal Sonic once again at his side, Sonic and his sidekick Tails set out to once again put an end to any schemes the mad doctor is concocting. It’s classic old school gaming narrative, bad guy is being a nuisance, heroes step up to give him a sound beating.
If any of that last story sounds like it has some familiar elements, that’s probably because you spent some time playing one of the lesser known sonic titles, Sonic CD. The plot element of the little planet is itself the setting of Sonic CD, as seen during the opening animation. That, coupled with the inclusion of Metal Sonic as an antagonist it seems that lately Sonic Team really want us to remember that there was at least one good game on the Sega CD.
Despite all of these references to one previous game, the real selling point being thrown at us for Sonic 4.2 is the inclusion of Sonic’s mutant sidekick; Tails. Upon reading that last sentence, many of you out there will probably be asking questions akin to ‘so what?’ In the older Sonic games that this series is taking much of its inspiration from, Tails was nothing more than an animated piece of scenery.
He would silently follow Sonic around where ever he went in Sonic 2 and 3 and would not really add anything except maybe an extra hit on a boss on occasion. That is not so this time around, Tails is a major part of the game and learning how to use him properly will be vital to Sonic progression through the stages. Upon push of a button, Tails will perform one of a number of moves including an Arial/underwater boost, depending on the situation, and a tandem spin attack with Sonic.
Many purists were upset upon the inclusion of the homing attack to Episode 1, its continued appearance, coupled with these new co-op moves and gameplay mechanics will probably boil their blue blood even further. However, this is not to say that their criticisms of the first game fell on deaf ears, as many improvements to the graphics and physics have been made for this sequel seemingly based on all the most common complaints of the first game.
Built from the ground up, a new physics engine is being used in this game to make movement as identical to the Mega Drive era games as possible. Previously, Sonic built up his speed from nowhere and was able to climb at impossible angles and gain momentum from nowhere. Reportedly, these problems have been rectified for Episode 2. The graphics have also been given a significant boost, making the game look even smoother, they’ve even replaced that weird looking run cycle with something that looks far less silly.
So in the graphics, the gameplay and the physics departments of this game, there are rather major changes. Players will have a new mechanic to get to grips with in the form of the Tails powers, which not everyone is going to be a fan of, but hopefully the improved momentum and general ‘feel’ of the game will hopefully make up for that.
One other thing some of the more old school fans out there may remember was the ability for a second player to pick up a controller and be able to control Tails. Why did I mention that? Well I’ll just leave that up to your imagination.
I did an awful lot of sticking up for Sonic 4 Episode 1 after it came out, more so than most people. That isn’t to say there were some negatives I levered towards the game at the time. One criticism I actually aimed at the game for borrowing too heavily from past stages in its level design. While this had been an intention from the developers, to give a sense of nostalgia for players, I felt that there was too much taken from them.
For the sequel though, the team has taken this on board when designing their stages as one of thing things fans did have an issue with. While these new zones still want to remind players of classic Sonic style levels, they’re also going to mix thing up a bit and give them something new.
The stages revealed thus far in Episode II are Sylvania Castle Zone, an aquatic ruin style zone ala Sonic 2 except with a more medieval type theme and advanced defences. The other is White Park Zone, a snow themed level based around an abandoned amusement park in the mountains, this stage has a totally unique look to it and the mountainsides coupled with the park’s lights gives it a very festive feel in my opinion. Perfect for a May release.
Both of these stages look great and both bring something new to the game. The only other question in regards to the stages is if there are going to be more than we saw in the previous game, adding a bit of time to the game’s overall longevity.
It seems that all the major problems people had with the first game have been listened to and there has been some attempt made to rectify these problems. Enough so that any Sonic fan worth his spikes should be at least cautiously optimistic, as is their way.
While there are probably some people out there that are still holding onto the wish that this game will finally be the HD carbon copy of their early Sonic games, Episode 2 actually looks to be taking elements from all eras of Sonic’s history and attempting to give players an experience in between.
Despite how it looks, I can almost guarantee that all the new mechanics in this game are going to give haters a reason to do as such. There is a certain variety of Sonic fans, unfortunately the more vocal variety, that will be holding this game against a 16-bit measuring bar, rather than judging it on its own merits. In spite of the jokes and criticism still aimed at the series, it’s a good time to be a Sonic the Hedgehog fan. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 seems like it’s going to be continuing the trend in Sonic’s resurgence and be something to keep an eye out for.
Thanks to the advances made in the game’s graphics and the inclusion of cut scenes, the games have become too large to be supported by all platforms. So sadly, the game will not be available for WiiWare. The game will still be available to download from Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network on May 16th.
Developers say that they currently have no plans for any further instalments in the Sonic 4 series, but depending on the success of this game, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 3 can very much still be on the cards.
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