Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sonic 4-Never

Sonic 4: Episode I was released as a downloadable game for the three main consoles and various mobile devices in late 2010 to... mixed reviews. Much of the criticism came from the game claiming to be a sequel to the classic trilogy, despite having completely different physics which ignored basic ideas of momentum, inertia and gravity. It also drew criticism for being more of a love letter (read: Rip-Off) to the classic games rather than a continuation, as none of the levels or bosses were not heavily inspired or just copypasted from the classic games. While this wouldn't be a problem in Sonic Generations, which is supposed to be a tribute, Sonic 4 raised lots of hopes for a sequel and failed to deliver. Episode II, released earlier this week, sought to address issues fans had with the first episode. While they did address some of the issues, I still think they have failed to deliver a good game.

First off, don't expect much from the story. Despite being the game which links Sonic CD and Episode I into the series' continuity, this game doesn't really do that. It links all three (and possibly Episode III) into a little mini-saga revolving around the Little Planet, Metal Sonic and the revival of... something bad. The few cutscenes in the game remind me of the ones from Sonic 3 in their simplicity, and I enjoyed them for the most part. Don't tell me you were playing a Sonic game for the plot, though! You've come for the super fun, physics and momentum based platforming! Well...

Many of the physics issues from Episode I have had a bit of work done on them. Sonic actually has momentum now, and won't drop like a rock the second you stop holding forward. Rolling physics do give you some degree of speed now; it's nowhere near as powerful as it should be, but it's better than nothing. Super Sonic, for whatever reason, was immune from these changes in physics and feels exactly the same as Episode I. Blatant oversight or an interesting feature? Make your own mind up on that one.

So... You're saying that Spin Dash I did to get up the slope
was thoroughly pointless? Thanks SEGA. There are 5 more
boost pads on this wall. Just clarifying that.
The issue is that - while the physics have been improved - the "Go Forward" nature of the game doesn't make them particularly useful. For example, whenever you would use physics to climb a slope, there will be speed boosters or springs to shoot you up it anyway. The second act of White Park is the best example of this. Being based on a roller coaster theme, you'd expect it to let you build up a fuck-tonne of speed and zoom about; I looked forward to this act for just that reason. But no, it's either stiff platforming or getting shot around by speed boosters. The only place where you can really notice and make use of the improved physics is Sky Fortress - coincidentally my favourite level in the game.

The issue lies less with mangled physics and more with atrocious level design. One thing the game hasn't shaken off from Episode I is each act having its own gimmicks. It's not as bad as Episode 1, but every act still focuses on the use of one gimmick to a degree. While this does ensure that there are a lot of ideas floating around in the game, it prevents them from being expanded to the degree that they should be. I would have liked to see gimmicks such as the bouncing pads from Sylvania Castle Act 2 return in later acts to make the levels more interesting and to combine different level elements together. But no, that never really happens.

The levels, while somewhat more original that Episode I, aren't really that interesting to play through. There aren't nearly enough gimmicks which mix up the gameplay. White Park is a particularly obscene offender; it looks like it should be a really interesting merge of typical carnival level gimmicks such as the bumpers and pinball flippers, and ice level gimmicks such as snowboarding and snow balls flying around. But it doesn't capitalise on this concept at all.  The first act, while it has a pretty carnival in the background, is just a snow level with a tiny bit of boarding and pushing snowballs; you never get a chance to interact with any of the fairground attractions which are so prominent in the levels background. Act 2 is set entirely on the roller-coaster, and has no gimmicks to speak of at all. Act 3 is a really bland water level for some reason, with dickish seals.

The levels also fall into the DIMPS trap of having a massive chase sequence at the end of almost every level. While sometimes a nice spectacle, they can be annoying.

One thing I do give the level design credit for is better implementation of the Homing Attack, particularly in Sylvania Castle, where it's used to shift platforms and do some super-amazing-bouncy-skills. There are still boring bubble's chains (I couldn't stop laughing when they couldn't even get through the not-Sky Chase zone without including them!), but they are fewer and further between than before. They even substitute Bubbles for different enemies in one zone. It's a step in the right direction at least!

I also quite like the way the tag actions with Tails were utilised. In Sky Fortress Act 2 in particular, there are lots of little shortcuts and alternate paths which can be taken through confident use of the Flying and "Six-Nine Spin Dash" actions. This is how I think they should have been implemented, to offer alternatives to savvy players and expand the level. Unfortunately there are some areas where it's just "Fly here to not die."

Dun, dun dun dun, dun dun dun, dun dun dun, dun dun dun,
dun dun, dun dun dun dun.
The bosses are certainly not a highlight of the game, either. Contrasting the "Bash-bash-bash-bash" style of bosses in Episode I, this game makes you wait for quite a while for an opportunity to hit the boss presents itself. Some of the boss concepts are actually quite interesting, such as this Tetris-esque boss. The problem is that it takes around four minutes to beat it because opportunities to attack are so infrequent, and the bosses tactics do not change up frequently or drastically enough to warrant the fights being so long. Doesn't help that the Eggman boss theme is around 10 seconds long. Good for a pinch mode, not a boss fight.

I thought the music in Episode I wasn't that good. The tracks themselves weren't too bad but they were let down by awful synthesised instruments which were meant to evoke the mega drive era, but ended up evoking dying nyan cats instead. While the synthesisers have been massively improved for this game, I do not like the style one bit. Whereas the classics made an active effort to sound like real instruments most of the time, Sonic 4 goes out of it's way to sound artificial, and it's not a direction I like. Though as bad as the instrumentation was in Episode I, the tunes were nevertheless memorable and typically well composed; I can hum Lost Labyrinth or Mad Gear with absolutely no issues. The majority of the music in Episode 2 is very brief, repetitive and not that interesting. The only music that I can really remember is the Oil Desert theme, Sky Fortress Act 2, the Metal Sonic boss theme and Death Egg Mark II theme. I do like that they brought back the idea of the Act 2 and Act 3 themes being a remix of elements from the Act 1 track... for Oil Desert and the main acts of Sky Fortress anyway; gives the levels a feeling of harmony.

Episode Metal, a lock-on feature if you have Episode 1 and 2, is extremely lazy. Just like this part of the review.

They have overhauled the graphics engine since Episode I, and it really shows. The game is beautiful. I guess that's what the developers can do when they're not forced to work to the levels capable by the Wii!
Sonic 4 Episode II is not a bad game. It's not a good one either. While there are some improvements over Episode I - such as the mostly fixed physics and less reliance on homing attack chains - the generic level designs limit my ability to fully appreciate these changes. I actually prefer Episode I. I'd recommend renting it at least, but you can't do that with downloadable games. Bummer.



  1. A 4? It wasn't that bad. Even reviews that were harsher than this gave better scores...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. No mention of co-op?