Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II Preview
Yes, Tails is in this game and no, he doesn't talk.
Sonic the Hedgehog has had a sketchy period for some time now. Many would say that titles released this generation have been mediocre at best, with only Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations recently being exceptions. If you want to enjoy a good Sonic game, the majority of fans would point you back to the early 90s when Sonic stood toe to toe with Mario with titles like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD and Sonic & Knuckles.
In 2010, Sega attempted to return to these heralded days with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I. It featured classic 2D graphics and had stages inspired by the locales in Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2. The title- meant to reinvigorate the Sonic franchise- was met with mixed results. Fans and critics alike complained about dull levels, uninspired graphics, and-the biggest complaint-a physics engine which made platforming feel less than responsive and characteristically unlike the original Genesis games.
Sonic Team has listened to the complaints expressed with the first episode and is promising to fix those problems with the second episode. Like the first game, there will be four zones, each with three acts. Two zones confirmed to be in the game are Sylvania Castle and White Park. Sylvania Castle will be an amalgamation of the Aquatic Ruin zone from Sonic 2 and Marble Garden zone from Sonic 3. The level has an ancient temple-like aesthetic to it while also being set in a jungle like backdrop with water covering the lower portion of the area. Movable parts and switches used to open up pathways will also permeate the level.
White Park will be a mash-up of the fourth and fifth zones in Sonic 3: Carnival Night and Ice Cap. The stage is essentially a theme park during a cold winter night. The combination of the snowy hillsides and colorful lights of the amusement park also lend the level a Christmas feel. This level will have you running on roller coaster tracks, escaping from an avalanche of snow on a snowboard, and moving snowballs that block your path.
Thanks to a leak of a previous build of the game on Steam, we now know the other two levels in the game are Oil Desert zone and Sky Fortress zone. Oil Desert is an amalgamation of the Sandopolis zone in Sonic & Knuckles and Oil Ocean zone in Sonic 2. The backdrop is a drilling site in the desert and features sandstorms, mechanical sandworms jumping out of the ground, and various factory equipment that are sucking oil out of the ground. The level layouts have many instances where you'll find yourself running upside down and various other twisting and direction changes.
Sky Fortress zone combines the Sky Chase and Wing Fortress zones from Sonic 2 with some elements originally in the Sky Sanctuary zone from Sonic & Knuckles. You'll ride on Tails' plane, the Tornado, and bash through barriers and then run on walls and teleport to and from various sections once you're on the flying armada. Finally, without revealing too much, the leak has revealed that a fifth zone exists and it's a new updated version of the Death Egg dubbed mk.II.
The boss fights have also been seen thanks to the aforementioned leak and although connections could be made from previous boss fights in other Sonic games, the boss acts in this game are all new experiences. Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman) will be the final fight in two of the zones while Metal Sonic, returning from Sonic CD as well as Sonic Heroes, will be your final opponent in the other two. The special stages were also revealed and they are the same as in Sonic 2.
These locales would be less interesting if they weren't well presented and thankfully, it looks like Sonic Team has improved the visuals substantially. Episode I wasn't a bad looking game but it was uninspired. Episode II looks far more detailed than the previous episode. Sonic has less shine and looks more cartoonish, sort of like a combination of his design in the 16-bit days and his design from the Sonic Advance titles on the GBA. The trees in Sylvania Castle look lush and vibrant and everything in White Park has a soft glow to it due to the light hitting the surrounding snow. You'll constantly see objects moving in the background, with some instances where they move into the foreground, affecting gameplay, and the game still manages to run fantastically at high speeds, an obvious nod to the Genesis titles' "blast processing" feature.
The most important change of all are the improvements made to the physics in the game. Where running and jumping felt off in the first episode, Sonic Team is promising that controlling Sonic will feel more like the Genesis games this time around, with jumping given more weight, a more natural progression from a standstill to a sprint, and a more usual sense of gravity. No more will you be able to run up hills from a complete stop; Sonic will either need to do a spin dash or build up some inertia from running to be able to run up that 90 degree slope.
Sonic Team is not just fixing the issues in episode I; Episode II also has additional features, the inclusion of Tails being chief among them. Like in Sonic 2 or 3, the two tailed fox will follow Sonic through the levels to assist him. Like in those games, he'll accidentally land on spikes, fall behind, and jump on springs and vanish before reappearing from the sky. Unlike those games, he has special abilities that can be used to help Sonic traverse some obstacles in the levels. If you jump in the air and press X or square, Tails will grab hold of you in midair for a short time, allowing you to fly over to far ledges or save you from dying. If you do this while on the ground, Sonic and Tails will do a combined spin dash attack that is more powerful and is required to break through some obstacles. In water, Tails will hold onto Sonic and his tails act like a propeller, allowing you to swim faster. Also, Sonic and Tails can break open a container that will give the duo a special attack that involves them bouncing around the screen, defeating any enemies within that space. These features will be available in both the single player and the co-op, where a second player can control Tails individually either locally or online.
It was also announced that Metal Sonic will be playable in a separate episode that will be available if you also own Sonic 4: Ep. I on the same platform you buy Sonic 4: Ep. II for. It will consist of Metal Sonic going through an act of each of the zones from Sonic 4: Ep. I in reverse order along with some cut scenes that further the story. So far however, it looks like many positive changes are being implemented in this new and potentially final episode in the Sonic 4 saga. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II will be released on May 15, 2012 for Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network, PC, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Be sure to check our upcoming review of the game after it is released.