|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Sonic Team|
|Release: May 16, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Comic Mischief|
by Josh Wirtanen
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a unique beast among games. Not only is it a resurrection of sorts of Sonic's 2D adventures from almost two decades earlier, but it was decided early on that the game would be released in bite-sized downloadable chunks. Sonic 4: Episode I hit back in 2010, though it wasn't without its problems. This May, we'll finally get to see what Sonic Team does with all the fan criticism when Episode II launches.
First things first, Sonic Team is addressing the physics. When Episode I launched back in 2010, the biggest fan complaint was that the physics felt "off." And this was entirely accurate. The Genesis-era Sonic couldn't stop on a dime once he had built up momentum, nor could he switch direction or "uncurl" midair. Takashi Iizuka of Sonic Team told Eurogamer that Episode II's physics would be based on the Mega Drive-era Sonic games. Classic Sonic fans, rejoice; it doesn't get more "classic" than that.
Another major fan concern was that all of Episode I's stages were ripped out of Genesis-era Sonic games. Even the final boss was pulled directly from Sonic 2. After all these years spent pining for a glorious return to the 2D Sonic we remembered from childhood, we wanted to play through environments we'd never seen before. So far, though, it looks like Episode II is following this trend.
We've seen two stages so far: the Sylvania Castle Zone, which brings to mind a mixture of Sonic 2's Aquatic Ruin Zone and Sky Sanctuary Zone from Sonic and Knuckles, and the White Park Zone, which looks a lot like the Carnival Night Zone from Sonic 3, only with parts of it buried in snow. Now, this may not be exactly what fans were clamoring for, but giving old zones fresh new twists (like adding snow or combining them with other classic stages) should at least keep the game feeling less like something we've already seen before. In fact, the snow in the White Park Zone actually makes the carnival environment seem a whole lot more interesting, and I'm hoping that this winter theme will allow a return of the snowboarding sequences from Sonic 3. (Though, these should admittedly be used as sparingly as they were back then. In fact, it can be argued that it was the brevity of these sequences that made them work so well in Sonic 3.)
Of course, it wasn't just the recycled feel of the environments that was disappointing; there was also an almost criminal lack of detail. We all wanted to see Sonic proudly wave his 2.5D flag in glorious HD, but what we got wasn't all that impressive. Thankfully, Episode II's environments look a lot more detailed, with a lot more stuff going on in the background without cluttering up the screen. Simply put, what we've seen of the game so far looks pretty great.
Of course, the coolest addition in Episode II is Tails, who can be controlled by a second player to bring back the glory days of Sonic 2's cooperative gameplay style. And this doesn't stop at having a cute little tagalong; Sonic and Tails can actually team up for special combo attacks. When playing solo, players can press a button to bring Tails in for one of these combo moves, although the real fun will be co-op, which will work locally or online.
Fans who have collected every Chaos Emerald in Episode I will already be aware of this, but there is another character making a welcome return in Episode II. We speak, of course, of Metal Sonic, who has been popular with fans since he first appeared in Sonic CD. Now, I just hope we see Amy Rose, Sonic's delightfully pink lady friend, make a cameo at some point.
Episode II is coming to a huge variety of consoles, including the PS3, Xbox 360, and even iOS and Android. (Sorry, Wii owners, you're getting left out this time.) In case you're not sure which version to pick up, Microsoft has a special treat planned for the 360 and Windows Phone versions. Sonic 4: Episode II will feature some cross-platform features between the 360 and the Windows Phone 7. That's right, you can finally take advantage of these WP7 cross-platform features that Microsoft has been bragging about for so long.
As far as the storyline goes, we don't know a whole lot. But it has been revealed that Episode II will take place shortly after the events of Sonic CD, and that Sonic CD's Little Planet will be playing a prominent role here. Since Sonic CD has always been my personal favorite among Sonic titles, this information has me pretty excited. Perhaps we'll even get to hear the classic "Sonic Boom" theme song again? Well, I actually wouldn't hold my breath on that one.
All in all, Sonic 4: Episode II is looking to outdo Episode I in every way. If Sonic Team can get the physics right this time, as well as giving us some more innovative Sonic environments, this should be well worth a download come May.
Editor / News Director
Date: March 30, 2012