Review by Lunar_Savage

"Running in the Right Direction"

Alrighty folks. So I rushed home on release day with a pizza so I could sit down and play this game without any silly interruptions like having to eat get in the way of playing this game. And I've come to a few of my own conclusions about the game now that I've finally managed to put my hands on it. I played this game for literally, 4 hours straight. From about 1:17 pm to 5:30ish. I managed to get all the way through the game plus Episode Metal in this time.

We'll begin with the cons, hit the mixed stuff, and then lastly the pros of the game.

Cons:

-Rolling Physics are still terrible. 90% of the time, you will not gain momentum while rolling and will come to a complete stop a mere second or two after trying to enter a roll while running unless you have massive momentum already. Only on the steepest of inclines will you see a slight increase in speed. Before anyone argues with me, I tested this thoroughly during my playing sessions (I later picked the game back up around 7 pm and played again until about 8:30). You DO gain MINIMAL speed on STEEPEST of inclines. I want to stress the caps.

It's almost like instead of being a nice round ball that would gain momentum, instead they're giving him tons of friction as he rolls. Like spikes digging into the ground gripping it to try and make him stop. And...well...that's just not how it's supposed to work.

Though, other than say "be like the classics", I'm going to give my ideal for how it should work:

Create an incline. Get a bag of marbles. Pull one out. Put it at the top of the incline. Release. That's what should happen. For even better results, put a half-pipe of some kind at the bottom. See what happens. Add in the power of a spindash and that marble should fly way way way off the ramp. It doesn't need to be like the classics where I can gain super momentum by rolling back and forth in a giant 'U' shaped section of the level. But the roll should gain momentum. Not come to a grinding halt by the time I reach the bottom of the incline.

If you'd like to have some kind of real world way of including the power of the spindash, I recommend looking into the old evil kineval stunt bike toy. The one you could rev up and launch his bike at high speeds. There might be a way to tweak it so you could make that ol' marble fly...

-Dimps hates the spindash. This thing is almost useless. Where I would normally rely on it to get up ramps and inclines, I now find myself looking to abuse my Tails combo powers or looking for a booster pad.

Detailed complaint on spindash is as follows: You gain the initial boost of speed from it and after about 2 or 3 seconds, your momentum is gone. This is in part due to the horrible rolling physics. The two are forever linked. A spindash that enters into bad rolling physics will of course suck massively.

Spamming the 'A' button to charge the spindash does the revving sound which indicates you're building the power and speed of the dash you're about to perform, but in reality, spamming this button does very little to increase the power or launching speed of the dash. Some differences are there, but they don't stand out enough and don't feel effective, so the differences in power are almost not there at all.

Part of the spindash has always been (in any Sonic game, not just the classics) the ability to charge it and determine how strong you want it to be. Which gave the player the ability to have control over their launch. I could send Sonic flying across the level at max power or adjust the launching speed so I can make tricky maneuvers into new routes or hidden crevices. Or even make it so that I have just enough speed to attack the badnik in that hard to reach spot and continue forward with momentum gained. There were times where I'd enter the spindash and realize that's not what I want to do. So I'd let the dash power down by stopping the spam of the button and then release. Which causes the player to have a little more control of Sonic as he launches and gives them the ability to come to a complete halt just a few feet from where they launched.

-Automation. This isn't as bad as most people make it out to be. In fact, there was plenty of momentum based platforming in the game. However, some levels like White Park Zone Act 1 and 2 automation stands out horribly. Automation is also exaggerated in effect because of the poor rolling physics. Every booster you enter sends you into a roll, regardless of stance upon entering. Which basically requires more booster pads or for the player to jump or wait for sonic to stand back up. Another annoying aspect.

There is actually a certain wall in the game that specifically seems to point out that in Sonic 4, Sonic needs the boosters...bad. On this wall, there are about 6 booster pads back to back that hurl Sonic up along this literally 100% vertical incline. Now, the wall is quite lengthy in design, but...did it really need to be there in the first place? Questionable level design in this reviewer's opinion. If you can't make Sonic do something epic like running up that massive wall without tons of boosters in place, is it really epic in the first place? Or, even more to the point...is it fun? I'm not sure how to feel about it. On one hand, it's cool because they were trying to make the player feel awesome. But this is overshadowed by the fact you needed artificial enhancers to do it.

On the plus side of automation however, I noticed that Dimps brought back different kinds of springs. Some of them are powerful, while others are weaker. I like this change and it's a small positive of this negative aspect. Nice attention to detail guys.

-Lack of Own Camera in Multiplayer. Seriously guys? Sharing a screen doesn't work anymore. Even a full retail game like Fable 2 couldn't pull this off. Just give each player their own camera. I got sick of watching my partner fall off screen and suddenly be rotating behind me in mid-air. And in some cases, that was me, trying to catch up with him. And having the camera constantly zoom out is distracting and only serves to make it harder to see your character and his immediate surroundings/threats while playing. Usually means instant ring loss if you're in a bad place at the time. If you need an example of a game that did co-op well without players sharing screens, check out Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. And that was downloadable as well. So you have little excuse here.

--(double negative) Price. The game, while fun, isn't worth $15. I'm very glad I only payed $5 out of pocket for it (had free ms points). This is mostly due to length of the game over all. However, because of the level of replayability this game does have, it's a much better purchase than say...I Am Alive (good game, but I have no desire to ever touch it again). Also, if you need something to soften the blow for you...if you already own Episode 1, Episode Metal does increase the value of Episode 2 somewhat. The 4 bonus levels there are surprisingly fun and you'll probably want to replay them.

Ultimately, the game should have more than 12 essential levels to meet that premium price tag for a download title. Though, I'm kind of forgetting the Death Egg Levels, but not sure they amount to full on levels. More like a reminiscent dream of some really old and fun concepts with gravity.

If I had payed $10 for this, I'd also be really really happy with it. But $15 would have left me with a similar taste in my mouth that Episode 1 gave me.

Mixed:

+-: Speed cap. It's there. Most certainly. However, there is a speed cap in the classics too. The only zone I can remember where it felt like you broke the speed cap was Chemical Plant, but that's mostly because the camera couldn't keep up with Sonic on those steep inclines. Now? Our technology is to the point where the camera can keep up with just about anything the devs want it too. So, unless they wanted to gimp the camera and make it so Sonic goes flying off screen with speed, I don't see much of a problem here. Hell, I'd prefer they didn't do that actually. It would just be another artificial implementation that gives the illusion of speed. Would it be nice not to have a speed cap? Sure. Is it necessary? No. Absolutely not.

+-: Tails Rolling Combo. This is awesome. Yet it feels like they were using it to replace the spindash. That said, despite what some have said, this combo is balanced. It doesn't make you invincible. You lose rings when you come across something that can hurt you like environmental dangers or strong badniks. You can't even change the direction of the roll with ease. Even better, the rolling combo can actually lose momentum if you bump into things and slow down drastically, meaning you need to break it up and restart it. An annoyance to be sure. That said, I give it a mixed review because I feel like that for all of the ingenuity here on part of the devs, this feature at times does feel like a cheap replacement for more tricky and nuanced mastering of the game's physics.

+-: Bouncing. It's almost back. But it's not quite. I'll explain in the pros section, under momentum.

+-: Level Design. Some moments of brilliance. Some moments of wtf? All in all though, more of a step up from Ep 1 than a step down. So...kinda like a half step I guess? Plenty of route variation except in key levels makes this mostly a step up. In some levels it took me a while to realize that the tails combos were how I was supposed to explore the upper or lower echelons of a level. That said, that is not always the case for you worrywarts. You can reach higher and lower places with just Sonic. Great replayability here. However, some of the areas have questionable design and make you wonder why it's there in the first place. Because it's either not a challenge at all, or it's just downright mean. I noticed that badnik placement was interesting. Some routes loop back in on themselves, so it makes sense for them to be there if you took the other way in. But this is not always the case.

To get more specific about things that were implemented well and things that were not so well implemented, I'm going to start in Sylvania Castle Zone Act 3.

In this zone, there's a fantastic gimmick that plays on the use of the Homing Attack. While I understand that many people detest this move in a 2D game, I for one am rather neutral towards it. Despite believing that in Episode 1, it did feel rather forced, I believe here in Episode 2, they managed to play up on it's use creatively. In SCZA3, you can use the Homing Attack to interact with the many floating and rotating platforms to change the landscape of the level layout. Which makes it easier for Sonic to navigate should he get hit during the process or the player mess up the HA chain and have to regain momentum.

In particular, there's a section where Sonic must use the HA to climb vertically up a set of two columns of floating and rotating platforms. I found this to be a fun use of the homing attack and a different approach instead of the usual "spam A here to bridge gap". Is it essentially the same concept? Yes. However, note, that you do not have to do the HA chain on the platforms. You can bypass it. It's just simply another option to reach a different route. I think having it so that the HA is used for more than just enemies would be a fantastic thing to explore in the future. And a good way of making it relevant to the 2D series and more importantly, having interactive environments.

That said, not all interactivity should rely on the Homing Attack just because this one piece was applauded. There are other ways to improve this aspect of the level design. Gimmicks are great, but I can not recall many gimmicks in the past where you directly interacted with the environment and could actively change it optionally at your whim. Unless you count hanging from vines and switches to open doors and lower bridges as part of that. I'll let the devs try to figure out ways to implement environmental interaction/changes based on player input. Though, I'll remind them that Sonic has many tools at his disposal. Running, Spindash, Rolling, Homing Attack, Air Dash, Jumping, and Bouncing.

Now, Level Design was a mixed bag, and here's some negative points for it. Levels like Sylvania Castle Zone Act 2, White Park Zone Act 2, and Oil Desert Zone Act 3.

SCZA2: I understand it's an introductory level for the swim ability with Tails. But did this level have to be so claustrophobic? The claustrophobic design of having to be forced into a water funnel that spurts back up into the ruins kind of killed the optional route design the game strives for. By the time you reach the upper echelons again, you find yourself swimming vertically through about 2 or 3 different areas. Which are absurdly close together, and mostly only separated by a giant wall. Making 3 different routes, feel like what is essentially one route. So it kind of feels like...what was the point?

Plus, did Dimps have to devote a whole level to introducing this one ability? A game like Mega Man X only had to devote small sections of it's introductory stage to showcase the abilities. The player will usually grasp the concept quickly. There's little need to hold their hand for an entire stage. The funnel at the beginning of the stage could have perhaps been avoided as well. Or maybe not if introducing the ability was a must.

WPZA2: I'm not going to harp on this too much. It's a freakin' roller coaster, so I have little issue with the linearity. But it abuses automation. This could have been a level where you showcased how much the momentum had improved, but it was a bit sullied by the constant boosters that send you into a roll. Which leads back to the "rolling is terrible complaint". Ingenious use of springs sending you into the background and foreground though. (a bit annoying in the boss battle, but honestly, I consider that a part of the challenge presented, learning to time your jumps and dealing with the springs).

Oil Desert Zone Act 3: I have always rather detested the idea of the level closing in on you. It feels like a cheap way to scare the player. And that's all over this zone. I'd rather not race a wall, ceiling, or floor. I didn't like it in Mad Gear Act 3, Sandopolis Zone, Hill Top Zone, Marble Garden Zone and I don't like it here. I don't know how others feel about this kind of level design, but I for one hate it. I'll take bottomless pits before I'll take this concept being shoved down my throat. That said, I did however note a cool point once you're past the sections with the rising sand. Like in Sylvania Castle Zone Act 3, you can interact with the environment by jumping into and bumping up against the sand chutes. Which changes the direction they send you sliding in. However, the player doesn't get much time to experiment with this because by that point, you're near the end of the level and there's hardly much of a reason or way to get back up the slides to see where they might now take you.

Pros:

+Momentum has returned! No more dropping like a rock! This makes the game feel like it should most of the time. Jumping out of a spindash has proper effects and sends you flying (one of the few times the spindash doesn't feel broken and under powered, since you're not rolling, you're flying based on launch speed!). Even one of my favorite things about the older games which was having to move sonic back and forth for precision control is there. Platforming feels like it's supposed to because of this. Jumping to that next ledge feels like it used to because I now have to precisely control my movements thanks to the momentum I gain. Where in episode 1, I was a rock that jumped up, did the air dash and landed on the next platform.

The momentum stands out at it's best when you're climbing up a chain of enemies without the homing attack. Also bouncing off various enemies will send you flying in the direction you're moving. I've noticed that when momentum is with you, you do kinda bounce like the old games and you can use that momentum to keep going! That said, bouncing still doesn't feel like it used to in full capacity. I'm not entirely sure how to explain this one.

The greatest proof that momentum and bouncing is back in good capacity actually comes out of Episode Metal, believe it or not. If you'd like to test this yourself, go into Casino Street Zone and play around on the bumpers in Episode 1 first. Then go into Episode Metal and play around on the bumpers in the same Zone. Notice the difference. In Episode 1, Sonic when bouncing off the metal bumpers will ALWAYS bounce very statically and in the same manner every single time. He does not move unless you input directional commands. He can bounce all day long in the same spot, the same position, and never stop. However, in Episode Metal, this is not the case. Bouncing off a metal bumper sends you flying off in random directions. Just like the classics. No directional input required. Please, test this for yourself if you don't believe me. It actually makes Casino Street Zone fun.

+Uncurling gone! I can now spin off ledges and bounce off enemies like I'm supposed to!

+Graphics. ...I could hardly believe I was playing a 2D Sonic game other than Generations. The backgrounds especially are vibrant and beautiful. I also really really really like the time of day touch. It was fun to see some night levels and weather effects. And Sky Fortress Zone while the sun is setting...I...just...there are no words to describe that wonderful orange beauty.

I'd like to see what the team could do with rain, thunder, and lightning. And that one of my favorite graphical plays comes out of White Park Zone Act 3. The aurora in the sky. Good stuff.

+Music. Every track in the game fits the zone it's for. In fact, some are so enticing that I found myself even more drawn into the situation than usual. The "dying cats and ducks" don't stand out as much when playing the game, presumably because of the sound effects. In fact, the only level where this seems to be an issue from what I can tell is Oil Desert Zone Act 2. The rest of them are really fun. And I absolutely fell in love with the Vs. Metal Sonic theme (not the racing remix of CD). It made me really glad that I didn't spoil all the music for myself. I think it will and should be ranked up there with some of the greatest themes in the brand.

+Bosses. All around, creative bosses. I won't spoil the final boss for others, but it's easily one of the most unique and creative I've seen in a Sonic game in some time. At least for the 2D games anyway. Though, I have to give a negative point to the first boss. The design is so amazing. Yet it's just a pushover. Color me disappointed on that one. In general, I actually see myself replaying these bosses time and again because they're kind of addictive and thought provoking. Especially the Metal Sonic fights. In Episode 1, I avoided the boss battles at all cost because they just aren't all that fun to play. Mostly because of the physics though. These bosses are Dimps at it's creative best IMO.

Coming back to the first boss of the game. Aesthetically, this things looks like a beast that could smash, strangle, laser, and otherwise decimate Sonic. But sadly, it's a light weight. The many vines of the metal plant beast do very little other than sit there and look menacing while Sonic and Tails fly up to attack the naive Eggman. Only towards the end of the battle does this boss become even remotely threatening, but then, it's laser attack is ridiculously slow and cumbersome, and against Sonic, we all know that's a mistake.

The only other negative point here comes out of the ease with which you can beat Metal Sonic in the final battle by use of the Tails Combo. However, perhaps that's the point. SONIC ISN'T ALONE THIS TIME. Which means that 2 on 1 should mean an easy win. The power of teamwork prevails. Perhaps that's an underlying story point, and perhaps it isn't. But I will say, it is anti-climactic to anyone who just wants to win. Which is 99% of the gamer population. (made up facts need citation)

The rest of the boss battles however, as I said before. Creative best. Fun, engaging, and anything but cheap. Brilliant. I refuse to let these two little blemishes overshadow what is truly a positive for this game.

In particular, I wish to praise the Oil Desert Zone Boss. The concept here of mixing Tetris into a boss battle was amazing. I really really hope this or something like this is expanded on in the future. Avoiding the falling containers until you reach the top while trying to hit the boss made for a unique experience. Especially once you combined in the exploding blocks/containers. It really made you feel like you were struggling to survive. Death from above raining down on you, and whatever misses might kill you anyway. But it wasn't a constant impending doom sense either. You could strategically place yourself or give yourself enough space between obstacles to give you breathing room. Which actually felt rewarding. Which makes the sense of accomplishment based on your decisions all the much more empowering and fun.

+Transitions and cut scenes! WAHOOO! THEY RETURN. I sorely missed these in Ep 1. You have no idea. The story takes a much greater role here and makes me a very happy man. That said, I was disappointed that there were no transition scenes between Sylvania to White Park and White Park to Oil Desert.

++++++++++Sky Fortress Act 1 and Sky Fortress Boss. Okay, I'll admit. This one is just me gushing and I didn't really factor it into my final score. Sky Chase Zone is one of my favorite levels of all time, right behind the likes of Hydrocity Zone and Ice Cap. To see the return of the Tornado and having epic sky battles with Metal Sonic just...it...CHILDHOOD FANTASIES FULFILLED. I've always wanted some epic 2D Tornado levels. I even remember expressing this on the board back during Episode 1's release. So...part of me just likes to think this level was designed just for me.

Overall, I have to give this game a 7.5/10. And ultimately, this is a game I WILL be returning to time and time again. Ultimately, if I had to compare Episode 2 to any other in the franchise, I'd say it's as good as Sonic 1 itself. Because like that game, it doesn't have all the refinements of other games in the series, but it has a special charm to it and some of the basic concepts down pat.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/24/12

Game Release: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (US, 05/16/12)


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