SEGA Sequel Saturdays: Sonic 4 Episode 2

Episode 9 time, ladies and gentlemen. Back when SEGA announced that a return to 2D Sonic was being developed, (then code-named Project Needlemouse,) there was a surge of excitement throughout the industry and the fanbase. After so many years, and after a series of hit-or-miss 3D Sonic games, SonicTeam was finally about to deliver us a modern-day console 2D Sonic game. At the time, my opinion was that that SEGA absolutely could not afford to wuss out with the name: if they were really going to do this, I said, there was no point without calling it Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Sure enough, Project Needlemouse did become Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and well…read on.

The game was, to me, a disappointment of epic proportions. I was just as disappointed by Sonic the Hedgehog 4 as I had been by the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog ’06. The sad thing was that unlike Sonic’s disasterous self-titled 3D outing, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 was a well-made game, one that felt shiny and polished, like a lot of care and hard work had gone into its development. SEGA made the right decision by granting Sonic the Hedgehog 4 a delay, and so the potentially awful gameplay elements that we saw in the leaked version were fixed and all seemed well.

I would say that what doomed this project, maybe even from the start, was that it was not being developed with what seemed to be much ambition. The Sonic the Hedgehog name is a powerful one, one of the strongest in the industry, and while fans were hoping that a Sonic the Hedgeho 4 would be amazing, even maybe industry-shifting, those at SonicTeam/Dimps treated this as if it were just another 2D Sonic game: as if they were still developing Project Needlemouse and not a sequel to one of the most iconic gaming series’ of all time.

Though Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 did nothing at all as far as innovation went, it did provide me with what I think was a first in my years of video gaming; the game felt both too different and too familiar at the same time. The idea should have been that fans would be able to pick up the controller and feel right at home controlling Sonic, as if no time had passed since Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and I never was able to feel comfortable with the slippery controls, the physics, and the bizarre way that Sonic now sped up (or didn’t.) Just as unfortunate is the fact that on the exact opposite side of the coin, the area in which Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 should have felt new, fresh, and different was in its level design, visuals, and the boss battles. The potential is there to do things that were unheard of back in the Genesis era, (Sonic Rush on the DS even had some epic boss battles) and yet SonicTeam settled for, basically, a remake of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 instead of a sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Even if I were willing to settle for less, the controls and physics felt broken to me from the start, so the amount of fun I was able to have with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was pretty minimal.

Let’s step forward a bit. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 is, as we reported a few weeks ago, beginning its development, and there are promising signs that SEGA has learned their lesson. While fans were shut out and kept in the dark for most of Episode 1’s development (until the game was thankfully leaked,) SEGA has been incredibly up front with Episode 2, taking several opportunities to collect fan opinions and delivering it to the developers in Japan. This is frankly how it should have been done from the start, and the question is, can Episode 2 be good enough to make us forget that Episode 1 ever happened?

New Visual Style

Back when Sonic Unleashed was getting ready for release, Kikizo.com did an interview with Yoshi Hashimoto, (and keep in mind, this was before Project Needlemouse was even announced,) where they showed him the above picture, which is a fan illustration, and asked him what he thought of it. Of course he was impressed by the image, and who wouldn’t be? That’s why it’s such a shame to me that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 opted for such a safe and rehashed visual style. Go nuts, you’re not limited by a cartridge anymore and you’ve got systems with far superior horsepower than the SEGA Genesis. At the very least, we should get levels that are creative from a visual standpoint instead of rehashes from past Sonic games…and that of course goes for the enemies too.

Better bosses

*Yawn* C’mon, SonicTeam, we’ve done this already. Give us new bosses that really push the envelope. There’s a huge difference between nostalgia and plagiarizing yourself.

Level-to-level structure

I’m normally a supporter of overworlds and worldmaps, but in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 it added nothing to the experience, and the non-linear structure let you see each level beforehand, ruining the sense of surprise of arriving at a new level. I’d almost rather they just eliminate the world map entirely and take you in a linear structure from one level to another, though if they have to keep it, at least give us some more stuff to do on it. And give us more than 4 zones, damnit!

Fix the controls and physics

Sonic’s movement just didn’t feel right in Sonic 4, and I think it’s crucial that SonicTeam go back to the same controls and physics used in Sonics 1-3. The fact that 4’s Sonic stopped dead in his tracks as soon as you let go of the d-pad (regardless of how fast he was going) didn’t make any sense, and neither did the momentum on ramps. Improving the physics would address many of my gripes with Sonic 4’s gameplay.

Bring back the other characters

I’m sure SonicTeam had this planned from the start, but it doesn’t hurt to say it anyway. Where are Tails and Knuckles? Bring ‘em back. They don’t necessarily have to be playable in the single-player, but they should at least make an appearance, especially given how big a part they played in Sonics 2 and 3.

Return the missing features

No multiplayer racing, no co-op, lack of some of the series’ better powerups, and no check point bonus stages? C’mon, SonicTeam, let’s bring back the cool power-ups and features that Sonics 2 and 3 added to the mix. We didn’t want another Sonic 1 here, we wanted Sonic 4.

Better special stages

To Sonic the Hedgehog 4’s credit, the game did have its own special stages. They were based somewhat on Sonic 1’s (big surprise there,) but they did, at the very least, play differently. I’d like to see this taken further in Episode 2; again, we’re on much more powerful hardware than what the Genesis was. Do something creative.

To sum up…

And that’s it. I feel like making a great Episode 2 is certainly not impossible, but whether it holds up to the first 3 Sonic the Hedgehog games will depend on SonicTeam’s ambition and how much they really want this to be an excellent game. Basic nostalgia will only carry you so far.

Thoughts on how you think Sonic 4 could improve with its next episodes? Think I’m wrong about Sonic 4 Episode 1? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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18 responses to “SEGA Sequel Saturdays: Sonic 4 Episode 2

  1. DCGX says:

    I agree with most of what you said, especially the boss fights. They haven't changed much since Sonic debuted.

    Also, side note, that fan illustration is one of the pictures in my desktop slideshow. That guy has done some great fan art.

  2. -nSega54- says:

    Yeah that pic's pretty incredible.

  3. CrazyTails says:

    Ah good article. I have a strong opinion about the game as well and I have been expressing it a lot at forums. I remember being treated as a laughing stock. Being called purist, retrofag and what more.

    For me personally, the game itself wasn't the biggest issue. For me it was the way things were marketed and the PR jobs. It was so sad… you could just see Ken Balough's face trying his best to sell the product knowing that what he was saying wasn't exactly what the real product was about. "This is made for the fans of the genesis games" "delay bladiebla the physics are gonna get fixed" etc. You would think that a game like sonic 4 wouldn't need that. You'd expect a sonic 4 to sell on it's quality but that wasn't the case.

    It was a rough time for me. I know myself that it's a bit weird but I couldn't help it. It was a dream being crushed into pieces. Not just any ordinary dream, a pretty major one. I hated the marketing campaign so much.

    Well anyway, what do I think about the game itself?

    Basically everything you stated, but let me add. It's not just the gameplay physics etcetera for me. The game reeks of no ambition and quick money earning. The visuals aren't pretty, their clean and crispy (on the hd consoles) but other than that not impressive in the slightest. Their uninspired and artisically very average in quality. Calling it a flash game is too much but I know flash games that look more impressive. They cold learn a thing or two from sonic2HD team and their take on a sonic game in HD. Fully animated HD sprites. Not simple copy paste jobs. Yeah if you look closely you'll see a lot of that copy paste stuff. I could go a lot deeper about it but that would need too much elaborating. In short, the presentation was bad.

    I despide everything about the game. The music, the visuals, the gameplay itself. It's existance angers me. That anoying pose he does at the startup menu. No emphasis on character apeal whatsoever. It's like they didn't care, werent motivated and worked on the game by force. There is no love. No little details where you'd be surprised by how much thought and care was put into it.

    I expected something spectecular and it ended up as a pile of garbage. To this day I still cannot "forgive" the whole of sonicteam for the way they treated us. I understand SOA were just doing their jobs. I would probably have done the same. It just sucked being part of it.

    Well anyway, TL;DR : I do not just despide the game, the marketing campaign around it was worse and sometimes hitted me on emotional levels.

    Sad but true

  4. CosmicCastaway says:

    I personally really enjoy Sonic 4: Episode I. It's probably the most played downloadable title on my PS3. I do agree with you on the bosses and special stages though. While I feel the bosses were changed up enough to be fresh, it would be great to see some truly original bosses in the next episode. Also a vibrant new type of special stage would be cool, the special stages in Episode I are probably the only part of the game I'm not that crazy about.

    So here's hoping for a fantastic continuation of Sonic 4 in Episode II!

  5. ezodagrom says:

    About the graphics and the limited number of zones, both of those are being limited by the Wii storage, there's a limit on how big WiiWare games can be (I think it's around 40MB or 50MB, not sure). :

  6. I think all but the "New Visual Style" will be seen in the real Episode 2. I grew to really like the look of Sonic 4, especially Lost Labyrinth Zone. Perhaps more painterly backgrounds will be the look for episode 2?

  7. Essay says:

    The funny thing is, I either agree or at least can't disagree with a lot of your arguments/points.

    The only thing that differs is that I really enjoyed the game.

  8. -nSega54- says:

    It actually does make sense. I'm playing Yakuza 4 right now and I have to say, a lot of the bad things you might have read about the game are totally true.

    That said, I'm really able to enjoy it. Some things just depend on your preferences/expectations.

  9. It was a little too frustrating for me. The first act was really fun, then I keep running out of time in the casino one. I quit playing after that.

  10. -nSega54- says:

    I should have mentioned the music, lol…..t’was pretty bad.

  11. cube_b3 says:

    While I welcome New Zones, I do not want it to look like that illustration I am content with the HD-Genesis feel. Nothing More please.

  12. CrazyTails says:

    Lol reading my comment back from yesterday, I really let myself go there. Well anyway, I can see that others have enjoyed the game and I respect that.

  13. What I think would be pretty awesome is if there was a whole zone made up of a destroyed Death Egg. Imagine a deconstructed Death Egg zone, like a huge scrap heap, complete with flames and wreckage and at the end an awesome reveal of Metal Sonic. That's what an episode 2 needs to do. They need to take something expected, and then turn it on its head.

    My favorite moment in S&K was in Flying Battery Zone when the end capsule turns out to be a boss. More moments like that, please.

  14. Essay says:

    That would be really cool, Barry. I am wondering how they're going to tie Metal Sonic into the story. I mean, Sonic CD was developed after Sonic 1, but released after Sonic 2. So Sonic CD didn't follow the Sonic 1 – S&K timeline, but was important enough to keep the new characters. So was it just a "side story" somewhere within that story arc? If so, will Metal Sonic appear be familiar to Sonic?

  15. CrazyTails says:

    It's funny you mention that barry, because yesterday I played a fangame, a complete one with a few bugs here and there with that exact idea. It's called sonic the hedgehog classic.

    Try it out bro

    http://www.sonicretro.org/2011/03/a-fan-game-got-

    The whole game feels like sonic 1 and CD combined. If it had no bugs, it'd feel like a complete game. My only gripe is the music choice. It kinda sucks here and there. Well anyway, the game is hard. A hard sonic game? No that can't be. Well yeah it kinda is actually :p.

    Enjoy

  16. @Essay:

    Sonic CD's placement is debated all the time (before or after Sonic 2), but I think it has pretty much been agreed to be of the S1-S&K timeline. I'm sure Metal will appear familiar to Sonic, however it would only be their second encounter.

    I'm actually more excited about Knuckles showing up, as post-S&K he was still in that neutral area. It wasn't until SA2 that he was really considered a part of Team Sonic (hate that name…). An episode 3 with a conflicted Knuckles would be quite cool.

    @CrazyTails

    No Mac support 🙁

  17. CrazyTails says:

    Ah too bad. Would have loved to hear everyone's take on it. Ah yeah let me open a thread about it

  18. cube_b3 says:

    @ Barry: Well call it Heroes then!

    @ Essay: I think it is confirmed that it takes place after the original and before the 2nd one. It simply isn't possible to place it anywhere else. Sonic 3 starts IMMEDIATELY after 2.

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