This is part of the Sonic Retrospective and one of the first major 2D platformers in the series to land on home consoles since Knuckles Chaotix! The grad return to 2D Sonic happens with Sonic 4 Episodes I and I......they are okay.
Will cover my full thoughts on the gameplay and stuff in a bit but the reason this is going up before the SEGA All Stars thread is....that is taking a long time to make. Me and Village are covering FOUR games at once, so we have ALOT to comment on with four games to work with XD! It will be up soon, just wanted to explain why this is going up now instead of after the SEGA All Stars thread.
Now that its out of the way........lets roll into action!
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Sonic 4 started life as a mobile Sonic title that was going to be a fun little platformer that, through using the Sonic Rush engine, would of celebrated the old school roots of the series all the while introducing the Sonic IP to mobile phone users with a proper platformer (as around this time Sonic Jump released on mobile devices and Sonic Dash was coming soon).
(Look at the Ferris wheel on the right; says 'Sonic the Portable')
But, SEGA of America saw this game and told SEGA Japan "We want to make this a proper 2D platformer on consoles, not just mobile". SEGA Japan threw their arms up and said 'Why not', giving SEGA of America a lot of control of the games development/marketing all the while giving Dimps (who made the Advance and Rush games) some more time to work on the title.
Early 2010, SEGA America started teasing a project called 'Project Needlemouse'. Needlemouse, was the code name for Sonic 1 all the way back in 1990; this was a MAJOR announcement for fans of the series. We were all hyped up with the news, with more and more code names popping up about who will star in 'Needlemouse'. Then the day finally came where it was announced AND......Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode I....was announced.
It was a big deal as the tease showed enough to get us asking questions; they use the Modern Design instead of Classic Sonic, the first level looks similar to Green Hill/Emerald Hill, and Eggman was back causing trouble. The months went on with more information coming out and then the game was leaked on some Xbox 360's Summer 2010....and we saw a mostly complete version of the game. It.....presented a lot of problems the final game might of had, with physics not matching the Genesis games at all, the level designs being quite uninspired at points, visuals looking kinda odd and two levels having odd gimmicks with tilting the screen (instead using the shoulder buttons).
People got worried then, with SEGA announcing that the console versions will have two exclusive levels, with the announced iPhone versions having two unique levels of its own. In addition o this announcement, the game got pushed back from its summer release too Fall 2010. Then it finally came out on everything (Wii Ware, PSN, XBLA, Steam, iOS)......and response was mixed. Critics loved it but fans hated it. Fast forward too 2012 and we get an Episode II announced and it was going to fix everything; the physics closer to the Genesis games, the visuals looking a lot better, the levels being more unique, and Metal Sonic coming back. Looked great and it (alongside Racing Transformed) were the big games for Sonic in 2012.
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Enough with the history! Lets get into the different zones! We got four zones with three acts for both episodes, adding up too Eight Zones and 30 Acts; that is a lot of levels XD!
The stages for Episode I include knock offs from Sonic 1 and 2:
-Splash Hill Zone (Green Hill/Emerald Hill Zone)
-Casino Street (Casino Night Zone)
-Lost Labyrinth (a new version of Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1, as canonically, its the same place but in a different location within the zone)
-Mad Gear Zone (Metropolis Zone)
The zones in Episode I are not really that creative with level themes but I like some of the gimmicks each zone has. Act II of Splash Hill has you homing attacking vines that you swing off of, Act II of Casino Street has you playing cards (you run into them) and if you get three, you get rings/1-Ups and the like, and Act II of Lost Labyrinth has you using a touch to light up the ruins to solve small puzzles. They are fun and while not as great as past zones in the Genesis Era Sonic games, they are nice re-visits to old ideas.
Episode II is a bit better with zone line up, as they use Sonic 2 & Sonic 3&K themes but in creative ways.
-Sylvania Castle Zone (Aquatic Ruin Zone but with different time-of-day for each act and really clever underwater bits in Act II)
-White Park Zone (Original Theme; Each Act is a different (Act I is a Snow level, Act II is a rollarcoaster, Act III is completely underwater)
-Oil Desert Zone (Oil Ocean but with Sand)
-Sky Fortress (Sky Chase and Wing Fortress but with some differences for Act II and Act III)
They are more creative then Episode I and I really love Sylvania Castle and Sky Fortress. The latter is hands down one of my favorite 2D Sonic Zones just because of how fun Act II and Act III were to me.
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So, the gameplay is.....interesting. I say 'interesting' but really mean confused :l. Episode I has far more issues then Episode II but will talk about them in sections to not confuse the two games.
2D Sonic done wrong more or less. I mean, is that the core foundation of what made the Genesis games so much fun, the physics systems that allowed Sonic to use rolling as a fun tool to reach higher spots and fly through levels, is gone. Instead, we have Sonic Rush, just without the ability to Boost. That doesn't mean Sonic is hard to control, his control is fine enough. But he takes a while to speed up and level design doesn't really complement the gameplay too well. Instead of having places to use rolling and running well, we got boost pad and spring chains that pop up over and over and over and over.................you get my point .
Sonic has his homing attack from Adventure here and while they marketed the game as this being such a new feature.......Sonic had this ability since Sonic Rush (2005) and while it works better here, the game relies on way to much with robots over bottomless pits being very common. I don't mind its inclusion, as Episode II and some parts of Episode I like Act II of Casino Street use the move to good effect (homing attacking cards to get them flying around, giving them a platform Sonic can run on) but its more of an issue then something I find a good inclusion.
One last thing before I move on to Episode II; we can only play as Sonic here. Not Tails. Not Knuckles. Only Sonic. And he doesn't even have the elemental shields from Sonic 3 X(. I would be more understanding of this omission if the game was called something other then Sonic 4. ........But the game IS called Sonic 4, so I expect Tails/Knuckles + the elemental shields in here. And another fun element? 2D Sonic games past Sonic 3 & Knuckles HAD more playable characters.
Knuckles Chaotix: Knuckles, Epsio, Vector, Charmy, Mighty, Bomb, Heavy
Sonic Advance: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy
Sonic Advance 2&3: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Cream, Amy
Sonic Rush & Rush Adventure: Sonic, Blaze
So, what is this games excuse when past 2D Sonic games had a lot of characters to play as? Just....something that bugs me a bit. One more thing though; bosses are just new versions of past fights but with extra gimmicks. That is it. Also, the Death Egg Robot is a cheap bastard in Episode I X(.
I am going to be kinder here, as they made enough changes to make me enjoy the game more .
The rolling mechanic returns and it works ALOT better here, with Sonic being able to use momentum to gain higher heights and allowing him gain more speed. You know, like how a Sonic 4 should be like. Tails is a playable character here too, but only in co-op for some reason. But they do something cool; bring back the Tag Action from Knuckles Chaotix and Advance 3! They turned it into a fun gimmick that allows Tails to make Sonic swim, fly in the sky like in Sonic 3, and turn into a giant ball that allows you to run through objects.
Very fun system and it allows levels to have set-piece sections that push one of the three moves on you. I like this element and hopeful that future 2D Sonic's play with this concept with a larger cast.
Level design is a lot better too, but still runs into the boost/spring chains that Episode I has (but a bit more common sadly ). More creative gimmicks, with fun usage of the homing attack during Sylvania Castle Act III (you homing attack platforms, they move right to create platforms you can land on) and great usage of the tag mechanic for stages like Sky Fortress Act III and White Park Act I.
Episode II just 'felt' better to play compared to Episode I and I really liked how Dimps tried fixing issues that the original game had.
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This section will cover the Special Stages in both games and Episode Metal .
The special stages in Episode I are based on Sonic 1's, which has you in a little maze, trying to collect rings to open gates and get watches to extend your timer. You find the emerald, and its yours! When you collect all seven, you unlock Super Sonic playable for the very first time in a Dimps title and for Sonic himself since......I think Sonic 3&K!
To be fair, Adventure has Takal (one of the main characters) have a voice clip of her talking about activating Super Sonic, so maybe it was a feature cut late in its development. But still, great to see this time-honored tradition of 2D Sonic coming back .
Episode II's special stages are Sonic 2's half-pipe, with you collecting X amount of rings for each check-point until you get the goal; have enough, and the emerald is yours. Just like Episode I, you can become Super Sonic when all seven are collected.
And....you have a restart option for the special stages! So you don't have to worry about failing them this time out; can always retry until you got it .
Episode Metal is more or less a remixed version of Episode I but with a Metal Sonic skin for Sonic (Metal has no new moves over Sonic) and playing the game in reverse (start at Mad Gear, end at Splash Hill). You only go through each Act I and the game has little fixes over the original Episode I. Nice way to experience some cut scenes though .
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The presentation for the game is mixed; Episode I looks good and sounds 'meh', while Episode II looks great and sounds good. Episode I has a cell-shaded style, likely masking its mobile origins. It looks nice enough but could of looked better. Animations looked half-beaked at points and the characters look really washed out in the HD versions (PSN/XBLA/PC).
The last two zones, Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear look great though to me .
The soundtrack sounds good, but it doesn't use the Genesis Instruments well. This is odd, considering the composer, Jun, composed the soundtrack to Genesis 3D Blast and it sounded great.
Splash Hill Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJbkqrl5Iac&index=2&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Splash Hill Act 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUkLJ7JZlp4&index=3&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Casino Street Act 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqX0rcUz6HM&index=8&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Lost Labyrinth Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtDy8revsow&index=9&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Lost Labyrinth Act 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrfyOre6nlY&index=10&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Mad Gear Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb55FDoAEMY&index=12&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
The melodies are great, just the composition of them is off. Fan remixes sound better compared to the original version, so check them out if you are interested .
Episode II looks great though, with detailed animations, in-engine cut-scenes done in Sonic 3 & Knuckles style (no talking, just character moving around) and the levels having a lot of polish to them. The visual effects to Sylvania Castle for Act III's Night theme is just.....really nice looking .
The music is also a lot better to me, outside of Oil Desert. QUACK QUACK, QUACK ACK ACK ACK.........Ugh X(.
Sylvania Castle Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuJoevb4AZ8&index=26&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Sylvania Castle Act 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlxBx7IBaQ8&index=28&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
White Park Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC9ae88r3Ns&index=30&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
White Park Act 2 (Remix of Twinkle Park from Sonic Adventure): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeK_OdVJ6OY&index=31&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
White Park Act 3 (Remix of Lost Labyrinth Act 3): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCcZ45jay1E&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9&index=32
Metal Sonic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfxgZQ2ftig&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9&index=33
Oil Desert Act 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWcuYSkViN4&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9&index=36
Sky Fortress Act 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVxRbaUV-HM&index=39&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Sky Fortress Act 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xst_Qe-cmhk&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9&index=40
Death Egg Mk.II Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OatHU0_SQa8&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9&index=42
Stardust Speedway Remix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3Ule9I4AY0&index=43&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9
Death Egg Mk.II Act 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmyuqNhmFB8&list=PLvNp0Boas722geGGIVi5QDJ9i75ngfId9&index=44
Great soundtrack and some really great themes; Metal Sonic's theme and Act 2&3 of Sky Fortress is amazing :').
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Overall thoughts on this game is.....they are decent platformers. Episode I pales as a proper Sonic game but it holds promise while Episode II is what I expected Episode I to be originally. Both are not proper Sonic 4's, as they lack what made the Genesis games great, so while Episode II came close enough, it wasn't fully there yet. Makes me a bit sad that Episode III was scrapped after poor sales/reception of Episode II but still, nice that they were close enough.
If you want to play a proper Sonic 4, get Advance 1. That is more or less Sonic 4 in everything but name to be honest . I would say, give Episode II a shot if you have a PS3, 360 or PC and if you are really that interested, give Episode I a shot.