PAX EAST: Sonic 4 Episode 2 Hands-On

When Sonic 4 was revealed in 2010, it quickly became a very controversial game. Fans reacted with emotions ranging from joyful glee to seething, undiluted hatred. Criticisms ranged from the physics, to the level design, to Sonic’s…eye color. By the time of the game’s release, the more serious complaints were proven to have validity, though in despite of this criticism Sonic 4 Episode 1 received the highest scores of any console Sonic game in years, even managing eights from many of the larger websites.

One of the great things about releasing a game episodically is that it allows for developers to take fan and press criticism into account mid development. Sonic 4 is easily one of the best examples of this: Episode 2 features a large variety of improvements over Episode 1.

The state of the physics was the biggest criticism in Episode 1, and they’ve received a good deal of attention for Episode 2. Sonic no longer stops dead in his tracks when the player stops pressing forward. Instead, Sonic maintains all of his momentum once he’s gained it, regardless of whether or not the player presses forward or not. Sonic is also no longer predisposed to uncurling, as listeners of the Sonic Talk podcast will know, which makes bouncing off of enemies after rolling up into the air much easier and more fluid. The bounce from destroying enemies has also been improved, giving Sonic much more air. It’s not all blue skies and good times though, as one thing hasn’t changed: Sonic doesn’t get the momentum he should from rolling down hills. When you go into a roll on an incline, Sonic typically only gains a little speed, and if the incline isn’t steep enough, he can come to an outright stop on it. These are still not the physics of the classic Sonic games.

So, classic Sonic fans may still not necessarily be pleased. Aside from that though…Sonic 4 Episode 2 is still a lot of fun. Going by what I’ve played, it’s a much better game than Episode 1 was. For one, the game obviously has a bigger budget, and this factors into more than just better graphics: the levels here are more intricate. Sylvania Castle Zone Act 1 is larger and more complicated then Splash Hill Zone Act 1 is, with a combination of water and land based environments, a better balance between thrilling speed areas and slower platforming areas, and places that take some skill to reach. White Park Zone is easily more thrilling than anything in the previous episode, period. Sonic will be chased by avalanches of snow, board on flowing rivers of snow, and drill through snow filled caverns. This is all stuff we’ve seen in the trailers, of course, but during my play through I found these gimmicks to be much more satisfying then the gimmicks in Sonic 4.

Another big change between Episode 1 and Episode 2 is the inclusion of Tails. Now, SEGA has gotten a lot of flak for not including Tails as a playable character…but honestly? Those people are missing the point. In Sonic 2, Tails’s inclusion was more about co-op then it was actually playing as Tails. Playing as Tails was boring. He was just a Sonic reskin, he had no special abilities, and couldn’t even fly. Tails was, in essence, only useful as a player two character. That’s exactly the case here, except things have been expanded upon. Tails is there to allow for in game co-op and to augment Sonic’s own abilities, and it’s here where Episode 2 again differentiates itself from Episode 1. Tails and Sonic essentially act as a single character with expanded abilities, and this changes fundamental aspects of Sonic 4’s formula, now allowing players to fly around the stage to explore new areas, and enter a kind of “rolling attack”. This rolling attack is very fast and powerful, and can come in handy in speed areas with lots of inclines. To balance things out, it is also very hard to control, and using it poorly can either completely mess up a speed run or lead to a very quick death. These two new moves do a lot to help spice up the standard Sonic formula, and it never feels like it comes at the expense of the game’s pacing, as similar team based mechanics did in Heroes and Advanced 3.

Episode 2 is also a very beautiful game. It’s pretty obvious that Episode 2 had a much bigger budget then Episode 1, since graphically it looks almost like a retail title. The backgrounds of both levels are filled with detail. Sylvania Castle has a beautiful morning sky in the background, with a sun shimmering through the clouds as it begins to poke above the mountains, while White Park Zone has an entire carnival moving in the background. Snow will fall off of flowers as Sonic runs past them and give more life to the underwater areas of Sylvania Castle. Episode 2 has a lot of life and movement in it, and it all runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS.

Only the complete game will tell us just how big an improvement Episode 2 is over Episode 1. I won’t make any promises to classic fans, as the game still feels like Sonic 4, just a much improved version of it. Episode 1 had more flaws then just the physics, and as far as I’m concerned, if the level design of all of Episode 2 reflects the two acts I’ve played, I’ll be very happy. People who hated Episode 1 will probably still hate Episode 2, unless the aforementioned physics fixes or improved graphics and level design solved what they disliked about the first episode. Fans who liked Episode 1 will like Episode 2 a lot more though, if these two acts are any indication. This game had a bigger budget then the first episode, and it most certainly shows in the improved graphics and level design. I am confident this will be Sonic’s best digital offering yet.

49 Comments

  1. I liked episode I, especially how they achieved to place the mysterious and magic atmosphere and feeling of the old games. Looks like I will like this one too; but I still would like to play as Tails alone, though.

  2. Looks good to me!I would’ve loved to have played as Tails,but never mind!Besides,one thing I enjoyed doing in Sonic 2,3,and Sonic and Knuckles was watching how Tails got trapped or killed as he couldn’t run as fast as Sonic.That was fun to watch occasionally.Maybe in this episode of Sonic 4,I’ll be able to do that again.I’m looking forward to playing with new physics,since I disliked(only a little bit)the physics of Episode 1.Another thing I’m looking forward to is the fact that Sonic and Tails can perform special combo moves like they could do in Sonic Advance 3.But,whatever our views and opinions,Sega and Sonic Team are moving on with gaming,continuing to learn new styles of gameplay,different physics and what the fans really want.Well done,Sega!:)

  3. Yes, this game looks fine indeedy… I can’t wait to get my hands or… Play Station points on it, it looks great…

    By the way, not to nitpick or anything, but why does everybody keep using the fan made logo?

  4. I think the logo should have included Metal Sonic as he has his own playable episode.

    1. Episode Metal does have its own…cover, so it probably will have its own logo..since, well, a cover is the logo.

  5. “When you go into a role on an incline, Sonic typically only gains a little speed”

    Don’t you mean “roll” not “role”? Just a little spelling error.

    Very nice hands on preview though. It’s nice to see a decently in-depth preview from people with hands on experience of the game and it cleared up a couple of my fears such as with the team rolling attack being very unwieldy.

  6. The physics never bothered me in episode 1. I really didn’t even notice it until other’s pointed it out.

    1. i too never had a problem with it. I just got used to it and when people said that sonic just stops in mid air when you let go of the joystick, my response: Don’t let it go!

  7. “…if the incline isn’t steep enough, he can come to an outright stop on it”

    Ehm, wasn’t it like that in the genesis games? Isn’t that the point of, you know, having to gain momentum? Or am I misreading this part?

    1. I had my laptop around, so I actually got to play Sonic 2 to test the physics on inlines. On comparable inclines in Sonic 2, Sonic still accelerated.

      Don’t take this to be horrible news, it’s still a fun game. I’m just shooting down anyone thinking it’s Genesis physics (which, as SEGA has said, it isn’t).

  8. “it never feels like it comes at the expense of the game’s pacing, as similar team based mechanics did in Advanced 3.”

    …What the **** are you talking about? You could beat every single level in SAdv3 without using the team moves, and you cold activate the team moves while running.

    Complaining about games you don’t play much?

    1. You’re missing my point. Sonic Advanced 3 had team based mechanics. Regardless of whether or not you were REQUIRED to use them, using them still ruined the pacing of the levels. The different characters changed the main chosen character’s moveset, there were a variety of moves that didn’t work very well. If the best thing you can say about a game’s team based mechanic is “well, you don’t HAVE to use them”, then they aren’t very good and come at the expense of the game play.

      The point of the contrast was that that ISN’T the case here. You’ll want to use the new moves to get through the level. They work well with the levels and the pacing, hence better then SAdv3. Given that this game gets to be built around one team, instead of letting players use a variety, it’s no surprise.

  9. …But…Didn’t they say that the physics was completely fixed? I thought I saw some footage of Sonic rolling down a hill…

    1. He rolls down hills. It’s just that inclines don’t have the accelerating factor that they should.

      And as Ken Balough said on the Sonic Talk podcast, it wasn’t possible to transplant Genesis physics into Sonic 4 as it would break the game. They improved it and addressed complaints, but some things, such as acclerating down inclines, don’t work as they did on the Genesis. He never promised they would, either. Just said that improvements were made.

  10. metal sonic is all i needed to hear to purchase this game. WOOOO gonna be pwnin it up as metal :D.

  11. A few basic word/grammar mistakes in this article (it’s roll, not ROLE.)

    “When Sonic 4 was revealed last year, it quickly became a very controversial game.”
    And what does that mean exactly? Sonic 4 was ‘revealed’ (or is that meant to be released) back in 2010.

    AND like someone else mentioned, why use the fan-made logo when the official one can be simply found by searching ‘Sonic 4 Episode 2’ on Google, first page. Some laziness/unprofessionalism on the writer’s part.

    Improvements for next time please.

  12. I’d hardly call a few mistakes and the use of a fan made logo laziness ;). I played the game three times and wrote it over the course of three days to make sure I got all the details right and gave the demo a proper preview.

    That being said, I appreciate you pointing out my mistakes. These kinds of errors happen to me a lot when I cover events, especially since I suck at finding my own errors in proof reading. Also had no idea that logo was fan made…looks pretty darn good all the same. In any case….fixed.

    1. Just hope you don’t think I was ‘nit-picking’ or being degrading towards ya, just wanting to throw in some constructive criticism to help you 🙂

      1. Like I said, I appreciate it ;). Constructive criticism a good thing. I don’t get nearly enough of it writing articles on gaming sites, so when I do get it it feels good. Just don’t call it lazy ;).

  13. The momentum is what killed the first game for me. Platforming just felt way too stiff. It’s disappointing that the rolling physics haven’t been fixed, but I can live with having to run downhill. Really looking forward to this!

  14. Actually i’d prefer them not use 100% genesis physics. In Generations, the jump was gimped, but i liked it better that way since the genesis games felt a bit too floaty to me.

  15. I just purchased episode 1 for PC the other day, after beating it on PS3 I wanted to re-visit the game before episode 2 hit. When I first picked up episode 1 on PS3 the graphics seemed better. Maybe the PC version is just a poor port, but man is is rough around the edges. I guess I was more accepting of Episode 1 because Sonic Generations was not yet released, or even announced at that time. After playing Generations, I cant fathom why Sega used a different set of physics for Sonic 4. Im gonna approach Episode 2 with an open mind though, I love that they used the Generations model for Sonic rather then that pre rendered garbage. Everything about this game looks better. Im sure that people have discussed adnausium what was wrong with Episode 1 but, I really wanted to love that game.

  16. still sucks, it’s ep I in new suit, nothing will change that, you can hate me, but after release, you will foind out i was right

  17. Well, you want to complain about physics you can’t just glaze over Sonic Generation’s interpretation of “classic” Sonic.

    Loop physics were particularly WTF-ish in that game, but there were other problems too.

    1. They certainly weren’t perfect. I hate that you basically have to Spin Dash in order to make it through loops in the game. But I felt that the platforming felt more precise than in Sonic 4: Episode I.

  18. Don’t have Episode 1, but I’m pleased they took into account the criticism the first got. The fact Sonic maintains momentum is a good thing, aside from the hill problem. I don’t know how to code a game, or even a simple template…But surely fixing the issue of rolling down a hill to gain momentum cannot be that hard, and it raises questions why they haven’t fixed it when they clearly have the budget to.

    All of that aside, I’m glad the game is looking good. Hopefully this will help SEGA’s little financial situation, as well.

  19. “Tails was just a Sonic Reskin better off being co-op”

    From a Sonic 2 standpoint: meh, ya I can agree with that.
    From a Sonic 3/& Knux standpoint: That I’d have to disagree with. S3 was Tails’ oddball-ish time to shine when they included his flight ability in regular gameplay, which made him a little more unique. However he was still really good as Co-Op.

    Good Review though. I can deal with the Gaining momentum issue, as long as the momentum you’ve somehow gained doesnt stop if u let go, like Ep1.

  20. I am really excited for Episode 2, it looks very sweet and the zones look very fun. I can’t wait for May! ^^

    Oh, and I’ll take advantage of this and wish Jason the Jackass a happy birthday.

  21. Thank you!

    Also, @Dakota Jones, Nuckles87 was referring to Sonic 2 for comparison. Nopt the others.

    1. No no I knew he was mainly referring to Sonic 2, lol. I was just trying to point out that yeah, even though Tails WAS sorta pointless as a solo character in S2, Sega did much better with him in S3&K. Since he was still avaliable as a co-op player And a solo character in that game, and was given a slighty more different array of abilities/disabilities (Flight/Swim, inability to use the elemental shields powers, etc) He became his own character rather than a “reskin”. My point being that I would of referred back to Sonic 3 & Knuckles to judge how Tails’ feedback was as a solo character, since some of the nitpicks were dealt with.

      But since Ep2 pays more homage to Sonic 2, I can understand why nuckles87 chose to refer that game. haha

      btw happy birthday Jason!

  22. Meh. I never cared about rolling down hill unless it was on accident or I felt like it for some reason. I preferred watching a running hedgehog over a random blue ball. lol And unless it’s a long, steep hill, I didn’t see a big difference. Ep 1’s was fine to me.

    I’m not missing the point of Tails in this game. I get the co-op deal. But some people like Tails and want to play AS him without having to do co-op. Even if they wanted 2 characters at a time the option for Tails to be first player and Sonic to be the AI or second player woulda been nice. Besides, he’s not boring to play unless Sonic is since they play the same. And that’s assuming the CHOOSE to not give him his fly ability over homing attack (As first player) since that was different from Sonic.

    And even if they’re not different, many if not all of the times, the same thing goes for Mario and Luigi. But people like one over the other so we get the option to choose. 🙂

    “Fans who liked Episode 1 will like Episode 2 a lot more though, if these two acts are any indication.”
    That’s good to know. Honestly, Sonic 4 was fine. The physics weren’t perfect so I understand why some ppl complained. But otherwise it had pretty decent level design. It had more automated parts than in the classic but honestly I was moving along that I didn’t really notice them that much. Like speed boosters were often in places I was already moving fast through anyways, or tunners that should’ve been automated anyways. haha If ep 2 is merely an improvement fixing this, then what’s wrong with ep 2 other than it’s not a replica of the classics? No one ever said it would be or had to be. It’s supposed to be different. That’s why it’s called Sonic 4, cuz it’s retro, but new. And being made now, I don’t expect the physics to be the same, just similar. If it works, then it’s good enough whether or not it’s exactly like the original. Acheives the same goals and looks fun. So I’m sold. haha Plus, Metal is definately just a skin of Sonic, and people seem to be pleased with playing him. AND in ep 1 stages too. (4 exclusive stages might help too I guess. lmao)

  23. Who cares how Tails played in Sonic 2?

    This is Sonic 4, the sequel to Sonic 3. Tails should be fully playable. The only reason he isn’t is because they want us to use the homing attack, which destroys flow.

    I’m glad to hear physics improvements, but being forced to use the homing attack and those dumb bridges was my second biggest issue with episode 1.

  24. “Another big change between Episode 1 and Episode 2 is the inclusion of Tails. Now, SEGA has gotten a lot of flak for not including Tails as a playable character…but honestly? Those people are missing the point. In Sonic 2, Tails’s inclusion was more about co-op then it was actually playing as Tails. Playing as Tails was boring. He was just a Sonic reskin, he had no special abilities, and couldn’t even fly.”

    …So? That clearly doesn’t apply to this game. In Sonic 4 Ep II, Tails isn’t a Sonic reskin; he CAN fly and has different abilities. Plus the game is called Sonic 4, not Sonic 2.5.

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