TSS@E3 – Hands-on: Sonic Jump Fever

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I wasn’t really a big fan of the original Sonic Jump. It was fairly simplistic and lacked the kind of adrenaline pumping speed I’ve come to expect from Sonic’s 2D efforts. The game also became impossibly hard later on, being very unforgiving of mistakes in the hopes of getting players to spend real world money on power ups and other “cheats”. Since Sonic Jump, Sonic’s mobile efforts have improved immensely, from Christian Whitehead’s stellar retro Sonic ports to better modern Sonic efforts like Sonic Dash. How does the new Sonic Jump sequel, Sonic Jump Fever, stack up to the other, better mobile games Sonic has starred in over the last few years?

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Sonic Jump Fever is definitely an improvement over the original game. Graphically the game looks a lot better, with much more colorful sprites and much more detailed backgrounds. Whereas the old Sonic Jump looks like a cheap fan game, the visuals here look far more like what you would expect from a proper, official Sonic title. These improved graphics are accompanied by much more hectic movement. Whereas Jump could often feel kind of empty, the stages we got to play in Fever where constantly filed with moving enemies, flickies and platforms.

Visuals are nothing without good game play though and in this regard Fever brings some huge improvement to Jump’s formula. Where Jump had a slower pace, focused a lot on vertical movement, and came to a complete stop with every death, Fever flows a lot quicker. The action is constantly moving and between the various orange boost rings and bouncing platforms it’s very easy to keep upward momentum going. Even dying no longer kills the momentum, since the game gives you extra lives in the form of cannons, which immediately launch you back into the air if you miss a platform. Once you run out of lives, the game immediately takes you to the end of the stage instead of giving you a game over screen. Finally, Fever also adds a boost meter, which is fueled by collecting rings and getting combos. Once the boost meter fills up, it automatically activates, blasting Sonic upwards into a massive barrage of rings. This boost meter is a very welcome addition to the Sonic Jump formula, making an already fast game all the more exciting.

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The speed is complimented with a time limit, which can only be increased by reaching ribbon check points placed at set parts of every stage. Much like in old school arcade games, the timer helps to add some urgency to the proceedings, since trying to slow down to collect rings or rescue flickies can end your game in short order. Fever’s stages are also more populated, filled to the brim with enemies, power ups, moving platforms and caged flickies. This really lends the stages a sense of movement and life that the original Sonic Jump lacked. Even the end of the stages are better: instead of a bland sign post, every stage is topped with a platform full of flickies and a hot air balloon that you need to toss them into. Fever also adds new helper chao, which can be found and hatched in the “Chao Forest”. Once hatched, these Chao can assist you in levels, whether it be in collecting rings or defeating enemies.

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All of these improvements culminate in a game that feels much more complete than its predecessor. Everything about it, from the graphics to the level design to the game play, has been improved markedly. That said, I’ve no idea how this game will hold up over the long term. I grew bored of Jump and Dash rather quickly because there wasn’t much to them, and I can’t yet say whether or not the same will happen to Fever. One thing is for sure though: it is a lot better than Jump. It could very well be the best made-for-mobile title Sonic has ever had. I had a lot of fun with it and anyone who’s a fan of the original Sonic Jump will certainly love this title.

TSS Preview: Sonic Lost World

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At this years Summer of Sonic, I managed to get some hands on time with Sonic Lost World. I have to be honest, I’ve been looking forward to trying this one out, if only because ‘it looks so different’ and… it’s the first next gen Sonic game, why wouldn’t I want to try it out?

Fellow TSS staffer Doctor MK also got some time with the game, you can find his impressions in this article too. Our views are based on the Wii U version of the game, running on the SDCC/SOS/Sonic Boom build.

How many times have you seen someone complain about a Sonic game or any long running franchise? How many times have you seen them start their complaint as if they’re standing on a block yelling in a bombastic voice “I’ve been playing games for *insert a year here* and I have managed to complete them all!” You know the kind, and you’ve all seen it before in some degree.

Following my experience with Sonic Lost World, I can see this being said by a great many people. If you don’t include spinoff titles, Sonic Lost World is unlike any Sonic game I have ever played, and the moment I’d finished with it I took a breath and said ‘this game is going to divide a lot of fans.’

I should probably say, I do not own a Wii U, I have never ever played on a Wii U until I touched Lost World, so my experience with using this system is completely fresh. If I were to buy a Wii U, Sonic Lost World is my launch title. But… According to a recent interview with Sega, they see this game as being something that can help save the Wii U, we’ll come back to this later, but it’s something worth keeping in mind, especially when we get onto the part about ‘how easy is this game to pick up and play?’

The day before SOS I was with someone who also hadn’t played on a Wii U before, but also, hadn’t played a Sonic game for a number of years, she’d played Sonic Adventure through to Heroes, but not played Generations or Colours. I have played every main 3D Sonic game, so we had quite the range of expertise, our only common factor was, neither of us owned a Wii U.

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So she has the first go and picks Windy Hill, after a few moments of play she calls me over and asks me a question I never thought I would hear from someone who plays a Sonic game “How do I go fast?” followed by another question I never thought I would hear…. “How do I attack the badniks?”

Before you all mock… If you have to ask that, something is very wrong. Is it with the player or the game? Offering to help her out I quickly discovered why she was having problems.

She wasn’t aware about the whole ‘hold down the trigger to run’ so I showed her that, and sure enough Sonic was running, but there was a new problem, how to attack enemies. Watching this girl play it was near random, she would sometimes do a homing attack, other times it was almost random. Sometimes Sonic would attack multiple targets, other times one. So about halfway through the level, she turned to me and said ‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough.’

I want you to remember this line. ‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough.’ Remember it well. So I took the controller… and instantly, I could see and feel the problems she was having.

Holding down a trigger to make Sonic run feels for lack of a better word, weird, as well as being overly complicated, here’s an example. I want to ‘run’ forward. I hold ‘up’ on the analogue stick (as usual), I start to walk, and I only walk. I want to go as fast as I would do in Generations, Unleashed and most other games without boosting. The only way I can do that is to hold up on the analogue stick, then hold down a trigger button and I can ‘run’ not at boost speed, but at normal running speed similar to Generations and Unleashed, it’s actually a lot slower than normal running speed in past games.

So say I then want to go at ‘boosting speed’ which happens to be the spin attack… I then have to keep those buttons held down and now press and hold another button to do the spin dash/boost.

I am now holding down 3 buttons down just to go at max speed in my desired direction.

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in previous games, I only had to hold up on the analogue stick, and then press and hold the boost button if I wanted to use it… here I have to hold down 3 buttons for the boost, and 2 just to run.

This might not seem like much, but after so many years, this is one hell of a control change, and it’s not user friendly. It makes doing something as simple as running much more complicated than previous. We’ve all heard the joke ‘hold right to win?’ Well here we have to hold ‘up’ a ‘trigger button’ and sometimes a boost button just to get moving.

When you eventually do get moving, a new problem presents itself, that being, why is Sonic moving so slowly? With the run button held down, Sonic feels like he’s running against a force-field, it’s just not fast enough, please increase the speed cap.

Attacking enemies is also much harder than before, and it feels close to random as to how it works. I played both Windy Hill and Desert Ruins 2 (the honey comb level). In both these stages, the homing attack feels like it operates differently. It’s not a universal method of attacking and I still can’t figure it out.

Example, in Windy Hill, there are 3 enemies ahead of me; I jump towards them. Suddenly there’s a lock on target on all three, I push what I think is the homing attack, Sonic attacks only 1, so I try again, this time Sonic doesn’t attack any of them. I try again, he attacks 1, I try again, he attacks all three. It was the same with every cluster of enemies, it was close to random as to if Sonic would attack them all or none at all, there was nothing in the games hints as to what to do either.

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Then you get to Desert Ruins 2. You’ve seen those videos of people doing huge homing attack chains on multiple targets? Yeah… that’s random.  I could perform the huge chains, but I couldn’t figure out how I was doing it, sometimes it just didn’t work at all. At one point I thought, ‘if I jump and hold up at the same time he’ll do the chain attacks?’  But this wouldn’t work every time. There was no clear instruction or method as to how you attack enemies in the mach speed levels or the 3D platforming levels. It felt completely random at times.

And when you do connect a full badnik chain successfully, you don’t feel like you’ve done anything, bringing us back to the age old problem of ‘Am I actually playing this game?’ It feels so automated that which it looks nice, as a player, you don’t get any satisfaction since you didn’t actually do anything, especially when the success rate of performing an attack seems to be completely random.

I’m still not sure as to what you have to do, it’s not a case of ‘double jumping’ and Sonic will auto lock on enemies any more. You do something else, but the game never explains what. At times it felt like in Metal Gear Rising where you have to master the perfect parry. Jump and hold the analogue stick in the direction of the enemies then push jump again at just the right time? Is that how you do it? I don’t know, because it seems to have a random effect each time and there’s nothing in the game that explains what you have to do.

I’m not surprised that the girl who started the game before me had enough, it was so  random and complicated just doing the most basic of actions, actions which have been so easy for years are now drastically different and the game in its present state offers so little to help you.

Like I said at the start, I am not a Wii U owner, this was one of the main reasons I would get one, and according to Sega, they hope this game will help turn around the outlook of the system, but how do you hope to do that if you have made your controls this difficult for new players to both the system and the franchise? It puts you off from continuing because it feels so random, with no ingame help for such a radical change in control I can’t help but wonder why I would continue playing?

You can’t just pick up and play this game; the learning curve is so high I suspect many people will give up on it since it feels far more complicated than it needs to be. Even the werehog combos were not as complicated as this game is. Just something as basic as ‘Why not hold a trigger to walk instead of run?’ would improve this game so much, over holding it to run at a speed expected when one plays a Sonic game.

The control issues don’t stop there either… there’s another very annoying problem in the form of the Wisps.

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I for one don’t particularly mind the Wisps that much, what I do have a problem with is how you use them in Lost World. Who thought it would be a good idea to aim/activate/control the Laser Wisp using the gamepad? This is ridiculous, I have to take my eyes off the screen just to use a wisp, I have to activate it using the gamepad as opposed to a button on the controller itself, (and it’s not like there aren’t any it could be mapped too), I have to aim it using the gamepad screen, and this is not an easy thing to do at all. I saw people flying off in the wrong direction and it took me a while to aim it at the desired target. When I used the power I had no idea if I’d done it right or if Sonic just happened to blast off in a direction which happened to avoid any hazards which meant my time trying to pull off a laser wisp was completely pointless.

It’s not an easy thing to do either, aiming the wisp feels like trying to stack a house of cards on a bouncy castle full of kids going ape after eating all the ice-cream, it’s really difficult, you feel like you’re righting against the game at times just to aim it right and then launch it.

I am becoming really sick of developers trying to convince me of problems that touch pads, motion controllers, kinect’s, touch screens and all these other control schemes are solving, which don’t exist in the first place. Why is such a fundamental part of the game forced onto us by the use of the game pad? What problem exists with the control scheme which means I cannot push a button to trigger the wisp, then use the analogue stick to aim followed by the jump button to activate? The game locks you into using the Wisp once you touch the second screen anyway so why force this onto the player? It solves a problem that doesn’t exist!

The use of the game pad is so badly designed that when a Wisp is ‘activated’ the action of the television freezes in such a way that I thought the game had crashed and was just about to call one of the reps over before I noticed that action had changed to the second screen on the gamepad. But the ‘lock up’ on the main screen is such a mess first time players who had no idea whats going on might easilly mistake this for a system crash. There isn’t even a message informing the player that the action has now gone to the game pad. I could go through an entire thesaurus as to how bad the Wisp activation and useage in this game is.

I don’t know if there’s some kind of Nintendo conspiracy which means all games have to use the game pad in a way, but the way you use Wisps in this game is terrible. This should not be tied to the game pad at all. But hey at least the game tells you how to use them right…? Oh wait… IT DOESN’T! Yeah, the only way I knew how to use a Wisp power is because I happened to watch a random live stream a few weeks prior in which a Sega rep told the player how to use it. Nowhere in the game does it tell you how to use the powers or control them!

It was such a bad experience trying to use the Wisps afterwards I thought ‘it has to be me, theres no way it’s this bad, it’s got to be my inexperience with the Wii U?’ I asked several people, both Wii U and non Wii U owners, every one of them said the same thing ‘The Wisp activation/control scheme is awful.’

There have in the past been complaints about the ‘tutorials’ and Omachao, but if you are going to change a control scheme which has been in place for the past 10 years that has had barely any changes and then radically alter it, might be an idea to tell players what they’re supposed to do?

Continuing with the control problem, though this might actually be a camera issue, wasn’t quite sure. This game sees the return of ‘mach speed’ levels, before people panic, they control so much better than Sonic 06. But they have problems.

You’ve seen how you have to run into the honeycombs that are hollow? Well, think back to a game like Unleashed where you use ‘the quick step’ you know how when you used this, Sonic would jump/move to a left or right ‘path’ and both the camera and Sonic would ‘lock’ to that spot unless you moved the analogue stick or pressed the quick step button? Here you have more freedom… but it brings with it problems.

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Sonic is constantly moving forward in these stages, and when it came to aligning up with a tunnel, I held left on the analogue stick, found myself perfectly aligned and then let go of the stick… Sonic kept moving to the left, and I went crashing into the wall, even though everything from the last 10 years has told me Sonic wouldn’t do that. He would stick and lock to the fixed path I’d just sent him on.

Eventually I imagine you can master this camera ‘drift’ but when you start these stages, you WILL be frustrated. I just cannot understand why there’s this drift, especially when hitting the walls is a 1 hit kill.

There is another huge problem with the game that I admit might just be how I was playing, but when I realised what was going on, I realised that there was nothing in the game to suggest I could do this.  As a fan of Sonic, as someone who watches the live streams and the video demos and the trailers… I know, this game has multiple paths… I know that you can explore the stages. I know this, because I’ve looked it up.

However, if you play this game without any prior knowledge… the game offers nothing to suggest that is the case. The way Windy Hill is presented, your natural sense is to run forward and not change direction. You can change and go down an alternative path quite early on, but the design of the stage means unless you know it’s there, or unless you know the game has multiple paths, there is no reason at all to explore the stage. Due to the design of the stage, you will naturally stick to the default path. There’s no reason at all to explore. Maybe this will change in a later build, but right now had I not known the game has multiple paths or I could explore, I wouldn’t have done as I had no reason to.

The parkour system, the big seller for this game, it’s a nice idea on paper, but in reality, it’s it feels like… I don’t want to say easy mode, but it feels like it was designed not to make platforming more a focus as much as it was made so that everyone has a chance to beat a stage. Even then, the Parkour system has it’s problems. There are apparently people who have complained that Sonic goes too fast so he crashes into walls. The parkour system is designed to keep Sonic moving as well as help him run on walls. Which in theory is a really good idea, we’ve all seen the trailers of it in action and it looks great.

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The reality however is different, imagine you are playing as Sonic and you walk upto a wall, you stop, you hold down the parkour button… you can now walk up this wall without building up any momentum… see that tree, you can just walk up it from a dead stop, that wall, not a problem. Parkour in this game should be renamed ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’s magical anti-gravity shoe mode’ it doesn’t break the game, nor does it make it easier, but it really is just ‘walk on walls mode’ as opposed to being what parkour actually is, using ones momentum to perform amazing stunts and skills.

That said, the parkour system isn’t bad, it’s really satisfying when you do actually use it to perform a stunt or difficult move. It gives the game much more platoforming focus, so if we’ve really been crying out for a slow platforming game, then I guess this one is for you. But for me, it just feels strange how it seems that for years we’ve wanted better momentum in Sonic games, yet now we’ve got parkour which requires next to no build up in speed or movement to be able to defy gravity, hence why I’m going to call this “Magical anti-gravity shoe mode.”

When you run as Sonic and you have ‘Magical anti-gravity shoe mode’ activated, you’re gonna get frustrated, I started off Windy Hill running at a great pace, when suddenly I started running up a tree because I had ‘Magical anti-gravity shoe mode’ activated, I don’t wish to climb this tree, yet due to the nature of the controls, you’re not pushed to the side and continue on, you start to climb up objects if you want to or not unless you release/hold specific buttons during your sprints, again, adds to the controls being very complicated.

There are a number of other annoying things that really need looking at, one such example would be the bells, you know that bell you hit a few times to get a reward? Well, say you knock the bell and it flies forward, you then catch up with it, if the bell hasn’t ‘rested’ even if you hit it, it will not register as a hit. So you are forced to stop and wait for this bell to rest before you can strike it again. It’s not like this is a difficult task, yet it forces the player to stop and wait until it’s ready to be hit again.

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You might have noticed, I’ve not exactly praised the game so far. Before you wonder, yes there is praise to be had, quite a lot. Remember at the start when I told you about the girl who said ‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough,‘ remember that? The problems I’ve talked about are all problems you will face early on in the game, high learning curve, dodgy control schemes, core abilities mapped to the game pad, no help to the player.

Now you might think ‘well I’ve played lots of Sonic games in the past I’ll be fine,’ this game is completely different to past Sonic games, you might be a master at Generations, Colours, Unleashed, but everything you know from that game will not help you here because the game plays so differently. Not just the fact its more platform focused, but basic controls are so different you are learning from scratch, and it’s far from easy.

‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough?’ a quote from someone who Lost World should be appealing to, the first game on a ‘next gen console’ the first chance to win fans which Sega hopes will help save a floundering console. That is the first impression from someone semi new to the modern era of games. And I fully understand where they’re coming from.

This game is going to divide people. Some are going to hate it, others will like it. Some will stick with it because they want to beat it, but an equal number are going to give up due to how random, complicated and inaccessible the controls are to both veteran Sonic fans and new players. Nothing feels right, it feels wrong to hold down so many buttons just to make Sonic run at non boosting speeds.

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So is this a bad game?

No… In fact there’s a lot here which makes this a very good game.

I have been concerned when this game was announced that the ‘tube’ stages would make me feel a tad dizzy from the motion sickness generated by how the camera and the terrain moves. However, playing this in person, it’s not a problem mainly because you’re the one controlling it and you know when the camera and the terrain is going to turn and change.

Another big piece of praise comes from the art direction. Now I’ve not been that big a fan of it. I don’t hate it, but I just don’t like it… but in motion, this game looks fantastic, the complaints about the art style don’t really have any merit when the game is in motion and you’re actually progressing through the stages.

But by far the biggest praise, sixty frames per second! In the PS3 version of Sonic Unleashed, there are parts of the game which do hit this mark, and it’s glorious, but it lasts for a few seconds at the most. But now, the full game, with only tiny drops, oh my… welcome to the future. It looks fantastic and all future Sonic games must hit this mark, it just looks too good not to aim for this mile stone.

Praise also needs to go into the appearance of the levels themselves, each stage looks radically different from the other but maintains a high level of beauty about them. If there’s one thing Sonic Team have been excellent at lately it’s making their stages stand out and look unique whilst maintaining a high level of quality.

The game still has a fair way to go, some of the problems might change for the better, but things like the forced use of the game pad, that’s here to stay. It’s annoying because, there really is an amazing Sonic game here, you can see it crying out for you to love it. But right now, the high learning curve, the frankly random and sometimes broken controls utterly destroy this and will end up causing many people to simply give up or avoid the game altogether.

Would I buy a Wii U just for this game as it stands right now? No, there are too many problems and issues with the controls to justify buying a console just for this game. Far too many problems with the controls, the Wisp system needs to be completely redesigned and Sonic is too slow.

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Second Opinion: But of course, thats just my opinion from what I played. Fellow TSS staffer Doctor MK was also able to try out the Wii U version of the game.

As a devoted Wii U owner as well as a huge fan of Sonic Colours, you’d think Sonic Lost World would be right up my street – and for the most part, you’d be right. I played Windy Hill Zone 1 and the first thing I noticed about the blue blur’s latest outing was just how good it looks. The colours are bright and vibrant, really capturing a classic Sonic feel that harkens back to the days of the Megadrive, yet still somehow managing to feel fresh and new. Not everyone will like the game’s more simplistic art style compared with the more detailed landscapes in Unleashed and Generations, but Lost World most definitely has a charm of its own and when you see it running in full motion, it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed.

The new control scheme for Sonic’s tweaked moveset also left me with a positive impression. If you’ve played the recent high velocity, boost-orientated games in the series then you’ll definitely need a moment to adjust to Sonic walking of all things, but holding down ZR to run and ZL to spin dash feels far more intuitive than it may initially sound. The twisty, tubular level design accommodates for Sonic’s new moves with plenty of opportunities for proper platforming (which the tight controls and double jump more than allow for), and pulling off a successful parkour trick is a very satisfying feat indeed. As far as gameplay is concerned I have faith that this is heading in the right direction, striking a balance between speed and precision that hasn’t truly been seen since the 16-bit era.

However, not all was well in the demo, by which I specifically refer to one very particular fly in the ointment. I may have loved Sonic Colours, but I am certainly not loving the way the Wisps work in Sonic Lost World so far. Put simply, trying to use the GamePad’s touch screen to activate the Cyan Laser Wisp was infuriatingly difficult. The aiming was imprecise and the quick flick used to activate the laser just would not register, however hard I tried. In the end I had to resort to the traditional stick and buttons combo – yes, you can actually use them, though you wouldn’t know it from the game’s instructions – but even then it was slower and more clunky than it was in Sonic Colours. It pains me to find fault with Lost World after it left me feeling so optimistic in every other aspect, but this is too big an issue to ignore. If the other Wisps control as poorly as this one does, the game could really suffer.

All in all though I had a blast with the one level I got to play, and I’m eager to get my hands on the finished product. If the few niggling issues that exist in the demo can be ironed out before release, then the future is looking bright for our plucky hedgehog hero. Roll on October!

Sonic Lost World is due for release this October for both the Wii U and 3DS.