Monday, June 4, 2012

"Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 2" Review (?)

No. No no no no no no!

This has to stop. I can't keep swearing off "Sonic The Hedgehog" games with every new installment, only to return and play the next game anyway. It's exhausting and frankly it's getting ridiculous even for me.

The second part of "Sonic The Hedgehog 4" came out a couple of weeks back and, upon playing it, I'm only reminded of the many, many words I wrote about the disturbing trends in the industry, led by the once kings of electronic home entertainment; SEGA and Nintendo.

At this point, I don't even know if I should review the damned game or if this is, indeed, a review. You may as well go back and read what I wrote a few months back, as "Sonic 4- Episode 2" confirms it all.

I wish I could take some credit over my mystical powers of clairvoyance, as bestowed to me by that potentially pedophilic version of Gandalf whenever I yell out his name -- usually at the monitor, hoping a lightning bolt will come down and explode whichever Sonic game I happen to play at the time.

But no; what SEGA does with Sonic right now is so transparent it's not even fun getting upset over.

That is, of course, assuming SEGA knows what the fuck they're doing, because honestly I don't think they do. Episode 2 isn't just a below-average platformer in an era when platformers are a rare commodity to begin with, it's a game that has absolutely no place in gaming today-- and I don't mean in the nifty, "oldskool" callback-from-the-golden-age kind of way.

Who is this game for, anyway?

For someone unfamiliar with the entire series, there are countless better Sonic games out there, readily available both via the digital distribution services (such as Steam) or pre-packaged/pre-loaded with the fifty billion 3rd-party retro-consoles that SEGA licenses every year.

For someone familiar with the series' past, but not so much with its present, nobody in their right mind would show them this game as a means to get them back into the series, because one would find it hard afterwards to sell them on Generations or even Colors.

The only ones left are gamers up-to-date with this zombie franchise. For you (us), congratulations; you get a slightly improved version of Episode 1. And nothing else!

That's really the best way to characterize Episode 2. Sonic Team took under consideration most criticisms on Episode 1 and tried to fix most of them; but that's ALL they did!

So, Sonic looks and moves better. He gains momentum slightly more naturally and the physics, while not perfect, at least make some sense now. The lock-on and double-jump functions are far less likely to lead to accidental fuck-ups than they were in Episode 1; I'd say, in fact, homing is almost fun to use now. The level design has marginally improved as well, striking a fair balance between the flow of a rollercoaster ride and the "sudden death" dangers that have been plauging these games for a long time.

Animation is better, though the summersault "spin-jump" still looks very rough around the edges, so to speak.

Oh, these still exist, especially in the form of enemies or pits you couldn't possibly see because you launched yourself from a higher platform several yards across and the level designer simply didn't expect you to do that. "Sonic Generations" did this a lot too, giving you the tools to do whatever you want with Sonic's super-speed, but requiring you to never veer off the intended path if you wanted to stay alive. Even so, pits and spikes and robots are a lot less troublesome than they have been for a while, if running is your method of playing these games.

But for all the little fixes, the game's still too short, priced again ridiculously high (13 bucks is an obscene price-tag for a game like this, which would put the likes of EA to shame), does little to compensate for its drawbacks and, lest we forget, doesn't have a single original thought in its head.

Backgrounds are new and yet so sickeningly familiar. Also, huuuugs!!

Sonic Team continues the trend of copying-- ahem... "being heavily inspired" from Sonic 1 and especially Sonic 2. Names and colors may change, but there just isn't anything substantially new here. The levels have the same feel as their predecessors. Once again, there are no power-ups to spice up gameplay outside of the four basic ones (shield/invincibility/sneakers/extra life)-- an idea, I will remind everyone, which isn't even new for the series.

The bosses are a bit more impressive this time around, but they rely too much on trial-and-error, which makes them unecessarily annoying. Especially since the fucking lives system is still intact. I'm sick and tired of rambling on about this; if there is one thing this damned series will change, it may as well be the removal of this stupid, entirely obsolete system. Sonic games don't even rely on precision; they rely on trial-and-error and the lives systems serves no purpose for that whatsoever.

The lack of originality extends as far as the Special Stages, which are ripped straight from Sonic 2. I may be the only one thinking this, but Special Stages suck by default. The only question, ever, was which one sucks less. The ones from Sonic 2 had novelty when you couldn't see the 'fastest thing alive' running in a 3D plane (or pseudo-3D, as the case may had been) anywhere else at the time. After so many years of Sonic unsuccessfully trying to put his tiny blue willy inside the 3D perspective, I don't understand the appeal.

This was also roughly the final boss in "Matrix: Path of Neo". You're welcome.

I guess these levels work well enough (certainly a lot better than the two million underwater levels this game has), but I always preferred the way the Game Gear games did it: put the damned Chaos Emeralds on the actual levels as very hard-to-reach collectables, instead of breaking flow at the end of every level with these tedious, repetitive mini-games.

OMG SONIC IN 3D!! Mind=blown!!

And of course there is Tails, the most publicized new addition to the gameplay. Bringing up the multiplayer component isn't a bad idea and kudos to Sonic Team for not making it exclusively online like many others do these days, but when playing solo Tails has nothing interesting to offer. You will occasionally need him to pick you up and fly or do a combo-spin to break through barriers, but these segments are scripted and feel like an afterthought.

The furry little fucker isn't even all that helpful anymore; Tails' self-preservation instincts have always been non-existent, but at least he used to get some rings you missed, or hit that boss when your attack didn't connect. Now the only thing the motherfucker does is steal your air bubles CONSTANTLY when the counter is already down to two.

The usually mandatory Tails-flight-combo.

Fuck you, you shit-colored mutation.

I like SEGA. I've gone out of my way to defend their ass and recognize the balls they had bouncing back up after the pit they had thrown themselves into following the failure of the Dreamcast. They represent an important part of my childhood and, while I like the plumber's games, I will insist that a good Sonic game trumps ten good Mario games.

But this really has to stop. SEGA is a good developer/publisher, a hell of a lot better than most people give it credit for. But it's no longer because of Sonic; it's in spite of him. I don't know how many more Sonic 4 episodes we will have to sit through and I doubt there will be any sense of innovation or significant improvement in this series. But once this is done, the only way to preserve the series, the franchise, is to put it on the shelf for a good while. Even the resources spent to making these games aren't worth the result.

Take a break and wait for a clean perspective. SEGA is big enough these days to afford that. Do it, before things change again and you're back to "WILL DO STUFF FOR RINGS".

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