Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rant: Sonic 4: Episode 1

I'm hesitant to call this a review, mostly because I haven't finished the game in question.  Generally I like to finish games before posting reviews to give them a chance to redeem themselves with later gameplay.  But I feel this must be said now, especially since Episode 2 is out on steam and contains an incentive designed to sell copies of the first game.  I'll be quick here.

For clarity, I'm talking about Sonic 4 Episode 1 only.  The developers have said that many of these issues are addressed in Sonic 4: Episode 2.  I'm a bit short on funds to find out for myself, so everything in this ramble is only about Episode 1 and may not apply to the new chapters.

Sonic 4 is a decent platforming game that is decently good at everything except being a Sonic Game.  I had heard from others that the physics were a bit broken in this game, but this is much worse then I had imagined.

I know, you don't believe me.  Ok, let me explain in greater detail.

You know how in other sonic games, when you hold down Right on the controller, Sonic will run to the right?  And when you hit a trampoline or jump onto a badguy, Sonic keeps moving to the right.  I am remembering this correctly, yes?

Well, in this game, he doesn't.  More specifically, he doesn't if you've already jumped on a single badguy or used your "homing attack" move already before touching the ground again.

Instead, bouncing on an enemy means Sonic gains momentum straight upwards, losing ALL side momentum in the process.  That's right, no matter how you hit that enemy, he won't move horizontally AT ALL.  To make matters worse, he won't speed up again to the right even while you still hold down the Right movement input, unless you first let go completely of the Right direction and tap it down again.

The result?  The common sonic layout of "Jump on the trampoline, chain jump off the enemy, then move right onto the platform" becomes one of the most frustrating things to execute, because if you don't remember to let go and re-tap the movement key/button/stick while bouncing off the enemy, Sonic falls straight down ignoring all your controls instead of landing on the platform literally inches from where you bounced on the enemy.

Cheap Console Port syndrome is everywhere.  It's very clear from the "press start" where it expects you to press D, of all keys, that they put very little effort into making the PC version even a PC version.  The menus also just have colored cubes for instructions, happily telling you to press the "Brown cube thing" to go back, and the "Green cube thing" to go forward.  The default mapping makes menu navigation pretty strange, the nearest I could figure is that D is actually "OK", and Space means go back, apparently.  In game both of these are "Jump/Homing attack/Spin", so I'm really not sure why the menu can't read ESC or Enter as Back and OK. And for some reason, A and S are the blue and red squares that swap between time and score attack modes.  The controls are remappable, but such a crazy default control scheme should never have passed Quality Assurance.  Furthermore, even if you remap them, the game will still spit out the same "Green Square" nonsense on the menu screens.

Also, it has some pretty bad stage design:

If an enemy was needed for a chain jump setup, and you attempted it already, that enemy will not respawn for you to attempt that stunt again.  Now, in other Sonic games this is often also true, but only as a single attempt on "shortcut" routes that have other means of continuing in the stage.  The only other time these tricks are done in previous games is over a fatal bottomless pit, meaning it's never an issue the enemy doesn't come back because if you mess up, well, you're done for anyway and clearly just suck.

The second level of Sonic 4: Episode 1 contains the above described "enemy jump" layout over a large cliff, with ground below so you can get back to the trampoline for a second attempt.  The flaw is that the trampoline will never be enough to get over the cliff once the enemy is killed.  Effectively, the only way to kill yourself in this area after messing up once is by repeatedly ramming yourself into the provided spikes(which normally just cause ring loss unless you are out of rings entirely).  Combine this flawed level design with the above enemy control glitch, and you've got yourself a LOT of "Kill Sonic in the spike pit" losses of lives ahead of you.

To cut this short, I am currently in the Casino Levels, World 2.  The physics here are still causing me to unfathomably lose momentum because I'm "no longer holding right/left" according to the controls even though my finger is jammed on the button during the whole stunt.  Every time I hit a bumper, flipper, trampoline, plunger, or just about anything Casino Level related, the controls suffer the same "reset" and I have to suspect when to start tapping the button again or end up with no speed again.

And then I find out, thanks to a horrible twist of fate, that the only enemy I will ever see in the Casino Level happens to be a walking trampoline bumper.  With this same loss of speed syndrome.  Ironically, the only way to kill this enemy is to spin dash into it at near max speed from a trampoline or bumper.

A power outage helped save me from the hell of that zone by mercifully shutting the game off(and the rest of the lights and the computer and everything else important to me, but whatever).  Needless to say, I'm only slightly inclined to boot it up again.  It's hard to say anything good about a sonic game when the basic gameplay involves willingly stabbing yourself with spikes when you have the misfortune of falling into what really should have just been a bottomless pit to begin with.

I suppose if this game had been titled "Mr. Stiff" or something similar, and wasn't colored like Sonic, there would be something to enjoy here.  But sadly, it says Sonic on the cover, which implies that it's an attempt at actually being Sonic.  With all the games Sonic has been in(Colors, Black Knight, Adventure, Riders), you'd think that would be a pretty easy thing to accomplish.  And I can tell someone put a lot of effort into this game, and probably meant for us fans to be crying tears of noglista over the whole thing since graphically, it's very old school.  Even the first boss was basically a remake of the original first sonic boss ever(though the new physics and homing attack Sonic has made it pretty much a fail of even that easy boss).

But instead, I must simply say...stay away.  Stay far away.

Well, unless you're into the whole stabbing yourself with the spikes thing.  Then maybe this game might be a good outlet to save your real self from harm.

On Steam, a faithful recoding of the classic game Sonic CD is available, for cheaper then Sonic 4 Episode 1.  Sonic CD is a bit difficult, but it's a solid entry in the sonic games, and if you can forgive the classic graphics you'll find yourself a much better Sonic experience with that game.

If you want new shiny instead, I also heartily recommend Sonic Generations.  I've reviewed that game on this same blog, and still stand by that review:

Over and out for now.  And kids, remember that Spike Abuse is not a healthy solution to your problems, and you should talk with your parents about it.

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