Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 Hands-On Preview

If Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 was a fun throwback that reminded us of the glory days of the blue roller, then Episode 2 looks primed to continue and improve on that tradition. At GDC last week, we played through two levels of the upcoming game and were quite impressed. Fans have a lot to look forward to when it hits the App Store this spring.

Like the previous installment, Episode 2 is a side-scrolling platformer, but the character models are rendered in 3D. Graphically, it’s a big step up from the first one, with highly detailed backgrounds and a lot more happening onscreen at any given time. The level designs are also fairly intricate, with a variety of environments, multiple pathways through the levels, and lots of roller coaster-like stretches that should satisfy fans’ need for speed.

The Sega rep who showed us the game said that working with Christian Whitehead to port Sonic CD to iOS taught them a valuable lesson: the feel of the game matters as much as anything else. With that in mind, they built a new physics engine for Episode 2, and it makes a big difference. We played the game on an Android tablet (the game is coming to just about every platform imaginable), and the touchscreen controls felt terrific. Sonic has just the right amount of weight, and once you start blazing through the environment with him, you don’t want to stop.

Another new addition to Episode 2 is the presence of Tails, your yellow fox buddy. Tails enables two changes to the gameplay. First, you can now play co-op multiplayer either online or locally, with one player controlling Sonic and the other controlling Tails. Second, even if you’re playing alone, Tales puts several new moves at your disposal. There’s a tag team button now, and if you press it when you’re in the air, you’ll grab Tails’ hands and he’ll help you fly. Press it on the ground, and the two of you roll up into a ball and spin-plow forward. Tap the button under water, and you’ll swim like fish.

The two levels we played were clearly designed with these moves in mind. Often we had to fly up to an out-of-reach ledge, or spin-roll through breakable walls. A few clever dynamics were included in the levels as well, like Sonic pulling out a snowboard as we started down a snowy hill, or sections of the environment loaded with spring boards to boost you to where you need to go. There’s no shortage of forward motion here.

We’re looking forward to playing through the rest of the game and seeing if they can keep up the sense of excitement and discovery they’ve built into every inch of the demo. Look for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 sometime this spring.

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