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PAX East 2012: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II Preview

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It’s been well over a year since the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I, and enough time lapsed since then that I no longer thought Episode II existed. The game stared me square in the face this past weekend from SEGA’s booth at PAX East, so that’s obviously not the case.

The announcement trailer for Episode II made a big deal about Tails’s return as a playable character, and as a Sonic 2 fan it was what I was most eager to try out. Having Tails carry Sonic to higher ground is easy — you jump and hit the square button, so those playing solo need not fret. The square button also initiates a couple of new interactions between the two old pals. Doing so when you’re both planted on the ground causes them to combine into a giant pseudo-ball that can roll through breakable objects, although they can only move in one direction and don’t stop until they hit a wall. You can also press the square button underwater, which causes Tails to act as a propeller to help Sonic swim faster.

Many Sonic fans are probably more interested in knowing how Episode II controls, with Episode I being the target of much derision for its physics by hardcore fans. While I didn’t mind them so much when I initially reviewed it way back in October 2010, I’ve learned to see their point since then.

They’ll be happy to know, then, that the physics have been completely retooled, playing much more like the Sonic games on the Genesis/Mega Drive. No instant stopping when jumping after a spin dash, no walking casually up a completely vertical slope; it plays much like the 2D Sonic game that the most vocal Sonic 4 critics were clamoring for.

A neat feature for Episode II is the ability to play as Metal Sonic, exclusive to those that bought and played Episode I. This offers a few levels from the first episode, not unlike playing through Sonic 3 with Knuckles. The PR rep at the booth said it wasn’t a “huge” amount of content, but rather a “thank you” to those that stick around. I can dig it.

The two acts that I played through were fairly short, but the limited time I had with Episode II showed a tremendous amount of promise; whether the public at large will agree with my impressions will have to wait until its release.

Episode II will be available on PSN on May 15th.

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