PAX East 2012 Round-up: SEGA
After an exhausting exposition and a long drive back to New Jersey, I have risen to the task of writing about our adventure. PAX East seemed less grand this year, but without a doubt the biggest games of the show were by smaller, independent studios. I didn’t wait in line for 2+ hours to play Max Payne 3 or Borderlands 2 or Assassin’s Creed Whatever. No, I was busy rubbing elbows with the developers of fresh, new games that are going to shine this year on the PlayStation Network.
Sonic 4: Episode 2
When we sat down to check out Sonic 4 Episode 2, the SEGA rep hesitatingly asked us how we felt about Episode 1. It was apparent that she was aware of the outcry from Sonic purists about the gross misjustices SEGA commited with Sonic 4. Chris and I assured her that we were part of the minority who actually enjoyed Sonic 4. We all breathed a sigh of relief, and I got down to zooming through the two acts available on the demo.
Like a boss, I immediately explored the leftmost side of the screen to find a 1Up box. The first thing I noticed is the improved graphics engine. I thought Sonic 4 looked good, but I have to admit there are noticeable graphical enhancements in Episode 2. The backgrounds are more vivid and the lighting effects are dynamic. The package as a whole felt more organic. For example, at the end of the winter wonderland act, snow fell off of the flowers in the near background as Sonic ran past them. The other act I played was set in an amusement park. A roller coaster was running in the background as I jumped around other attractions under construction. The rep told me that you get progressively closer to the coaster as the zone progresses. I couldn’t tell that the physics engine had changed, but apparently it’s been tweaked to feel more like the original Sonic (i.e. momentum isn’t lost as easily). The lock-on mechanic is in full effect, as it was in Episode 1, which leads to zippy speed runs. A new mechanic that’s added this time around is what I like to call the buddy system. Tails follows you around and at certain points in the game, you have to press square to call on him for assistance. Pressing square in midair activates a familiar move: flying. Tails carries Sonic a short while before tiring out and floating to the ground. Pressing square while on solid ground begins the bowling ball tag team spindash we’ve seen and chuckled at in recent trailers. This move allows Sonic and Tails to bust through snow and other breakable surfaces. The third buddy [move] is used during underwater sections. It’s basically flight but allows you to get around more easily in those typically slow submerged parts.
The game supports online drop-in multiplayer. Additional content is available in Episode 2 for owners of Episode 1. The content was described as an extra slice of gameplay that revolves around Metal Sonic’s story. The emerald bonus stages are the half-pipes from Sonic 2, but when I asked about competetive racing, I wasn’t given a clear answer. I’ve got a feeling that there won’t be racing this time around, which is a shame because the version of Sonic 2 available on the PSN has awful netcode. It would’ve been fun racing in the updated zones of Sonic 4. I also wasn’t given a clear answer when I asked if this would be the final Sonic 4 episode. I’m hoping it isn’t but not holding my breath. If it sells well I’m sure they’ll consider continuing the saga. The game will be available May 15th. Get it.
The two former Arkedo platformers, Pixel! and Jump!, were reviewed rather well on this site. After playing Hell Yeah! at PAX East, I have a feeling it, too, is going to get a bang-up review. Contrary to the quick-fix, 30-level, hardcore platforming found in Jump!, Hell Yeah! is a more Metroidvania ordeal. What I mean, of course, is that you’re playing on a single map where you won’t be able to reach everything at first. Exploration and progression through the story leads to acquisition of new abilities that allow you to reach previously unreachable areas. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s learn what Hell Yeah!’s really all about.
You play as Ash, the prince of Hell, on a quest to extinguish the 100+ demons who witnessed a revealing video of your rubber ducky fetish on the ‘Hellternet’. Ride around in your jetpack-equipped circular saw vehicle, searching for demons. Each time you bring a demon’s health down to zilch, a quick-time event triggers that allows you to finish him in a creative way. The first demon resembles a slime from Dragon Quest, and the quick-time event to kill it has you mashing the X button to squeeze it like a pimple. The other QTEs are at least equally entertaining. Gems litter the environment, used in shops to buy practical or aesthetic upgrades. I only had access to limited funds, but I still managed to equip my circular saw with glow sticks and don a Washington-esque wig. Wackiness is the word in Hell Yeah! All of the characters are out of this dimension. The whole package oozes of craziness, and it works. Look forward to taking a trip to Hell sometime soon. No solid release date yet, but I’d wager early summer if I had to guess. Let’s hope it doesn’t take longer than that to get our paws on what looks to be another impressive Arkedo platformer.
Jet Set Radio
I haven’t played Jet Set Radio in many, many years. I never owned an ex-lax box, so my last run-in with Jet Set was on the glorious Dreamcast. I can’t help but mention that I still have my Dreamcast set up and ready to go, with Jet Set stacked neatly in a cover slip by its side. I may revisit it before the PSN version releases, just to get my bearings. The reason I say that is because the controls for Jet Set weren’t completely smooth. For the first couple of minutes playing, I was bumping into walls and missing easy tags. I got used to it quickly enough, though. The original source code was brushed up to look pretty in HD, and you don’t need to worry about the small screen madness found in some of the SEGA ports (looking at you, HotD3). Leaderboards are in full effect, but when I asked if graffiti could be shared over the network, I got a banal answer about platform limitations. But… couldn’t you share your work on the 56k-modem-toting Dreamcast back in 2000? Anyways, the game is Jet Set Radio, and that’s a very fine thing to say about it. You can’t hear it in the video, but the music is great. If I remember correctly, 90% of the Japanese soundtrack will be available in this new version. It’ll probably release at $10, which is a fair price to revisit a classic in an HD way.