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Interviews: Sega - Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

Posted by James Newton

We chat about the hedgehog's 2D return

It's nearly here: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is released on WiiWare in North America on October 11th, with a European release following on Friday October 15th. With the game now finished and so very nearly here, we caught up with Ken Balough, Digital Brand Manager for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, to pose some questions about the hedgehog's impending downloadable adventure.

Nintendo Life: Fans have been asking for a 2D Sonic game like this for years. Why did you feel now was the right time to create Sonic 4?

Ken Balough: It was definitely a case of the right people at the right time. When we started discussing doing a 2D Sonic game, it just made sense that we would make Sonic 4. It’s a game fans have been asking about for years, and we felt we had the right team to make it.

NL: Was the game always intended to be called Sonic the Hedgehog 4, or were there ever any other titles considered?

KB: From the start we knew that this would be Sonic 4, so we primarily focused on how we could bring this experience to the consumers in the digital space.

NL: What difficulties came with developing a game based on such legendary classics?

KB: I think one of the biggest difficulties we had to face was figuring out a way to provide the entire Sonic 4 saga in a format that would keep fans engaged between episodes. That’s when we came up with the idea of the “cliffhanger” ending you’ll see if you collect all the Chaos emeralds. This allows fans to finish a fulfilling experience while at the same time introducing them to a saga that they can’t wait to continue playing.

NL: Obviously Sonic 4 is designed to appeal to long-time Sonic fans, but how have you ensured new players will find the game enjoyable too?

KB: I think the core of what made Sonic great back in 1991 still applies today: solid 2D gameplay. Sonic games have definitely introduced us to new elements over the years, but for the 2D games, Speed and Platforming are at the core of everything. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 really delivers on these concepts, and whether you’re a long-time Genesis fan or a newcomer, you’re bound to enjoy the gameplay experience.

NL: One special move from the 3D games is the inclusion of the homing attack. Why did you decide to include this with the classic gameplay mechanics?

KB: Every Genesis Sonic game introduced players to a new mechanic. For example, Sonic 2 introduced the Spin Dash, and Sonic 3 had the different Shields. The Homing Attack continues that trend by giving fans a new element to work with, and we are confident it changes the tempo of the game for the better. Chained Homing Attacks can also allow Sonic to access new areas in the level that might not be accessible in any other way.

NL: What power-ups will Sonic have available to him in Sonic 4?

KB: In Episode I, Sonic will be able to access Invincibility, the Shield, and the Power Sneakers.

NL: A lot of people believe Sonic is all about speed, but what in your opinion is the most important thing to get right in order to create a great Sonic game?

KB: Well… it has to be fast, sure, but that’s not everything. The platforming elements and exploration are just as important. The Genesis-era Sonic games were really rewarding to explore because there were so many paths that players could take. It meant that each time you played it you could have a different experience. The music was also key; classic Sonic games had some very memorable melodies. In my opinion, you have to nail each one of these elements to make a great 2D Sonic game.

NL: Do you have to take a different approach when creating a game in episodes rather than one complete title all at once?

KB: We did. Ultimately, we had to offer a compelling experience while still keeping players hungry for more content. I think people will be really pumped for Episode II once they see the cliffhanger ending.

NL: How did you find working with the strict file size limitation of the WiiWare service as opposed to the XBLA and PSN releases of the game?

KB: It was definitely a challenge because there was less room to work with, but the team was super committed to bringing their full vision to the Wii.

NL: Are there any significant differences between the WiiWare release and the same game on other formats?

KB: Not really, ultimately the content is identical. The Team was really committed to making sure everyone got a great Sonic 4 experience, so the graphics and the motion controls on the Special Stages are the only real differences on the Wii version.

NL: How many episodes will there be in total, and when can we expect to hear more about Episode 2?

KB: I can tell you we’ve written the story for the whole saga, but we have not announced the amount of episodes yet. That said, you can probably expect to hear more about Episode II in 2011. (He smiles)

NL: Will these episodes make up a larger game, played back-to-back like Sonic 3 and Knuckles, or will they be entirely separate? Will there be any data carried across from Sonic 4: Episode 1, such as number of Chaos Emeralds for example?

KB: The Episodes will definitely make up a larger game. After completing them all, you’ll have experienced a larger overall story arc that lives up to the epic nature of earlier Sonics. As for what carries over – you’ll have to wait and see!

NL: Looking forward, can we expect to see Tails and Knuckles make their returns in Episode 2?

KB: I’m afraid you’ll have to wait till 2011 to find out!

NL: Will future episodes look to introduce new characters or stick with established ones?

KB: I can’t say anything just yet … but be sure to check out the cliffhanger!

NL: In closing, what would you like to say to those gamers who’ve been waiting so long for Sonic the Hedgehog’s 2D return?

KB: I’ll like to let everyone know that we at SEGA definitely understand the desire Sonic fans have had for return of a 2D game. The entire team are Genesis Sonic fans and we’re all proud to be bringing back Sonic with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. This is the game we’ve all wanted to play since we were kids, and we really hope everyone out there shares our passion and enjoys playing this game as much as we did making it!

Thanks to Ken Balough at Sega for answering our questions, and be sure to come back next week for the definitive review of how Sonic's WiiWare debut stacks up against his 2D heritage.

Corbie Dillard and Zach Kaplan contributed to this interview.

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User Comments (39)



Denkou said:

episodic format is by far the stupidest thing mankind has ever come up with, video game wise.



Delso said:

I love the new 3-D touch to it, I don't think I will get it though, i don't have all the money in the world to spend on all these video games!



xAlias said:

Can. Not. Wait.

I have to buy Shantae and Cave Story on DsiWare first, and believe me, I am LOW on money



CanisWolfred said:

First interview in a while that I read in its entirety.

Solid 2D Gameplay = WIN!
Understanding the true Appeal of the Genny Sonics = WIN!
Using Homing Attack to Get to Places you couldn't otherwise = WIN! (Sort of)
Cliffhanger Endings = Fail. I hate Cliffhangers, they're so cheap. Though I guess we're supposed to think of them as Episode Previews, is that it?
Motion Controls in Special Stages = Fail. Maybe I can convince my bro to get the XBLA version?
4 Important Questions Left Unanswered = +/- I never expected them to answer those questions in the first place.

All in all, great interview, guys!



Supersonic84 said:

you probably never played a telltale game then.

Don't be fooled by my name i hate sonic, and i am also a bad liar.
I'll probably get this on both Wii and PS3 because how can i not have 2 copies of it.
Sadly however good the game looks the sonic fanbase will always find a way to whine about it



Corbs said:

Great interview. A few of those questions were downright brilliant.



Bass_X0 said:

So... if it weren't for episodic games, developers would have to cram all their ideas and storylines into a single download. It could not be any bigger than Episode One is now because file sizes wouldn't allow it.

With Episode II being released sometime early in 2011, people should be ready for the next instalment after completing Episode One. Can't complain at 1500 points once every three or four months can you as long as each episode give significant amount of content for its 1500 point cost.



Bass_X0 said:

Why can't WiiWare have good games if all the good games have to go to retail where they will be overlooked amongst all the bigger games there? Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is fine. Episodic games are for those games that are too big for a single download but not big enough to be full releases. I'm just curious on length and replay value.



PSICOffee said:

I surprisingly don't care that the game is episodic. It just means we have more to look forward to instead of everything in one fell swoop. Although it would suck if it ends up costing $60 but oh well, better than a PS360 disc sonic game I suppose. I'm glad they seem to be doing everything right with it though, and will be glad to download once I have the money for it.



Bass_X0 said:

Name $60 worth of WiiWare games released recently that you would want to download that would be better than Sonic the Hedgehog 4.



mjc0961 said:

Wow, that guy sounded like he actually knew something about what used to make the games so fun.

Although I don't remember anyone asking for Sonic 4. I just think people wanted a game that doesn't suck.

@1: Episodic content is fine when it's done properly. See Telltale Games, they're doing it right. Other companies, like Valve and obviously SEGA as seen here ($15 for part one which is out soon and they don't even know how many more episodes will be coming right now), are doing it wrong.

@16: Probably any WiiWare game available, considering the history of recent Sonic games.



ArmoredGoomba said:

I wish they would just tell us how many episodes are coming out. 2? 3? 4? 7? And if each episode will cost 1500. Why not knock the price down to 1000 on future installments? I can't stand not knowing how much more content there is gonna be.



CanisWolfred said:


Obviously you're deaf, or really haven't visited a Sonic fan site, or even payed attention to any comment regarding Sonic other than "Sonic Sucks," you'd realize that many fans have been clamouring for a Sonic game that was more on-par stylistically and gameplay-wise to the Genesis Sonics.



Punny said:

This game is looking and sounding good! Great (and funny) interview!



thaantman said:

man cant wait but at the same time mad this is coming out so soon cause i finally got points to get cave story & bit trip runner that would had been a even 2000pts spend. maybe after i get sonic next time i get a card ill get cave story and bit trip fate instead, fate looks like more fun than runner



XD375 said:


Most WiiWare games get more hate than any Sonic game I've ever seen. The whole "Sonic sucks" image is mostly created by spinoffs like Sonic Unleashed for Wii (Sega confirmed the Wii version was a spinoff in a Colors interview - the 360/PS3 version is the "main series" Unleashed, and it's a much better game too), or the storybook games. Plus, Sonic 4 is being made by Dimps.

"Dimps" - the makers of Street Fighter IV and the handheld Sonic games, the only Sonic games to get consistently good reviews! I think Sonic 4 will be fine.



TheBaconator said:

Something about the Sonic sprite in the still images disturbs me (Kinda over-pixalated) , but I'm sure it will look better when in motion. Nintendo Power also mentioned that when you collect all the Chaos Emeralds you get bonuses in Episode 2.



OverlordMao said:

I'll think about it. To be honest, this went from "day one buy" to "I have other things to save up for, and their prices aren't OUTRAGEOUS."
Largely due to the 1500 price tag, I am so not paying for that.



SilverBaretta said:

Seeing as I'll actually have points when this comes out, Day 1 for me! Great interview, liking the humor dashed in there.



Token_Girl said:

Aside from being too expensive (Sonic 2 is 800 points and has about double the stages), it looks like they really understand what makes a good Sonic game. Honestly, if the game lives up to the awesomeness that is the Genesis Sonic games, I probably won't care how much it costs. Principles be damned!

Though honestly, 3 episodes at $15 each with no opportunity on the Wii shop for deals if you buy all 3, a disc release would be a better deal. It's only $5 less than a retail game, but no box, art, instruction book, hope of selling if it sucks, or hope of getting a price drop if you're poor. PSN/XBLA would be the better bet if you have one of those, because it's easier to run sales.



Kid_A said:

I, like many others, am simply baffled at the decision not to go with a disc release. It seems blatantly greedy to me.
Maybe I'm just mad because SEGA knows I'll buy all of them no matter what.



CanisWolfred said:

@Token Girl

If it sucks and you sell it, how much do you honestly expect to get back for it? At least here, if it sucks, you're only out $15, not $50.

And while Sonic 2 may be $8, that's for an old game that most people might already own or have played in some way. Personally, $15 is the least amount of money I've ever spent on a new Sonic game, so I'm not complaining.



outrun2sp said:

Will be getting the XBLA version of this because I have a 250gb hard drive to save them all together when that day happens and am not interested in motion controls on the bonus stages.
Looking forward to it.



NapalmHornet said:

You should have asked: what was your insperation for sonic's utterly retarded running animation that makes him look like a bobble-head figurine. Also is sega stupid? I mean why didn't they just put it on a disc because you have much more space, dosn't clog up the memory on your device (just the save file) and it would be so much easier. Sega should become nigh on bankrupt... again because they work better under sweat breaking pressure from what the past has told us. sorry sega the truth had to come out, now your kinda lazy or your sence of taste has disintergrated:(



James said:

They didn't put it on a disc for the same reasons stacks of games come out on download instead of disc - cost and value. If they'd put this on a disc people would have said "it looks like a download title!".

Sega can never win and that makes me sad.

However, on the upside, five days to go!



HappyHappy said:

In my opinion this looks like a very good game, but to me it alos looks like another Sonic game that's just trying to use the simple elements of the orginal Sonic games on the Genesis in an attempt to please fans who actually want a good Sonic game for once.



Token_Girl said:

Yeah, that's true. Actually looking at the amount of levels, it's not a terrible deal since it's about equivalent to Sonic and Knuckles. Your argument goes out the window though on PSN/XBLA where you'd be able to try a demo for free for either a disc or download release. Then you're out NO money if you don't like it, so the issue of how much you'd get by selling it is moot.

With a Sonic game, especially, it's not that hard to tell if you'd like it or not. Do you like the Genesis games? Is there basically a consensus among the reviewers that this is a capable sequel to those games and not a hot mess? If both of those are "yes" then you're not risking anything buying the game at any price. Might as well be a disk release.

If NSMB Wii could do it (though they did get a lot of flak), Sega could do it too. The easy explanation would be that there was just too much content for a single downloadable title.



James said:

@Token Girl Mario had an easy sell to retailers and customers though - the very first multiplayer Mario Bros. title, launching at Christmas on a platform where only Nintendo titles sell well. It also had the marketing spend to support it, which Sega does not.

It's going to be amazing though so no need to worry!



CanisWolfred said:


Except Retail costs more to make and advertise, requires more content, and is more of a risk since it could just get ignored like every other good Wii game not made by Nintendo. Plus, thanks to the amount of retro titles available on downloadable services, retro gamers, who are the target audience for this game if you haven't figured that out yet, are more likely to gravitate towards those services and thus Sega would get more sales.

In short: Download is better for Sega, and so long as you have an internet connection, of no real downside for you. If it's good as is, what's there to complain about? If it's not good, it won't cost you much, you won't have to sell it, and if you're buying from another service, you'll already have played the demo.

Yes, Nintendo made a Retro sequel to a massively popular series and made it a retail game. It was still a risk, and had it flopped, it wouldn't have made a dent in their pockets. Sega, on the otherhand, isn't so fortunate.



Moonhillwat said:

I'm so downloading this for WiiWare when it comes out! I also look forward to playing it with the Wiimote turned sideways. That has been my controller of choice for a good while now. I even play Brawl that way!

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