[img align=right]http://i48.tinypic.com/14j593s.png[/img]You'll have to indulge me as an old Sonic fanboy for a bit with this post, I'm afraid.
Today, Sega revealed that the rather hyped Project Needlemouse is, in fact, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Episode 1) (first footage in vid) - and when they say Sonic 4, they do actually mean Sonic 4. 16 years after Sonic 3 & Knuckles, this game follows directly on, covering the return of Dr 'Eggman' Robotnik (no info yet on whether we'll see him called Robotnik or Eggman [or both] here) following his defeat at the end of Sonic & Knuckles and the 3rd destruction of the Death Egg.
The game looks great. It's a fantastic mix of 3D animation on a 2D plane that we already know works really well on the DS, and looks to be superb in HD. The music, what little we've heard of it from another teaser, has definite references to previous Sonic games throughout, and is very much a blend of classic and modern Sonic themes (which, personally, I hope extends to a proper Crush 40 theme with the same theory applied). If nothing else, the concept is very much what fans have been wanting for over a decade and a half (that's longer than the amount of time Pokémon's been around at all).
Unfortunately, and this is why I feel compelled to bring this to discussion here, the concept is let down by the execution (in true Sega form, I guess). Even if this had been left as a PSN/XBLA/WiiWare title in general, ala MegaMan 9, I could have dealt with it. I'd prefer a proper disc release and the extra effort required for it - but, digital distribution is an unavoidable part of our future, and I'd have gotten past it.
To break it down into episodic gaming, however, is the real issue. Unless your name is TellTale Games, episodic gaming is a flawed medium. Through so many failed examples of it, we come to expect that we'll, first of all, end up paying a premium price (1600 MSPoints/Â£13.60, for example) for a small amount of content and that, secondly it's unlikely the 'series' will ever actually be finished and, frankly, I had my fill of Sega selling me unfinished games, and then never bothering to finish them, with Sonic Heroes and Sonic 2006.
Maybe these worries are for naught, and maybe Sonic 4 could be the title that resets the playing field for episodic content. But, this is a franchise and a company that consistently only ever gets it almost right. You'd be tempted to say 'these days', but, then, this behaviour and resulting failure can be traced all the way back to Sega's early days with a clutter of failed hardware and franchises. Despite all that we can identify as good, great and following the right steps - deep down, we know; and expect; to be disappointed and let down.
I only hope for my sake, the fans' sakes - and definitely for Sega's sake, that they prove us wrong.