If the games industry has its way and digital download is now set in stone as the way of the future, then gamers may look back on the past couple of months as something of a turning point.
With GAME teetering in the wake of a strong surge in quality download-only titles on console networks, one has to wonder if it's a case of when, rather than if, gaming retail will go completely digital.
It's certainly a question we were asking ourselves as we took in the titles on offer at Sega's DLC showcase last week. While the publisher still puts a premium on boxed-product, the download titles it put on display could compete with some of the best of its portfolio - even if this was because some of them were HD DLC reduxes of the publisher's past hits.
This being Sega, it's hardly surprising that a certain hedgehog was fronting one of the marquee titles at the showcase. Yes, Sonic 4: Episode 2 is scheduled for summer of 2012 and we were able to get a pretty extensive hands-on with the latest title starring the famous blue speed merchant. A lot in the game will be instantly familiar to anyone who is even vaguely aware of what Sonic's lineage in gaming is all about; players guide Sonic through a series of platforming levels at high speeds, picking up rings and pulverising monsters between checkpoint flags. So far, so Sonic.
Look a little closer, however, and Episode 2 boasts some marked improvements. The physics governing Sonic's movement in the game have been markedly tweaked, making his jumps feel lighter, his acceleration quicker and his ability to build up momentum less sluggish than in Episode 1.
This is all down to the brand new engine running the game, which has also allowed the developers to make the environments in each level feel far more polished and detailed. The two on offer at the showcase were the Sylvania Castle Zone, a stone-clad maze filled with a subterranean moat section, and White Park Zone, a winter wonderland that pitches the odd avalanche or solid barrier of packed snow at the player.
So what else is new in Sonic 4: Episode 2? Well, in a word, Tails. Yes, Sonic's two-tailed mutant fox mate is back and wouldn't you know it, he and Sonic have a couple of combo moves they can pull off. There's the obvious combo roll in which Tails and Sonic clasp limbs and pinwheel through the map - useful for cutting through snow-packs - and the flying combo, where Tails grabs Sonic's hands and propels the pair of them into the air using his rear appendage - also useful for zipping through water levels. The game supports local and online co-op. We suggest drawing straws to see who gets Tails.
Alongside Sega's most recognisable mascot, the Sega showcase had a brand new IP on the table in the form of Hell Yeah! Wrath Of The Dead Rabbit. Developed for Sega by Arkedo Studios, Hell Yeah! puts players in the shoes of Ash, the Prince Of Hell, who just also happens to be a cartoon rabbit. The bare bones of the plot involve Ash hunting down and killing every monster in hell before they see embarrassing pictures of him on Hell's internet. Seriously.
At its core, Hell Yeah! is a platform adventure with some interesting shooter mechanics tossed in for good measure. As the player explores the map, they'll encounter demons Ash needs to dispatch along with nifty trinkets they can pick up. The fact that Ash doesn't always have the right weapon to kill off a target when he first runs into them lends the entire game something of an explorative open-ended feel. During our play through, we managed to kit out Ash with a drilling machine that looked like a cross between a circular saw-blade and a motorbike, and a mounted rocket launcher.