Following Sonic 4 Episode I, I was genuinely dreading what would be in store for Episode II. From what I had heard, the game was notably worse than the original installment, and contained next to nothing worthwhile in its entirety. However… I actually kind of like it.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android
Developers: Dimps and Sonic Team
As Sonic 4: Episode I was intended to channel the spirit can general vibe of the first Sonic game, Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II is a tribute to Sonic 2, as it centers around Sonic and Tails going on an adventure to stop the maniacal and absurdly resourceful Doctor Eggman from doing… I dunno what, but it can’t be good. However, in a nod to more than just one game, Episode II also serves as a sequel to Sonic CD, as Metal Sonic returns to serve as Eggman’s lackey, and a recurring boss throughout the game.
Mind you, Metal Sonic’s inclusion does not really amount to a whole lot other than some homages to Sonic CD, and the very structure of the game is kept quite in line with the Genesis games, right down to the final climactic battle on the Death Egg. A battle that the game just sort of stops afterwards, presumably to function as a cliffhanger for an Episode III that was clearly intended, but never developed.
Continuing off of the prior game, Sonic still has his homing attack and access to the added mobility it brings, but also gains the ability to activate a team maneuver with Tails, which pretty much only amount to rolling around in a super fast ball of having Tails carry Sonic throughout the stage. Now, from what I heard these new mechanics were points of contention for a lot of critics, as they felt these slow down the game with their drawn out starting animations, and do not really feel as if they belong in the relatively simple space of 2D Sonic games. Most of which are meant to be played with just one button.
I actually think they are genuinely welcome additions. The aerial ability that allows Sonic to call upon Tails and be allowed to fly for a generous amount of time does diminish the game’s average speed, but it allows for more precision in movement and by extension, makes the game more enjoyable for people without near precognitive reflexes. Mind you, there are instances where this addition feels a bit forced, and other instances where it feels as if the designers did not intend on having the player soar through the sky. As for the rolling ability, that turns Sonic and Tails into a giant ball of death and destruction that zooms faster than Sonic ever could on his own. It is unruly, hard to control, but I had a good time using in in the appropriate context.
With these mechanics, Sonic 4 Episode II feels like less of a dangerously fast platformer, and is instead a slightly more methodical and slower platforming affair that still utilizes speed to great effect when the time is right. There are simply far fewer instances of being completely blind sighted by a thread and feeling as if there is nothing that can be done about them. Though, they and some of the more irritating aspects of this series do rear up in the level design.
Sometimes a hazard is thrown into the player’s way far too quickly for them to be predicted. Sometimes a section requires more precision than the controls are really meant for, due to Sonic’s slow movement and such. Sometimes the game is just a prick and will throw a spring that tosses the player right into a pit of enemies they just narrowly avoided because they are not worth trying to defeat. While on other, thankfully rarer, instances, the game will introduce a mechanic that made me not want to revisit the stage, but they are thankfully far more hit than miss in this installment.
The bosses however, all kind of suck. They are far slower battle that focus primarily on utilizing Sonic and Tail’s team abilities to defeat a boss. When fighting Eggman, use the aerial ability to gain height and bash his goofy face in. When fighting Metal Sonic, use the rolling ability to dash forward and bash his metal face in. There is an exception with a gimmick boss battle, but that one controls poorly since the player needs to control an airplane by controlling Sonic. As was the case with Episode I, the final boss is a major pain, but now it is because they rely on rotating platforms of death and precision platforming, Sonic’s greatest weakness as a game series.
The special stages from Sonic 2 make an unsurprising return in this installment, and if you recall my Sonic 2 review, I went on a tirade that lasted for a full third of the total word count about how awful the special stages were. In Sonic 4 Episode II, they are better, and far easier, but seeing as how I lack the ability to either replay these stages or use save states, I gave up after getting 5 chaos emeralds. Otherwise, I would need to repay through certain stages over and over again in order to simply attempt these stages. Oh, and while I did carefully plan it so I only had to do stages 1-3 and 2-1 in order to get emeralds 6 and 7, seeing as how the player can do that in this game, it was still too much of a bother.
Anyways, after getting the 50 rings and jumping into a giant ring at the end of the stage, Sonic and Tails are sent into an abstract tube filled with rings and hazards, where they are taken to collect several hundred rings in order to be given a chaos emerald. Except the physics and character control is far different from the rest of the game and not nearly as responsive. To compound the problem, it s very difficult to observe what is coming up due to the awkward behind the back placement of the camera and the fact that it takes place in a giant tube. It is quite simply too difficult to accurately perceive what is coming before Sonic and Tails, and react quickly enough unless the player has memorized the layout through successive replays, which the game actively makes harder than they should be.
I should also mention that the glaring colors of the special stages make it harder to see the rings, which brings me to the visuals of Sonic 4 Episode II, which are far, far, far better than anything featured in Episode I in a way that honestly shocked me. Everything is in full 3D, characters are far more lively and expressive, the visual design is vastly more creative than its predecessor with stages that are either more striking and new or nice spins on already established environments from prior games that are varied enough to feel distinct.
The game also features bright contrasting colors in its environments, unlike the more washed out Episode I, and certainly looks good from a graphic standpoint, considering it was a Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 downloadable game. Also, they have the foresight to zoom the camera out during certain sections to make it easier to see what is going on. I cannot begin to explain how helpful that is.
The music falls a bit flat, as the only really memorable songs for me were ones that channeled other Sonic games, such as stage 2-2, which remixes the Twinkle Park theme from Sonic Adventure. This also goes for the sound effects, which still make use of the menu chime from Sonic Adventure 2 far, far more than it really should. I am all for Sonic Adventure 2 references, but the electronic sound of this chime is distracting from the softer and colorful aesthetics of Sonic 4 Episode II, and still made me tilt an eyebrow whenever I heard it.
As a whole, I enjoyed Sonic 4 Episode II more than the Genesis games, even if 2, 3, and CD are more impressive on an audiovisual level, and certainly more than Episode I. Episode II’s core gameplay deviates from the traditional Sonic mold by the newly introduced mechanics go against what I’m sure a lot of people would call intrinsically related elements of the Sonic series, and the game is a lot less aggressive with its fast pace, but I think it’ll all the better for it. It is still scuffled by the usual issues that tend to plague most every Sonic game, with a level of jankiness present in both the controls and physics, but they are felt less in this installment due to a different and more methodical design philosophy. While not the most remarkable thing, it was a pleasant surprise after the trash fire that was Episode I, and is a pretty alright game on its own.
Oh, and there is some sort of DLC for Metal Sonic that remixes the stages from Sonic 4 Episode I. I did not play through them as the game is basically Sonic 4 Episode I, again, and that game stinks.