XBox 360, PS3
We all know that the Sonic series has been a touch hit and miss in recent years, with plenty of epic misses in particular as Sega sought to reinvigorate the franchise, but in the last couple of years we’ve finally started to see a genuine improvement in the quality of releases from Sega’s Sonic Team. It started, of course, with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I back in October of 2010. It was a divisive game, with many finding issue with its tweaked physics and the fact that it still didn’t quite feel like the classic games in the series. We, on the other hand, thought that it was great – and it still received regular plays up until last year’s Sonic Generations blew us away with the most enjoyable Sonic fun since Sonic & Knuckles all those years ago.
Not about to let their hard work go to waste, Sonic Team has now unleashed the second part in the Sonic 4 story with Episode 2. Those of you who already own Episode 1 will certainly get a lot more value from this one, thanks to the bolted on Episode Metal – a bridge between the events of Sonic CD and Sonic 4 featuring Metal Sonic that’s only available to those who already own the first game. While it’s commendable that Sega would want to reward its fans with a nice loyalty based add-on like this, it’s not exactly great news for newcomers, given that the main game is so short. However, we’ll take a look at that later.
Like Episode I before it, Episode II is a side-scrolling platformer with more than a nod to the first five major Sonic games (the original trilogy, Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic CD) – and like Episode I it still doesn’t feel quite right. However there has certainly been a marked improvement in the way the characters handle, which makes us feel a lot more comfortable when taking on the game’s speedy Time Attack mode.
The biggest new addition here is the fact that Sonic’s sidekick Tails makes his return to the series. Rather than being a useless computer controlled addition, Tails actually has his uses this time around. He can team up with sonic in order to fly the Blue Blur to hard to reach locations, propel him underwater or create a giant spinning ball of furry fury to take down obstacles and enemies alike.
These new team-based abilities are one of the few areas where Sonic 4 Episode II really shows any forward thinking – but they’re never really made enough use of. Don’t get us wrong, they’re definitely useful, but we’d perhaps like to have seen more abilities added in, or some more creative puzzles requiring their use. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, it very much feels like they’ve been added in to justify Tails’ presence in the single-player side of the game.
Those of you who want to play with a friend, though, will very much enjoy the new multiplayer capabilities. Whether local or online, you’re able to share the task of defeating Dr. Robotnik with a pal, adding some much needed replayability to the game. You have the option of cooperating in either Time Attack or Score Attack games, but the gameplay remains identical in both, with only the aims slightly changed.
Visually, Episode II looks absolutely brilliant. From the bright, colourful levels right the way through to the seriously impressive final boss, there has been real attention paid to the game’s details here. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the in-game music which grates to the point of frustration at times, doing a terrible disservice to the legacy of toe tapping audio wonders that helped make the series so loved.
But the music isn’t the main problem here. As we touched upon earlier, the game is severely lacking on the value for money front if you don’t own the original. You’re essentially going to be missing out on half the game thanks to the increased difficulty of Episode Metal, and the likelihood that you’re not going to be able to zip through it as quickly as you will the main episode.
Of course that’s not to say that you won’t find plenty to keep you going in the main game. You’ll have to contend with collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, for starters, and then there’s competing against Sonic lovers across the globe in the in-game leaderboards, or playing with a friend.
If you were a fan of Sonic 2 then you’re going to absolutely love the fact that the famous half-pipe bonus rounds make a long awaited return too! If we’re being honest, this is probably the reason we’re willing to overlook some of the issues the game has in terms of longevity – simply because the bonus levels look beautiful and are as fun as ever to play with a friend sitting beside you.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II isn’t the perfect project that we had been hoping for, particularly not since Generations set the bar so high last year, but it is still a worth addition to the collection for fans and owners of the first Episode – those of you who missed that the first time around will need to think long and hard as to whether you’re willing to pay the same price for essentially half the game or not; only you can make that call.