Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II: review

  • Format: PS3 (version reviewed), XBLA, PC, iOS, Android, Windows 7 Phone
  • Unleashed: Out Now (Android in June and Windows 7 Phone in July)
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team, Dimps
  • Players: 2 (local and online co-op)
  • Site: http://www.sonicthehedgehog4.com/

The first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was a disappointment. It tripped over its own feet trying to follow in the Mega Drive’s beloved footsteps, landing itself in a puddle of mere competence. As if Sega knew this failure was inevitable, their baffling episodic format grants them a second chance with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II. Improvements are made at every turn, but this well-meaning step in the right direction still has many miles yet to go.

Modelled after Sonic 2 (complete with lovable meat shield Tails and that trippy halfpipe bonus stage), this instalment is determined to fix what Episode 1 broke. A brand new engine is exceptionally easy on the eyes and goes about tweaking the glaring flaws from the old physics. No longer will Sonic come to a dead stop without your say so, nor will he cling to walls like a perfectly-cooked strand of spaghetti; but the floaty feel can’t be shooed off so easily. Slower and less satisfying than other sidescrollers in the series, that brilliant supersonic boom never quite kicks in, sort of like a Delorean that peaks at 87 MPH.

Tails can swim, but he can also steal air bubbles. Beware.

This is both helped and hindered by Tails, an old friend who adds a new bag of tricks to the game with the touch of a button. Swimming and flying are seamless and fun to use, but the out-of-control tag-team spindash is as clunky as it is unnecessary. A second player can control Tails locally or online, which is perfect for those who hate themselves and everyone around them. There’s a place for this brand of multiplayer chaos, but the fast-paced world of Sonic is a poor fit.

It’s the stage design that steals the show in Episode II: four lovely zones, each built with the abilities of both Sonic and Tails in mind, lay down a creative road to run. The gritty oil refinery that entombs unsuspecting visitors in sand traps is entirely different from the shifting amusement park surrounded by glistening snow; both are far superior to Episode I’s dull-as-toast torch puzzles. Although beautiful to look at, what with dapper lighting effects and gorgeous backgrounds, these stages are set to Episode I’s style of uninspired synth music that only elicits vague, generic memories of the past.

Remember Oil Ocean? Welcome to Oil Desert. Eggman has turned into a Captain Planet villain.

At a brisk jog, the five zones are over and done with in a couple of hours. Leaderboards, mini-games that guard seven Chaos Emeralds, and a handful of red stars hidden inside the stages aren’t enough to justify the high price tag, but those who own Episodes I and II on the same console are thrown a bone. Episode Metal, an ode to the Sonic & Knuckles lock-on technology, lets you play as Metal Sonic through four reworked stages from the first episode. It’s a clever idea, but such a selective portion of the game feels cheap and ultimately unrewarding.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is better than its predecessor in every way, but honestly, that’s not enough. At this point it’s competing with (and consistently losing to) twenty-year-old games, not to mention Sonic Generations, which managed to rewind the clock and modernise the series simultaneously. Decent at heart, this isn’t nearly the worst Sonic product on the market; it isn’t nearly the best, either. It’s just another one.

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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