This review was published on 05/02/2012.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is a side scrolling, 2-D platform game designed like the classic Sonic games from the Sega Genesis and Megadrive. It's available for the X-Box Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam, and various other online stores. According to the title, this is the second episode of the fourth Sonic game. It's not really the fourth Sonic game, though, since there have been a ton of Sonic games that were released between this and Sonic 3. The title is also pretty ridiculous. Why have two different numbers in a game's title? That's confusing. What's next, Sonic 4: Episode II, Part Six? Yeah, they should have put more thought into this. The reasoning behind the multiple episodes, according to Sega, is to recreate the experience of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckle's lock-on technology, which allowed those two games to be combined into one larger game. It's a similar idea with Sonic 4 and its two episodes, except there was only a waiting period of 6 months between the two Genesis classics. That's versus the year and a half wait between Sonic 4's two episodes. There's the possibility that Sega might develop more than two episodes, but that doesn't seem likely at this moment. The main problem with Sonic 4: Episode I was that it lacked originality, and Episode II doesn't do much to resolve that issue.
Sonic 4: Episode II plays much like its predecessor does, with the major difference being the addition of Tails. I'm not sure why this is a big deal, considering they introduced Tails in Sonic 2. Why wasn't Tails in Episode I? It feels like Sega is intentionally holding back content, enabling them to provide more meaningful additions on a per episode basis. I'll give Sega some credit for actually doing a few new things with the reintroduction of Tails. The two tailed fox follows Sonic around like he did in Sonic 2, constantly flying around and getting hit by everything in his path. He's invincible in single player mode and there are no penalties for his death, so there's no need to worry about Tails. That's unless you're playing in co-op multiplayer. In that case, Tails' death will actually impact Sonic negatively. Sonic and Tails share the same stock of lives, which means the second player's deaths will impact the first player. This makes the second player a liability, because there isn't much he or she can do to assist the first player. On the bright side, Tails can do what he did in Sonic 3 and carry Sonic around as he flies for a limited amount of time. Unlike in Sonic 3, Tails can carry Sonic around underwater for an unlimited amount of time. This is pretty cool, since Sonic normally sinks to the bottom. The last thing is the dual spin dash attack. Sonic and Tails will grab onto each other and roll into a huge ball that can destroy particularly tough objects in their path. This is a cool looking attack that's fun to use, and it's far superior to the regular spin dash. All of these maneuvers can be performed in either single player or multiplayer, which is a convenient little feature. My only complaint is that there's a momentary pause whenever you use Tails' flight ability or the super duper dash attack. It's not a big problem, but it is annoying.
Most of the levels are heavily inspired by levels from Sonic 2 and 3. There's a little inspiration from Sonic and Knuckles at various spots in the game, too. There are four main zones in the game with three acts each and a boss at the end. That might sound short, but each act lasts quite a long while. The first zone in the game is Sylvania Castle, which is basically an HD rendition of Aquatic Ruins Zone from Sonic 2. It's somewhat off putting to start the game with a water level, especially in a Sonic game. It's a visually appealing level, but is one of the least creative ones. At least they didn't start off with another Green Hill Zone clone, I suppose. The next zone is White Park, which is a mixture of Ice Cap Zone and Carnival Night Zone from Sonic 3. I really liked how they pulled this one off, because it almost feels like two separate levels in one. After that zone comes Oil Desert, which is dedicated to the awesome Oil Ocean Zone from Sonic 2. I give props to Sega for making the visual style for Oil Desert vastly different from its muse. The last regular zone is the least original: Sky Fortress. It's like Wing Fortress Zone from Sonic 2. These sure are some creative names, aren't they? To be fair, this game's Sky Fortress zone lasts much longer than the original from Sonic 2. The first act of this zone has Sonic riding on the Tornado plane as he dodges baddies and launches an aerial assault on his foes. While this is exactly like Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2, they did add a few twists, such as Metal Sonic chasing you around in a plane of his own. There's nothing wrong with any of these levels aside from their themes being directly ripped from previous Sonic games. If that doesn't bother you, then you'll have a good time.
Just like in previous Sonic games, rings are what keep Sonic alive. Sonic loses all his rings when he takes a hit and dies if he gets hit with no rings in his possession. Also like a lot of previous Sonic games, bringing 50 rings to the end of a stage will allow you to enter a bonus stage. Whereas the bonus stages in Sonic 4: Episode I were tributes to the bonus stages in Sonic 1, Episode II's bonus levels are a homage to Sonic 2. Naturally, these bonus stages look a lot better with HD graphics. Sonic runs along a spectral path with a perspective seen from behind, and he must collect rings along this path while avoiding hazards such as bombs. It gets progressively harder as you go on, like most things in games. Even though these stages are far easier than the ones in Sonic 2, the last two bonus rounds are pretty challenging. Sonic earns a Chaos Emerald for beating these stages, and once he collects all 7 Chaos Emeralds, he can transform into Super Sonic. This works much like it did in the classic Sonic games and in Episode I; collect 50 rings and become Super Sonic with the press of a button. Super Sonic is invincible to almost everything and he can run much faster than regular Sonic. What's the point of Super Sonic? It's just a fun reward. I like using Super Sonic to collect the red rings in the normal stages. There's one red ring hidden per act. Nothing happens when you get all of the red rings, so only bother with them if you enjoy the game enough to thoroughly explore the levels.
The boss battles are the most original thing about this game. One annoying thing about Sonic 4: Episode I was that it directly ripped off the bosses from classic Sonic games. This is one of the few things Sega resolved in Episode II. None of the bosses from Episode II are from previous Sonic games, except for Metal Sonic. Even when it comes down to fighting Metal Sonic, they managed to differentiate the fights from previous iterations of Sonic. The bosses are pretty cool, too. Rather than being short stints that last for a minute or two, the boss fights in Episode II are colossal in scale and last a long time. I like how Sega tries to fool you into thinking that the first boss is another rehash. The boss fights are divided pretty evenly between the infamous Dr. Eggman and the nefarious Metal Sonic. I appreciate that Metal Sonic gets a lot more screen time in this game, but I was disappointed with how little is seen of Dr. Eggman. The mustachioed Doctor is the main villain, after all. A perhaps unintentional side effect of the lengthy boss battles is that they can be too lengthy. These are the kind of boss fights that are fun the first time around, but get tedious any other time around. Dying to one of these bosses will make this problem readily apparent. That's a minor problem, and I'll still give Sega a point for this one.
If you have Episode I and II of Sonic 4, then you get to play as Metal Sonic in a few levels from Episode I. Metal Sonic plays identically to Sonic, complete with the homing attack and the spin dash. Both of these moves do what they normally would with Sonic: the homing attack allows you to home in on enemies and the spin dash gives you a slight boost of speed. The spin dash is still somewhat useless like in Episode I, sadly. So what's the purpose of Metal Sonic if he plays the same as Sonic? Well, his levels are much more challenging. These levels are much harder than anything in the main game, so it's in your best interest to play Metal Sonic's side of the story after clearing all of the regular stages. Metal Sonic's story also has cut scenes, something the original game has in very short supply. These cut scenes aren't anything spectacular, but they're brief enough to not be bothersome. There aren't many levels for Metal Sonic to play, totaling to just 4 acts. The weird thing about Metal Sonic's levels is that they get easier as you progress through them. As a result of that, the first Metal Sonic level is the hardest one. I'm not sure why they decided to do that. In the end, Metal Sonic's side of the story is too miniscule to count. I suppose it's a nice bonus.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II doesn't do much to remedy the problems that plagued the first episode. Episode II instead opts to provide more of the same. They did try to be more original this time around, with new bosses and a more distinct visual style, but the game still comes off as too much of a rehash. If you liked Episode I, then you'll probably like this one a bit more. If you didn't like Episode I, however, then Episode II probably won't win you over. Sonic 4: Episode II is a decent game if you can get over its modest originality.
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