It’s difficult not to compare any of the latest side-scrolling Sonic the Hedgehog games to the master pieces of the 90’s when fanboyism was all about Sonic Vs Mario – or what 16bit console was best; but when you have a character as iconic and loved the world over such as Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s only natural that SEGA has a very hard job to live up to the expectations of fans on a global scale.
The story within Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II follows on from a few months after the events in Episode I, and as the Little Planet from the world of Sonic CD once more nears Sonic’s environment – at the same time, Dr. Eggman unveils his newest plot, which in part is the revival of Metal Sonic and setting him up against to defeat Sonic the Hedgehog. With Tails now in tow, Sonic sets off to save the day…or at least tries to. It’s a simple story where collecting gold rings across the land is still a necessity of survival, but it’s not as easy a game to complete as Episode I thanks to the newer Zones being unfamiliar territory, heavy on obstacles in your path and now tougher Boss levels.
One great improvement from Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I to Episode II is the change of direction in its presentation style – the first Episode felt like re-hashed HD improvements from the original Sonic game’s, but Episode II is way more imaginative and airs as a completely unique Sonic game in its own right. While it does have some small familiarities in parts to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with some of the backdrops, and of course – Tails, the levels are each designed to test your perseverance and how you work as a team with Tails throughout new Zones and never before seen ‘End of Level Bosses’. The main menu system is also more robust and now with the addition of new playable character Tails, you can play the game co-operatively over Xbox LIVE or locally with additional controllers – only adding to the game’s fun factor with the inclusion of a friend. Sadly you are not able to play as Tails on a solo journey, it’s no big loss – but it still would have been pretty sweet!
You start the first playable Zone in an area known as Sylvania Castle, a lush green and sunny setting within the castle grounds featuring ancient ruins flooded by lakes. It just wouldn’t be a Sonic game if the first Zone didn’t start you out in a Green-Hill-esque world to ease you into the game before it’s more technical and enemy flooded surroundings appear later on. Proceeding later into the snowy area of White Park Zone is next, a very holiday themed fun park environment before you move out in the windy Oil Desert Zone which is full of nasty surprises at every bend and even your first encounter with Metal Sonic. Both Sky Fortress Zone and Death Egg mk.II Zone follow from that and lead you up to the final end of game encounters with both Metal Sonic and Dr. Eggman. If you did purchase Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, then you will additionally be able to switch between the maps and experience how Metal Sonic has been revived as he now becomes a playable character in some of the Zones from both Episode I and II. Nice one SEGA…
One of the other familiar features from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992 which has made a return within this game along with Tails is the Special Stages that require you to shoot through 3D half-pipe courses filled with rings, bombs and now even objects that can electrocute you to shock and slow you down. Collecting a set amount of rings must be completed to pass through different checkpoints and eventually obtain the emerald itself if you have successfully managed to get all of the rings. It’s still as fun to play now as it was back in ’92, regarded as one of the best Special Stages ever for a Sonic game, only this time rather than enter it through a Check Point you need to have cleared a Zone with at least 50 rings to activate a giant ring to jump through.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II’s new physics and graphics engine truly shines bright from the very start as character movement is more fluid this time around without the random falling in mid-air as per the last game. Now, as well as the familiar Spin Dash and Homing Attacks, both Sonic and Tails are now able to learn some new tricks together – the art of joining forces for a Tag Action which relies on combing actions to bust out some new moves. There are three kinds of Tag Actions: a Copter-Comb which will allow Tails to ascend you high into the air, a Submarine-Combo to join up with Tails and have him propel through the water at a high speed, and finally – a Rolling combo where both Sonic and Tails join together and spin at top speed, one of the most powerful manoeuvres of the three and quite a force as you tear down blocks and uncover some hidden areas. It’s very much a great addition to the game as in some instances it is just un-avoidable, allowing for the first time ever Sonic and Tails to interact in a whole new way that will leave you thinking… this is just pure genius and why was it not originally in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or even 3? However, the effects only last for a short while giving you just enough time to clear a trouble spot.
While Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II does feature many noticeable improvements from Episode I, it still falls flat on reliving the memories of the past when Sonic was a speed machine; a blue blur within a bright colourful world of challenging environments – so what we’re ultimately saying is that Sonic the Hedgehog in its 2.5D glory in this day and age still doesn’t have the speed he’s most commonly known for and we doubt this is anything to do with age related arthritis. It’s a slower paced platformer where Tail’s tags along for the journey, but enjoyable none-the-less…and even better if you own Episode I thanks to the bonus Metal Sonic Episodes you’ll unlock as a thank you for buying both titles from SEGA. Unfortunately unless you have acquired the bonus Metal Sonic Zones, it’s quite a short game without them!
Definitely far better than Episode I with completely new Zones and unique Boss levels, improved physics and even better visuals, but sadly Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is a really short game lacking the fast paced action and environments to speed through. Sonic is no longer a rush, but now a rather ‘typical’ platformer that feels like a new direction that is more about collecting and exploring… it lacks energy. It’s by no means disappointing, but if you were expecting far greater things in Sonic 4’s second outing or even a longer game, then sadly it will not live up to your expectations.