Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II Review
Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2
Developer: Dimps/Sonic Team
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade, Sony Entertainment Network, Windows PC (Reviewed on Sony Entertainment Network)
Sonic The Hedgehog. Those 3 simple words are enough to evoke nostalgia in gamers of a certain generation. In his years on the SEGA Mega Drive (or Genesis), he was the blue-eyed (and blue-furred) boy of gaming; he could do no wrong.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 promised a return to this era, but it hasn’t gone according to plan so far. Episode 1, released in 2010, was a fairly average game, suffering from a poor physics engine which meant the famous momentum of Sonic was gone, and the speed just felt artificial. However, after almost 2 years, Episode II has arrived on the scene. Does it bring Sonic closer to the golden era of yesteryear, or does it drag him further away?
For those of you who had gripes with the physics system, rejoice! Episode 2 boasts a Sonic the Hedgehog that actually feels like he doesn’t have lead boots on, with him whizzing around the levels at breakneck speed. The levels also bring insurmountably high jumps that Sonic has no chance of making. That’s not a problem though, because this time around, he’s brought a friend along.
In Episode 2, the dynamic duo are back together once more, with Tails, the trusty two-tailed fox, providing some much needed camaraderie and teamwork to Sonic, as he did in previous instalments of the game. Whilst you’re unable to play as Tails in single-player, he is crucial to your progression, with the special moves the troublesome twosome pull off required in order to traverse the levels. The co-op aspect of the game allows a friend to control Tails in order to proceed through the levels. It’s a nice touch, but one that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 first introduced 20 years ago.
The biggest problem with the game is the levels. Much like with the first episode, you feel like you’ve seen everything before. Although Sylvania Castle Zone has Sonic flying about like any self-respecting speed junkie hedgehog should, every other level lacks the charm of the previous 2D incarnations, with bland levels, annoying underwater sequences and noticeable spikes in difficulty, cultivating a sense of frustration in the player as you use up countless lives and continues in order to ‘trial and error’ your way through unnecessarily difficult sections.
That frustration is exacerbated by the terrible music. In the past, Sonic Team have been renowned for creating memorable tunes complimenting the feel of the various stages. Marble Zone, from the original Sonic game, instantly springs to mind as one of those levels with an excellent all-round presentation. Episode 2 lacks any level close to it. Although the graphics are crisp and pleasing, with the HD textures doing a good job of bringing Sonic into the 21st Century, the audio design is poor, with grating and repetitive techno music being force-fed into your ears as you advance through the levels. As you progress through them, and collect enough rings, you can access special stages . These half-pipe races, lifted pretty much wholly from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, require you and Tails to collect enough rings in order to progress right to the end of the stage and collect the infamous Chaos Emeralds. With the same visual sheen as the game, and the notable lack of imagination, the Special Stages feel all too familiar.
The boss battles are one thing that have changed, and unfortunately that’s not a good thing. This time around, the boss battles are rather long. That isn’t a problem in itself, but the infuriating thing is that when you die, you’re dumped right back at the beginning of the level, rather than the boss-fight itself. Such a minor thing becomes a major problem later in the game, when the longevity and difficulty increases for the boss battles, and you’ll find yourself shouting obscenities at the television screen before long as you start from the beginning again. Figuring out the strategy, as is necessary with all Sonic bosses past and present, isn’t the difficult bit, poor design or lack of superhuman reaction times that cause all-too frequent deaths is.
VERDICT: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 has a commendable amount of gameplay in it, with 5 zones available. That number increases if you’ve already bought Episode 1, with the exclusive Episode Metal world-map unlocking. Featuring the main bad-guy of Episode 2, Metal Sonic, as a playable character throughout a series of fast-paced acts, there’s even more bang for your buck if you’ve stuck by the franchise.
You’ve also been rewarded for sticking by the franchise with a slightly better outing than last time. However, Sonic still fails to forget to bring along the charm that made his games so enjoyable in the early 90s. For £10, Episode 2 is an experience that die-hard Sonic fans will love, but the more casual or nostalgic gamer will find themselves yearning for the Mega Drive versions by the time the first boss battle ends.