Review: Sonic 4 Episode 2

To say that Sonic 4 Episode 1 was a polarizing game would be a massive understatement. When it released in October 2010, the immediate response was a wildly varying furor of reviews and a split fanbase that seemed like it would consume itself in angry debate. Even the diplomatic and even-keeled writers here on Sega Addicts still debate over the quality of Episode 1, with some of us remaining stalwart supporters, and others insisting that Episode 1 was just another step in the wrong direction for the blue blur. I mean, the torch puzzle…I mean, come on.

Now, with Sonic Generations in the rear-view and Sonic fans generally satisfied and in agreement once again, Sonic 4 is back with the promise of new physics, new visuals, and a promise that Sega and Dimps have learned their lesson (again).

Because the first Sonic 4 entry was such a polarizing game, we’ve decided to go all out with this one, with no less than six reviewers coming forward with their takes in one all-out gargantuan super-review of Sonic 4 Episode 2 and even Episode Metal. Does Episode 2 put Episode 1 to shame? Does Episode 2 not live up to what Episode 1 started? Or are we split down the middle, destined to argue this one until Sonic’s next adventure comes around the bend? Hit the jump and you will have your answer.

Michael, Played on Xbox 360

Little Planet has reappeared bringing Metal Sonic back with it! For myself, one of the definitively enjoyable aspects of the game is the method of storytelling used. Back in the Mega Drive days, the plot was revealed via short cut-scenes and action sequences devoid of voice acting or on-screen text, and this same minimalistic approach has been brought over to Sonic 4 Episode II with great success. Levels are presented in a progressive manner, with each act of a zone following on from the last. For example, White park Zone Act 1 starts in the snowy entrance to a deserted theme park seen in the background. Act 2 sees Sonic & Tails traverse the roller coaster slopes of said theme park with Act 3 then moving to its icy underground waterways. At the end of the entire zone a patch of sand marks the start of the Oil Desert Zone. Throughout all of these levels, the background imagery tells the story of the reappearance of Little planet and its place in Dr. Robonik’s grand scheme. Boss battles involving Metal Sonic also go a long way to describe his position as Dr. Robotnik’s hench-hog and his bitter rivalry with Sonic, which remains undying even after all these years.

Speaking of new zones, while clearly inspired by Sonic 2 and 3, the levels all bring something new to the world of Sonic visually and gameplay-wise without the not-so-subtle feeling of deja vu experienced when playing Episode I. Whether I was burrowing through deadly mounds of snow in White Park Zone, or manoeuvring the biplane through a barrage of missiles in the Sky Fortress Zone, I found the whole experience consistently fresh, varied and exciting. These new levels also ‘flow’ a lot better than those in Episode I and feature a lot less pitfalls and dodgy platforming sections which allows for the momentum maintaining kind of gameplay that defines Sonic’s Mega Drive days. The new Sonic & Tails tag-team moves, surprisingly enough, have also been worked into to game so as not to disrupt this ‘flow’ and also allow for further exploration and discovery of short-cuts and secrets.

Of course, the game isn’t without it’s flaws, the most glaringly obvious of which are the boss battles. Although far more imaginative than in many Sonic games of past, I found them all frustratingly fiddly and inexcusably slow of pace; with the final boss battle taking a full 45 seconds to start every time I died. My only other major criticism is the music, which I found to be uninspired and a bit limp when compared to Episode I, and extremely floppy compared to anything that blasted out of the Mega Drive.

While the main, single-player mode took me roughly 2.5 hours to complete, Episode II boasts quite a few extra bits-and-bobs to keep us all busy. With a red ring hidden in each act, and seven Chaos Emeralds to collect, there’s plenty reason enough to replay the game a few more times. The new local co-op mode, if not taken too seriously, is fun and allowed my girlfriend to play through the game with me, as it was too difficult for her to do on her own. Factor in the online leaderboards, and the possibility of playing ‘Episode Metal’ and you have a game that is more deserving of the 1200 Microsoft point price-tag that Episode I had.

Sega managed to strike a much better, although not perfect, balance between originality and rehashing with Episode II, resulting in a game with the charming narrative of a Mega Drive adventure but with fresh, new gameplay and level design, and replayability to boot.

 

Flake, Played on PS3

The question I have had in the back of my head this whole week has been this: Do my opinions of Sonic 4 Episode 2 have merit or are they hopelessly colored by Sonic Generations? I feel that it is scarcely fair to judge a downloadable game by the same standards I had for a full retail release. The problem is that Sega had to go and add that all important number ‘Four’ to the title and that raises the ante. So is Sonic 4 Episode 2 in the shadow of Sonic Generations or if it really is just a sub par game?

Have no doubt, Sonic Generations blows this game away. If they had been developed concurrently, Sonic 4 Episode 2 would likely have been scrapped. Everything it tries to do is done better by Sonic Generations, almost to the point that I found myself wondering ‘why am I playing this instead of re-playing Sonic Generations for the fourteenth time?’. I did not need Sonic 4 Episode 2 to be the best Sonic game ever, but I did want it to do something to distinguish itself and show merit.

Episode 2 has a lot of really neat ideas but in Sega / Dimps managed to nerf every single one of them. Tails is back…and you are not allowed to forget about it. The flow of the game is ruined on almost every single level because the developers thought it was a great idea to incorporate a slow-moving Tails assist section. Metal Sonic is back…but fighting him is tedious and slow paced compared to the show downs in Sonic CD or Sonic Generations. Lock on technology is back…in the most underwhelming, lazy way possible. Boss battles are epic and happen on a large scale…and punish trial and error by making you watch lengthy introductions over and over again. The list goes on and on with more examples of areas of the game that could have shone so brightly if better care had been taken.

The music is boring, the level design is awkward, the graphics are dull and repetitive…about the only thing that Sega got right was the physics. Sonic moves the way I think we all wanted him to in the first episode of Sonic 4. Unfortunately, you will be moving him fluidly through a game that does not want to be played fluidly.

While I cannot decide how fair it is to judge Sonic 4 Episode 2 by the standards set earlier this year by Sonic Generations, I also feel that I should have to wipe the slate clean to fairly judge this game. It is a disappointing addition to a franchise that seemed to be finding its way again.

Sonic 4 Episode 2 is not an improvement on the first Sonic 4 episode, or at least not in any way that should really compel you to spend your money. It is a missed opportunity full of missed opportunities and will be forgotten by the gaming community by this time next month.

Scott, Played on XBox 360

If you have played Sonic 4 Episode 1, the first difference you will notice with Episode 2 is the improvement in the visuals. Sonic no longer has an unnecessary sheen to his quills, and the levels are not vomiting with exuberant colors. Overall, the visuals flow better through out the game, and I welcomed this. By far, the most beautiful level in my opinion is the first act of White Park, which actually reminded me of playing Christmas Nights into Dreams with its cheery and wintery bright nature. Tails and Sonic both fit right in with the world around them as opposed to Sonic being an awkward blue blur this time around.

The controls for Episode 2 are indeed more responsive and thankfully so as I found myself using Tails as my safety net on many a pitfall. Tails as a character does feel a bit tacked on, but having his move-set ads a bit of variety to some levels while his special abilities get very repetitive in others. The biggest victim of Tails’s tacked-on abilities would be White Park Zone Act 2, which includes large amounts of swimming and for some reason has you racing under water while avoiding ice attacks from robo-walruses. After many moments of trial and error, and realizing this area provided unavoidable death, I decided this game had too many moments ending with me yelling, “Did I really just die like that?”

Episode 2 included the most creative bosses I have ever seen in any Sonic game, but also some of the most frustrating. Robotnik has outdone himself by boring me to death with lengthy introductions, which ironically provided more satisfaction after finally destroying his death machines. Metal Sonic returns to ruin Sonic and Tails’s lives, but Metal’s way of doing so could be done by any villain, which reduced his threatening appeal of once being a near equal to Sonic. If you put Knuckles, Shadow, or even Nack the Weasel in Metal’s place it would have the same effect as any typical villain. Metal Sonic is a war machine himself, so why have him pilot a flying battle ship. Isn’t this a bit overkill? I only point this out, because Metal Sonic is one of Robotnik’s more lethal weapons and does not require upgrades to tackle our blue hero just for the sake of tying in the story of Sonic CD.

Sonic 4 Episode 2 had some of the more creative ideas for level themes, but the creativity stopped there. I felt that the team behind Episode 2 spent the majority of their time on the physics engine, and then put the levels together in a smaller amount of time. Level design is one of the most memorable things of the 16-bit Sonic games, and Episode 2 fell flat in that department. It seemed that when the level was losing creativity, there would suddenly be a time-restraining death wall, avalanche, or pit of sand attempting to add excitement to the lackluster world around you. I was “yelling” for joy as this excitement slowly dwindled away at my 1-ups.

Sonic 4 Episode 2 improved on many things that hurt Episode 1. However, these improvements do not make up for a short ride through plain zones. The bosses were indeed the most creative aspect, and there is much replay value to be found with collecting emeralds in the amazing half-pipe bonus levels, playing through Episode Metal, or striving for the top score in multiplayer.

Overall, Episode 2 is a nice continuation, but hopefully not the ending because it honestly feels like a weak conclusion in what was promised to be an amazing adventure.

 

Tom, Played on XBox 360

Sonic is back! Again! For like the third time, I think. Or whatever. Sonic 4: Episode 2 was quite enjoyable, and here’s why:

Visually, the game is great. For whatever reason, I eschew pre-rendered graphics (scarred by terrible games like Killer Instinct in the 90s, or it feels too close to corny digitzed live action, maybe), so I was very happy that, rather than picking up where Episode I left off with its graphics, Episode II took a cue from Sonic Generations and kept it all 3D. It’s just so much more immersive and pretty. Two of the levels are obvious references to Sonic 2, while the other two feel a bit more original, which I found to be a perfect balance of new and classic, and the re-designing and updated feel of those classic levels is downright bee-yoo-tee-ful!

The gameplay is not perfect, but fun. Overall it feels very much like a classic Sonic game, although I could do without so many water areas. Overall, the first level is the weakest, and the Tails team-up moves feel a bit tacked on (and an obvious duplicate of the Wisps mechanic), but for someone who still hasn’t played Sonic Colors yet, it felt kinda different and fun for me. The bosses were surprisingly challenging and original, but the mechanics didn’t work as well as intended, I felt, and were not very intuitive.

A lot of people pan the music, but it didn’t really bother me, and I can recall a couple stages that I felt had pretty good music. Of course it’s not as memorable as some of the classic Sonic music, but it’s definitely better than Pumpkin Hill. It was fun to play an updated version of the Sonic 2 bonus level, too. I haven’t played Episode Metal yet, but the very fact it’s in there is great–definitely a fresh and cool idea that brings another facet to the game, and more depth to one of the series’ coolest characters.

Overall it’s a solid game, and one that definitely feels like it’s learned from Sonic Generations: keep it simple, don’t go overboard with gimmicks, and just make it fun. I don’t hold much hope for another episode, but if there was, I would be encouraged by what I see here.

 

Stevie, Played on XBox 360

Since this review encompasses a lot of mini-reviews I’ll try to keep mine to the basics. In short this second helping of Sonic 4 is a great improvement over its brother. Whilst the first episode had clunky controls and awkward design choices, this episode seems to concentrate on fluid platforming. This gives the game a great sense of speed, and even though it’s not entirely reminiscent of the retro games, it’s still very fun to speed though new visuals based on the iconic level designs of Sonic 2.

As I said the game is mostly a redesigned version of Sonic’s second outing. This is tricky business as many consider that game to be the best of Sonic’s retro games. To be honest this game doesn’t live up to it’s inspiration. Whilst it’s fun to speed along at a great pace, the game does throw some cheap deaths your way which I could never see going down in the original games. Of course it isn’t all about speed, but the game hardly contains any decent platforming of it’s own to stand up without it. Whilst it is very fun when you’re running at the speed of light, when the game asks you to stop and consider your next step you often end up awkwardly stumbling your way through a poorly designed sequence that often relies on pitfalls.

The levels themselves are colorful and vibrant. However I do question the design tactic that resulted in the game being set underwater for it’s entire first half. These sections just don’t work and I don’t think anyone really wants to play as Sonic in water as these zones are often notoriously the worst.

Throughout the journey you will be assisted by Tails. This was probably the most hyped aspect of the game, but apart from forced platforming sections, you never get to use him. These sections are legitimately awful too and I don’t think any of the flying parts really paid off when I was forced to play them.

Talking about this game was always going to be a challenge as in many ways it branches off from what the first episode laid out before it. Indeed it seems that Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 as it’s own game, erases some problems on it’s own, but then creates new ones shortly after. The problem with this series is that it isn’t really episodic gaming. This is proved by it’s despicable price point of 1200 Microsoft points. Suffice to say I can’t really recommend the game as it is to newcomers since there are many other downloadable titles which offer much more in terms of content for the same price point or less. However Sonic fans should know going in that it is an improved adventure although still not as great as the retro titles from which it spawned from.

For being a mostly fun, but very flawed title: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 gets a:

 

 

Brett, Played on PS3

Going into Sonic 4 Episode 2, even though I really enjoyed Episode 1, I wasn’t exactly hyped for the game to be honest. The levels didn’t look particularly interesting in the videos I watched, and the Tails thing just seemed like a tacked on lesser version of Sonic Colors’ wisps. Now, after playing it, I’m really not sure how I feel.

For the most part, the gameplay itself is nice, and you can tell they’ve made some nice improvements on the original formula, even though some frustrating bugs, like not being able to properly charge a spindash after a title card, still remain. The team up attacks with Tails still feel tacked on and unneeded, but they’re not as offensively bad as I feared they’d be.

The problem here is level design. While the zones look nice, and each one has at least one decently fun act, a lot of them are too gimmicky, boring, or just straight up bad. White Park Act 3 and Sky Fortress Act 1 come to mind as being the worst about this, with their respective ice and flight gimmicks. You’ll spend more time yelling horrible things at your screen than having a good time with those.

On the other hand, though, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the game. When a good level appears, it’s REALLY good. Sky Fortress Act 2 and Oil Desert Act 1 have gotten a lot of play from me. And while Episode Metal starts off rocky, it ends up being a pretty enjoyable romp through the much better levels of Episode 1.

Overall, though, I’m not sure I could recommend getting this just yet. You’d be better off waiting on a price drop to be honest.

There’s a fun game in there and the core experience is good, but bad level design, frustratingly long (yet creative, I’ll give them that) bosses, and downright horrible music at times make this the most disappointing console Sonic game of the last four years.

 

EPISODE METAL:

Michael: Many of you will have access to ‘Episode Metal’, featuring a playable Metal Sonic in four acts from Episode I which have been redesigned to be more challenging, but it the correct way. Annoying pitfalls have been removed, and additional spikes and badniks have been placed appropriately, adding the sense of ‘flow’ found in the Episode II levels. Unfortunately, Metal Sonic’s moves are the same as Sonic’s and he handles in the same way and, due to the low number of playable levels, Episode Metal is a very short experience of about 10 minutes in total. A fun little bonus for those with Episode I, and it does act to bridge the gap between Episode I and II story-wise, but Episode Metal is by no means should this be the sole reason for anyone to purchase Sonic 4 Episode I, or Episode II for that matter.

Flake: More so than the game itself, I was excited for Episode Metal. So excited that I actually re-purchased Sonic 4 Episode 1 for the PS3 ahead of time, having originally played (and liked) the Wii version. Alas, when Sega announced the return of Lock On technology, I actually thought I would be playing a version of the whole Sonic 4 saga with Metal Sonic as a character, ala Sonic 3 and Knuckles. No such luck. Four re-imagined, truncated levels from the original game with no bonus games, boss fights, or…well, anything. The sprinkling of scenes connecting Sonic CD and Sonic 4 were neat but not exactly worth the price of admission.

If you already own the first Sonic 4 episode on your console of choice and choose to purchase the second episode as well, then by all means give Episode Metal a go. Not having to deal with Tails for four levels will be a breath of fresh air. Otherwise, I do not recommend spending more money for so little content. Just watch the narrative scenes on Youtube or something.

  • Excellent review everyone!

    I think this actually panned out better than a single person reviewing it, because so many people touched on so many different things.

    It seems that overall our responses agree that the game is sub-par aside from Tom. What’s interesting though is that Tom has not played Episode 1. Maybe I should just erase Ep 1 from my mind and I’ll enjoy Ep 2 more?

  • Ha, ha! Maybe. Although as long as a Sonic game’s got pretty graphics and/or references to some of my favorite levels from past games, I’m not hard to please. 😀

  • Stooball

    Maybe I’m approaching the game from an artist point of view as well, because I’ve been having fun lol

    I did play through all of ep1, I sometimes bust out the Sonic avatar hat (though now it is permanently replaced with the Guardian Heroes Undead Hero helmet)

  • Don’t get me wrong, Episode 2 is a good game. I just feel like it didn’t live up to the hype overall and was one of the more lackluster Sonic titles.

  • I think I speak for most Sonic fans when I say that Sega should have done themselves a favour and called this game ‘Sonic Live’, or ‘Sonic Returns’ or anything else but ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 4’. Sticking the number four on the title alone made way too many promises and set expectations way too high.

  • @Michael

    Yep yep. That’s what I said before Ep1 released. I was pretty worried for the standards they were already setting. I know I would have been a lot less critical if this was titled anything else besides the 4th installment.

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