Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
: Dimps, Sonic Team
: XBOX 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and PC
: May 15, 2012
The sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I has finally arrived for download on PlayStation Network, XBOX Live, WiiWare, and PC. Episode I was met with a lot of mixed reception, most notably the less than stellar physics engine. Sonic could not reach the same speeds that could be seen in the Genesis games. The developerís goal was to fix this problem in the sequel, Episode II. Now that itís here, Episode II is a good improvement over the first game in many ways.
The events of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II continues the story of Episode I, but it also happens to build on the ending of Sonic CD as well. Episode II takes place a few months after the events of Sonic CD. Little Planet, where Sonic was in Sonic CD, has made its close by planetary rotation. Knowing that Little Planet has returned, Dr. Robotnik has reactivated Metal Sonic, now more powerful than before, in another effort to stop their mutual rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, once again.
Sonic soon learns that both his long time nemeses have teamed up and heís decided to do the same. Sonicís long time friend, Miles ďTailsĒ Prower returns to help him out again. With Little Planet in danger of Robotnik and Metal Sonicís evil plans yet again, itís up to Sonic and Tails to liberate the planet and stop their enemies before they succeed.
In retrospect, Episode I had this very glossy look about it. Almost as if the gameís environments and characters were laminated with a coat of plastic. The game looked pretty shiny. Episode IIís graphics engine, on the other hand, makes an extraordinary use of color and leaves behind the approach that Episode I took. Episode II is absolutely gorgeous. What stands out the most is lighting. An example of this is right in the first world, Sylvania Castle Zone. Keep an eye out in the background for the sunset, because itíll react to the environment as Sonic speeds on by. For example, when Sonic steps in front of a wall, thereís shade but you can also see how the sunlight in the background glistens around the edge of the wall. Meaning you can see the sun beams radiate despite something solid like a wall blocking the sun. The amount of detail put into Episode IIís graphics is simply stunning. Just look into the background from time to time to see whatís going on. Other notable graphic goodies include the beautiful background of White Park Zone, and the inner mechanical workings of Death Egg mk.II Zone. Oh, one more feature that stands out is when youíre underwater. I liked how the image on screen could distort a bit, as if youíre actually looking at the game from underwater.
All of the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog sound effects are here to please. Rings, popping open an item block, destroying an enemy, blasting through a wall, jumping on a spring pad, jumping through the huge ring at the end of an act, and the sound of Sonicís spin dash. Again, itís classic Sonic but with a modern twist. Everything you loved to hear in a classic Sonic game can also be heard in Episode II.
I particularly enjoyed the music, which is usually a standard in the Sonic series; itís had a plethora of good music since the hedgehogís inception. I played the game wearing a pair of Turtle Beach headphones. The music is great. Like Episode I, Episode IIís music is a throwback to the Genesis synths and great bass line that made the classic Sonic the Hedgehog music popular. There are some original compositions that are really worth listening to. In traditional Sonic fashion, well in Sonic 3 & Knuckles anyway, each act of a level features a different track from one another. Thereís also a great remake of the Japanese version of Stardust Speedway Zone.
As good as the music is what bummed me out was Eggmanís boss music. Itís the same piece of music that lasts about nine seconds before it loops over and over again. Robotnikís boss music has always oozed this substance of malcontent and insatiable malice, but Episode IIís boss theme (Final Boss excluded) feels uninspired and much too short before it begins its loop. The boss battles feel longer to defeat in this game and it wouldíve been nice for an equally longer boss melody.
Firstly, the physics engine is a good improvement in this game over Episode I, but not exactly to the point many were hoping it would be. Try as much as you want but this time around Sonic handles loop de loops as he did on the Genesis instead of walking around in a circle defying gravity as was evident in Episode I. When Sonic begins moving he still chugs along like a train until he reaches his top speed, but at least itís not as bad as it was in Episode I. For this reason I would recommend starting a level with a spin dash rather than turning a mild walk into a full run. In fact, Sonic can go much faster if he teams up with Tails in a spinning ball of blue and yellow death (which Iíll elaborate on in a moment). Believe me, Sonic is clearly faster than he was in Episode I, but that lag when he begins a run (or when heís hit by an enemy and has to start gaining momentum again) is still there though itís not as major as it was before. So in a way, the physics engine is great when Sonic is at full speed but irritating when he turns a slow walk into a run.
Episode II borrows some elements from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, such as completely new levels that seem similar to Aquatic Ruin Zone and Oil Ocean Zone. However, the most obvious connection between these games is the return of Tails as a supporting character. Tails steps his game up in Episode II. It used to be that if Sonic grabbed his hands, Tails could temporarily fly him around a bit before getting tired. This element of gameplay returns, but a new feature is when Sonic and Tails roll into a huge spinning ball. Nothing can survive their path and they move faster than Sonic could on his own. Itís really fun plowing through enemies or just moving through a stage at the highest speed possible. When underwater Tails can help Sonic wade through the water faster than he could ever move before. With the help of Tails, bottomless pits are a thing of the past. If you accidentally miss your footing Tails can be summoned instantaneously to carry Sonic to safety, as long as you can gain altitude before Tails gets tired that is. Itís really helpful when youíre moving through stages for the first time. The redefined Tails gameplay is certainly fun and more helpful compared to how the character was controlled in the past. Remember the special stages in Sonic 2? Not only are they modeled after that gameís half pipe structure but now Tails isnít a blunder that loses your rings anymore. Tails may be prone to special stage hazards, but he wonít cost you precious rings when he gets hit. Great improvement.
Another thumbs up can be awarded to the gameís fun appeal. What I mean by this is what Episode II does to bring back the old school Sonic feel, but also do something new with it. This happens in its stages, but more so in its memorable boss battles. In the stages, youíll come across the iconic loop de loops and spring pads that propel you from one area to the next. Itís always fun to see how the level is designed and layered. Episode II does a swell job of bringing these elements of gameplay back. Now some cool visuals are when Sonic transitions from the background and foreground in a few levels. When in the background the layout of the level widens and you can appreciate more of the art style on the screen of your TV. Youíll come across a few of these pleasant surprises in your play through. When you get to the Death Egg mk. II, you'll either get dizzy with that levels use of gravity or just love it. That level was great. That includes the level when you travel with Tails who pilots the Tornado to get to Robotnik's Sky Fortress. As for the boss battles, theyíre not as simple as hitting Robotnik on the head a few times. Now Sonic and Tails can use their partner skills to take a boss out such as using flight to get to safety or a good shot at a bossís weak spot. The super spin attack can knock the biggest boss off their feet on contact. Having played the original side scrolling Sonic games, these boss battles were original and creative compared to Episode Iís carbon copied boss battles from the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
Now there are some issues with the game too, but not to the point that it breaks it. Itís just these things couldíve used some more attention. Red Rings have become a part of Sonic games up until recently this generation. Collecting them in other Sonic games would unlock some great extras. In Sonic Generations, you could get artwork and a lot of music, among other things. In Episode II the Red Rings return but are relatively not worth getting. Sure finding them all gets you an achievement, but they provide no extra incentive like the other games.
Occasionally the game can put you in harmís way with not much time to escape peril. Itís not that you wonít have enough time to react to a bottomless pit, more like enemy projectile attacks while underwater. My first exploits underwater were a bit rough. Air bubbles are your best friends, but sometimes breathing in a bubble would leave me open to attack. The recovery time after breathing in a bubble is not as fast as it is in the Genesis games. In those games Sonic would recover in much less than a second but in Episode II Sonic takes about over a second to compose himself.
Multiplayer can be a bit of a chore if one player canít keep up with the other. If one character falls behind the camera tries constantly to readjust itself. Itís like driving over a bumpy road. Your view can be obstructed and can make your run through a level harder than it needs to be. Youíll want to go fast but know youíll have to slow down to let the camera adjust itself.
I mentioned that classic Sonic gameplay returns and thatís true for the most part. Very occasionally, however, will there be some areas that can stop your progress cold such as high walls that require flying. It encourages speed runs of course, but sometimes you forget that Tails can be summoned to fly. There was one part of a level in Oil Desert Zone that requires you to fly with Tails along a current of wind. You have to watch where youíre going but also be mindful of how many times Tails can pull Sonic up before he tires and drops you. Additionally there were hazards that, upon immediate contact, would force Tails to drop you, costing you a life and having to repeat the process from the beginning. This is probably the only part of the game that really requires optimum dexterity and a handful of patience.
I loved the special stages. Again, they look just like Sonic 2ís special stages. Sonic and Tails work as a team to collect enough rings to be awarded one of the seven Chaos Emeralds. The stages get more complex as you move on from one to another, but also creative. Tails can use his twin tails to give Sonic a burst of speed at the push of a button. Thereís a power up that allows Sonic and Tails to carry a tether between them. Any rings that get caught in this tether are added to your total. Basically you can scoop up more rings with this gadget. The best thing about the special stages, besides Tails not losing rings, is that you can choose to retry the stage from the pause menu if you repeatedly mess up. Now itís possible to stay in a special stage and not have to be forced out without acquiring a Chaos Emerald, no matter how many times you may mess up. This will be very helpful when hunting down at least the last three Chaos Emeralds, because getting those would take a truly impressive display of flexibility and reaction. Obtaining all seven Chaos Emeralds lets you play as Super Sonic, of course, and collecting 50 rings and pressing ďYĒ triggers the transformation. As always Super Sonic is quite fast and youíre bound to have a good time playing as Sonicís super form.
You can take the game online if you choose. One player plays as Sonic and the other as Tails and youíll have to work cooperatively to play through the gameís story. Itís fun when you can find someone who enjoys the game and are skilled at it as you are. You can also play offline co-op too, so thatís an alternative.
There are leaderboards for which you can post your best times. This is great for speed run enthusiasts. Details are broken down for each stage including whether a player finished a stage as Sonic, Tails, or Super Sonic.
One last great feature of Episode II is the option to play the Episode Metal story. Itís exclusive to gamers who own Episode I and Episode II on the same device. Episode Metal tells the story about how Robotnik restored Sonicís metal doppelganger, Metal Sonic, and how it came to the events of Episode II. You can play a few levels from Episode I but from Metal Sonicís perspective. It may be only four levels from the first Episode but hey, you can play as Metal Sonic and itís free! A helpful hint, Episode II should recognize your saved data for Episode I when you start the game up. It didnít for me at first. Try opening Episode I on your console, choose a level then close the game. Start up Episode II again and when selecting single player it should unlock Episode Metal for you. At least it did for me.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is a good improvement over Episode I. The art style and detail of graphics are amazing, thatís a big improvement over Episode I. The game also has a catchy soundtrack, but Robotnikís boss theme couldíve been longer and more creative. Youíll come to find a lot of good classic Sonic gameplay here though youíll occasionally run into some areas of the game that can really irritate you such as the useless Red Rings, lagging momentum when moving from a walk into a full run, breathing in a bubble and recovering from it takes longer than it did in the Genesis games leaving you open to attack, and the choppy camera if you play multiplayer as it tries to catch up between one player and the other. Still, despite these flaws, I had an exceptional time with it. It was a great challenge, especially those special stages. I also liked the fact that I was rewarded with Episode Metal for having Episode I and Episode II on my console. While it takes a step forward from Episode I, it takes a little step back from the momentum that Sonic Generations had going for the series, in terms of following it up with another amazing Sonic experience. I definitely enjoyed Episode II over Episode I and you will too.