Sonic 4: Episode 2
The hedgehog’s episodic debut may not have been as warmly received as Sega anticipated back in 2010, but after a year and a half as well as a fully-fledged retail release with Sonic Generations, it’s clear that there’s still very much a market for the series. Sonic 4: Episode 2 is another bite-sized shot at the downloadable format, but has enough been done to quell the concerns left by the first game?
In truth, it all depends on your perspective. While some cried foul at Sonic’s physics and the adventure’s brief length (comprised of four zones made of three acts each, bosses and seven special stages), there really wasn’t much that the game did especially wrong; with the annoying catalogue of supporting cast absent, it was perhaps more a case of Sonic fatigue setting in. After all, the physics certainly didn’t break the game, even if they could be wonky on occasion. If it’s the game’s length that bothered you then you won’t find anything to celebrate here, as once again it’s another four zone deal but with the brief Episode Metal thrown in for owners of both instalments on the same system.
Episode Metal centres on Metal Sonic’s return following his defeat at the end of Sonic CD. The episode takes one zone from the fours acts found in Sonic 4: Episode 1 and remixes it, playing backwards so that Splash Hill is the last of the four. Strangely, the difficulty hasn’t been altered, meaning that the first stage is the hardest (complete with instant-kill pistons) and gets steadily easier to the end. It’s a nice addition that people weren’t expecting and provides a reward for those who have ponied up twenty notes in total. It does leave us wondering why Episode 1 and 2 couldn’t have been accessible from the same screen when the assets are there, but perhaps this was due to some form of technical limitations.
The most immediate change here is the inclusion of Tails, Sonic’s plucky sidekick from Sonic 2. Rather than just following you and getting himself killed, the fox actually makes use of himself at specific moments; you can join hands for a spin attack to break down barriers, jump and grab for a brief lift, or hit a special item box for a screen-clearing attack where the heroes bounce around as you tap the A button. He’s a necessity at certain points in just about every stage, and is therefore central to the gameplay as opposed to a mere afterthought – if you’re going to give Sonic a sidekick, this is exactly how to use him.
The zones themselves do take a good stab at being different, whilst evoking the locales of yesteryear. It isn’t quite so much a riff on the old games in the way that the first episode was, generally having some level of creativity to them. There are the usual rings, speed boosts, spikes, lethal drops, checkpoints and loops for Sonic to deal with, though you will be thrown a curveball at times. One aspect you might notice is the game’s tendency to drop you in deep water (because as we all know, the speedster moves so gracefully underwater), but at least Tails is on hand to give a lift when needed. He might take up a precious last-second air bubble however, but this is a rarity.
Each land at least looks the part, with colourful backgrounds and reactive lighting from the starting block. Sonic himself has lost the shine from the previous episode, and everything is a step up from before… plus it helps that the stages take longer to get through on the whole. Special stages are an ode to those found in Sonic 2, featuring the same ring-collecting half-pipe escapades for that chaos emerald at the end of a successful run. The bosses are challenging and take more hits than fans might be used to; there are definitely frustrations here, but no more than you’d expect from a typical Eggman face-off.
One late act tries to mix things up by placing Sonic aboard the Tornado (the bi-plane piloted by Tails) but this effort comes across as clunky, overly long and completely out of place. Interestingly, acts 2 and 3 of this zone are where the game truly shines, with the best music and level design that we’d love to see more of in these titles. Not every stage is quite so enjoyable however, making Sonic 4: Episode 2 a decent title with a couple of special traits but also a couple of irritating ones, notably the few looping notes which serve as the boss music.
We probably won’t be seeing a third episode given what the developers have said before, meaning that Sonic 4 has most likely been completed. We aren’t sure this is entirely what Sega had in mind when they envisioned the project a few years ago, but what’s here is enjoyable enough that Sonic fans shouldn’t feel short-changed given the price. As a well-presented game that looks the part and sells itself on speed and accessibility, Sonic 4: Episode 2 is slightly better than the previous effort in a number of ways and yet, there’s still room for improvement. Things are moving in the right direction here, so come on Sega, third time could well be the charm!
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