When Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 a few years ago, it answered the prayers of many Sonic players. It provided a side-scrolling game for the first time in what seemed like ages, right in the face of failed 3D efforts like Sonic Unleashed and the next-gen debut of Sonic the Hedgehog — you know, the one where he fell for a human girl. (Creepy.) By the same token, it also introduced several issues that kept it from being as good as previous Sonic the Hedgehog adventures from the Genesis days, mainly problematic control and iffy stage design. So, the development team at Dimps, with some help from Sonic Team, got back to work to make the long-awaited Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 even better. So now that it’s here, is it better? Well, sort of.
A lot of the issues from Episode 1 have been addressed. There are some slight changes to aerial physics; Sonic “feels” a bit more natural this time around when it comes to executing a spin dash or rolling his way through loops. It reverts back to the classic Sonic style, in a way, while still maintaining a little something for the here and now. It’s a step forward.
What’s more, Sega found a way to incorporate Tails so he isn’t just a squeaky annoyance who follows you around everywhere. You can now use him for combined techniques to help you get around the level — such as hovering to higher platforms as he acts as a helicopter, or teaming up with him in a big rolling super ball so you can bust through walls.
But with the good comes the bad. While the addition of Tails’ abilities are unique, they aren’t quite perfect. He gets tired way too easy when he’s in flight, so when you’re struggling to stay alive from what appears to be a bottomless fall, he gives in and you die anyway. Thanks a lot, buddy. For that matter, it’s too easy to hit the wrong button, especially during boss fights, and lose all your coins as a result.
Ugh, the boss fights. On the one hand, they are pretty cool at first, as you actually have to use your brain to figure out how to beat Robotnik’s creations, like a huge plant-like creature at the end of the first stage. But on the other, there aren’t any clear indicators on how to beat them. You’ll either have to rely on dumb luck — especially with the Metal Sonic confrontations, which are infuriating — or watch YouTube videos to figure out how they get done. Even then, the final confrontation with Robotnik is likely to leave you livid, even if you do get how to finish him.
That’s too bad, because the rest of the game is structured quite well. The level layouts are more likable this time around, with not only a great deal of variety, but also several great hidden short-cuts, which lead to 1-ups and other goodies.
In addition, we’re happy to see that the 3D bonus stages are back, as you race through chasms collecting coins and dodging mines, in the hopes of being rewarded with a Chaos Emerald at the end.
Sonic 4 Episode 2 looks way better than the first, thanks to impressive animations (the team-up attacks look nice) and 3D backgrounds that scroll with the action. The speed of the game is quite impressive too, even when it appears that there’s a lot happening in the stage. It keeps up remarkably.
Wish we could say the same for the music, though. Sonic 4 Episode 2 has one of the weakest soundtracks in the series, and it repeats way too often for its own good. Dimps and Sonic Team should’ve learned its lesson from what Sonic the Hedgehog CD delivered just a few months ago, and channeled that energy instead of making “just another Sonic soundtrack.”
Though it’s a mixed bag in places, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 is a noticeable step up from the first game. Whether it’s worth your $15, or 1200 Microsoft points, depends on how much you like the demo. Old-school Sonic fans will definitely want to indulge. Everyone else, however, will probably be safe buying Sonic CD for five bucks, since it’s the overall better experience.