Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode II is finally here. After a year of delay, though the fans might not be excited for this game after seeing Sonic Generations which was inspired by a certain Sonic fan game that actually appeared to be better than the first Episode of Sonic 4. We can tell you that it still holds true today with Sonic The Hedgehog 4, Episode II, an averagely polished platformer that may not fall into the category “The Sonic Cycle” games, but certainly falls short of any of the 2D sidescrolling classics we’ve come to know and love, missing the presentation and uniqueness of the original Genesis classics or even the Sonic Rush series, we can easily call the Sonic The Hedgehog 4 saga the most lackluster Sonic sidescrollers since the Sega Game Gear games.
The story of Sonic The Hed—hahahaha! Story? Story!? My stomach hurts so much, I can’t even say this with a straight face. Okay let me try again: The story of Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episo-bwahahaha. Ha ha ha..ha…HA! I can’t say it. Okay let me try again, I swear I’ll get it this time. Sonic The Hedgehog 4, Episode II’s story—-PFFT (biting on my tongue right now) sigh, I got this! The story is a lot more simple take at the continuation of the first Episode’s retroactive continuity, adding onto what first Episode’s events that take place directly after Sonic The Hedgehog 3 + Sonic & Knuckles, but also further ties events of Sonic CD bringing back Metal Sonic into the fray. You join Sonic The Hedgehog with the returning sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower, a Fox with two tails—Wait, I just got it! Miles! Prower! Miles Per Hour! Oh my goodness after all of these years of being a Sonic fanatic I’ve finally gotten it! You join the anthropomorphic duo to stop Dr. Eggman (oh he got a court order on his name in such a short time too?) from taking over the world!
Provided you have Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 downloaded on your system of choice as well, the technology used in the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge will link up and show you the revival of Metal Sonic right after the end of Episode 1. Speaking of continuity if you don’t want to believe that Sonic just suddenly had liposuction to get skinny (it seems that Tails the Fox has done so too) or became anorexic to expunge all of the chili dogs he consumed in his body so he isn’t fat anymore and ate a lot of vegetables to get taller after Sonic 3, it’s not worth it to overanalyze like I’m doing right now because more than ever Sonic games are not played for the story. As much as I just explained a what may seem moderately depth plot, it’s actually pretty simply presented, there is no dialogue, everything I explained earlier is taken out of interpretation of mimed skits, with gestures from the Sonic cast as well as what you see. It’s cute, it’s not groundbreaking, but the plot is really non-existant beyond the instruction manual and muted presentation events in the story.
Episode II of Sonic The Hedgehog 4 features 12 levels and 4 bosses at the end of each set of 3 acts, like it’s predecessor and at a price of $15 like the first episode, that’s a lot to be asking for, even with a special red ring to collect in every level. Not effecting the final score of this review, is the lock system between Episode I and Episode II, where you are introduced to episode metal, introducing you further into the retcon of Metal Sonic’s revival where you play a simplified 4-level (1 level from each area of Episode I) pack through each area in the opposite order that Sonic traveled in Episode I. Of course you’d have to have already spent another $15 on an even more disappointing predecessor. Each level consists of enemies to kill and obstacles to jump over and loops to run with. All classic Sonic Fanfare. Speaking of classic sonic fanfare if you beat a level with 50 rings, this time you will be presented with a trip down memory lane with bonus stage borrowing an extreme sense of nostalgia from Sonic The Hedgehog 2. Running down a linear corridor on rails, collecting as many rings as possible to meet the pre-requisite amount by the time the upcoming checkpoint comes, you have to get past 3 checkpoints with a certain amount of rings, if you don’t have enough rings to meet the said checkpoint’s requirement, you fail and you do not get the chaos emerald at the end of the special stage and you will have to replay that level and get 50 rings all over again to even get a another chance at the special stage (which is pretty stressful and repetative now adays).
There’s 7 chaos emeralds in this game, so if you’re able to complete 7 special stages, you will become the legendary golden-furry wonder of Super Sonic, being permanently invincible to anything in your path provided you have the rings for it, being that you need 50 rings to turn super sonic and every ring is one second of Super Sonic. An easter egg that truely tests will of even the biggest Sonic fanatics. Sonic fans will be proud that co-op is back in Sonic The Hedgehog, so you can have another friend play as the two-tailed wonder, Tails. Even better, you can do this online! It’s a shame that online co-op had to pick a criminally uninspired game in the first place but, we digress, it only helps the dull package here. To critique the actual levels in this blue blur nostalgia trip, they fare much better than the previous game, the design seem a lot more crisp and there’s a little bit of cleverness to the design, but still fare to be irritatingly playing it safe in a similar fashion to the New Super Mario Bros. games – Only here you are given a much more shallower game.
Playing it safe describes the gameplay of the Sonic The Hedgehog 4 series oh so well. The difficulty, nowhere near matches up to the Genesis classics and the gameplay, feels totally watered down especially if you have played Sonic Generations, in which the classic Sonic sections of that game could have been a better game by itself over this streamlined cash-in. All you have to look at is the side of a stage, no camera twirls or anything, the impact is definetly hurt when you compare to the 2D gameplay in Sonic Generations. Now as a stand alone game even then, it even feels like the most generic meaning of a Sonic the hedgehog game. Keep moving forward…press the jump button once in a while…yep..you’re playing a Sonic game. At least for the beginning where it seems like you are the fastest thing in the world and comes to a bit of a halt in later stages where you are forced to partake in slower paced platforming. Kinda how the original Sonic The Hedgehog fooled many consumers with it’s speed in advertising but really just being like any other platformer in the later stages, only a lot worse, as the original Sonic The Hedgehog is a classic masterpiece in platforming. This is not.
Sega still hasn’t listen and still provides the infamous gripe many people hated in the first episode of Sonic 4: Being able to stand on a slope as if it were level ground. It hurts the suspension of disbelief and gives the gameplay tactics a dent in the quality. A controversial issue would be the inclusion of the homing attack. This is Sonic The Hedgehog 4, not the first 3, it’s not a justified reason to have a gripe and any complaints about how it controls, it’s simple, if you see a target lock-on, you press the jump button in mid-air and you will homing attack the target! If it’s not there, you won’t hit the target. The homing attack in the Sonic series is an overrated complaint and we’ll let it be known that the homing attack is not a problem in Sonic The Hedgehog 4, it is the pure lack of a players skill and timing if it doesn’t work the way you wanted to and lock-ons will only happen if you are within a certain range, so the complaint that you press a button under false pretenses that you were close enough because you saw the homing attack cursor for a split second doesn’t fly and the fault still remains with the player for not perfecting that jump towards the enemy.
There is some creativity in having Tails around though, he gets new power ups along the way, he can carry you to heights you cannot reach provided he doesn’t get too tired of carrying you, which you’ll mostly often use to break the game and play the level like Kirby (except not as cheap of a mechanic as his float), you can have both lock arms and legs and roll into a giant invicible ball (hold your ambiguously gay duo jokes please) and plow through enemies and blocks you can’t normally break, you can aid Sonic in swimming since he doesn’t know how to swim, have Tails pull him through the water and lastly of course, you can have Tails and Sonic form the ball and drill through the ground. It gives an illusion of depth but really it only feels like it’s only sprinkling glitter on a paper-thin throwback, as these abilities only seem to slow down what is supposed to be a speedy game.
Sega has put lots of these moments where you are forced to use these powers that really hurt the pace. There’s a lot more pace-breakers with terribly drawn out boss battles between either Dr. Eggman (or Robotnik for you old school purists) or Metal Sonic. Slow is a theme here, when the theme should be fast. Speaking of the abilities of Tails, sheesh! Tails is like a pocket utility knife; except in the shape of a two-tailed fox! In the special stages one common complaint has finally been fixed from Sonic The Hedgehog 2: Remember how Tails used to cost you many rings with his delayed jump running into bombs you distinctly ran over and losing rings that you have no control over? Tails now jumps at the exact same time you do in special stages and while still giving the benefit of grabbing rings that you just barely miss, a welcomed godsend to the on rails special stages.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II looks more crisp in art design than it’s previous episode. The graphics are a bit more glossy, but once again it plays it too safe in it’s presentation. The feeling of lackluster presentation even creeps more into your mind from playing Sonic Generations, even only judging by the 2D levels of Sonic Generations. In all reality the Genesis graphics of the original Sonic The Hedgehog trilogy, actually fare much better than generic mish-mash of 3D. Or even the Sonic Advanced or Sonic Rush series for handheld Sonic gamers. Though this isn’t disgusting to look at, the presentation is just ho-hum and as is. We know Sega is a lot more capable of pushing hardware to it’s limits and it’s not even an excuse that this is just a downloadable title. There’s no voice acting (that may be a blessing to some of you Sonic purists out there), all “cut scenes” are done in mute mimimg and the music is really hit or miss. Some of the midi Sonic tunes will have you searching for the songs on YouTube and constantly replaying them because you can’t just get them out of your head and others will sound like squeaky gear-grinding garbage. This is coming from Sega who have composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the gaming industry even for wretched games like Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic 2006.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II is yet another ho-hum installment in the episodic Sonic The Hedgehog 4 games, that just prove this saga is throwaway and even Sega knows it after finding out what they could do with Sonic Generations. They practically had this game already finished and just put it out only because it was in already in the pipeline, so they needed to make-up the cash already spent by releasing it to the public. Don’t be surprised if you never see another episode in the Sonic 4 sub-series. We know Sega is capable of better than a generic streamlined definition of a Sonic game that will only cater to the purist of Sonic fanatics. It’s best to wait for Sega’s next outing with the blue hedgehog, because the Sonic Team knows how to get a handle on Sega’s mascot way better than this. On the other side, if you’re a hardcore Sonic collector, this at the level of the painful Sonic Cycle level you can give it a purchase: Everyone else, it’s not worth $15 for a game at the base completion time of 1 hour when it’s this underwhelming. Go download Sonic CD from PSN or XBLA pronto for the better part of Metal Sonic’s arc. If Sega was trying to relive Sonic’s glory days, they already accomplished that in last Holiday’s Sonic game. It was not accomplished here.