One Step Closer
Sonic 4: Episode I was a welcome return to Sonic the Hedgehog’s glorious 2D era. Until we played it.
Many fans complained about how “off” the physics felt, and, I have to admit, their complaints were valid. For those of us who had replayed the old Genesis-era Sonic games in anticipation, Sonic’s awkwardness was pretty obvious, at times moving almost like he was stuck in mud and failing to maintain any of the momentum that made the original games “feel” good.
So, when Sonic 4: Episode II was announced, the first thing fans wanted to know was whether Sonic Team nailed this physics this time around. In response, there have been several developer promises that claimed they were putting a ton of focus on physics of Episode II. In fact, at one point we were even told to expect Mega Drive-era physics to return in their full glory. So did they follow through on these promises, or is Episode II another lackluster Sonic title that fails to live up to its full potential?
Well, I’m disappointed to have to say that the physics still feel a little off to me. And this comes after spending quite a bit of time replaying Sonic 2, which, in my opinion, is the game Sonic Team should have looked to as a template for their physics. I mean, it certainly feels closer than Episode I did, but something about it still feels off to me. I can’t quite place it exactly, and I even went back to replay snippets of Sonic 2, Sonic Generations, and Sonic 4: Episode I to try to come up with exactly what it was. What I found was four Sonic games that all controlled differently. One thing I will say, though, is that Episode II felt much closer to Sonic 2 than Episode I or even Generations. And That’s progress, I guess.
Additionally, the half-pipe bonus stages make a welcome return from Sonic 2, yet Sonic controls a bit stiffly compared to how he controlled last time. He can’t loop around the full 360 degrees of the pipe unless he uses a booster. I guess you could say that it’s an actual half-pipe now rather than the “full-pipe” of Sonic 2.
That’s most disappointing because, in a lot of aspects, Sonic Team really did take fan concerns to heart. For example, many people complained about the stages of Episode I simply being rehashes of stages from older Sonic games. Episode II still pays homage to a lot of older stages, but each Zone feels more like a mash-up of multiple retro stages rather than just a reimagining of an older stage. For example, Episode I’s Casino Street feels like an HD remake of Sonic 2’s Casino Night. But in Episode II, Oil Desert feels like a mash-up between Sonic 2’s Oil Ocean and Sonic and Knuckles’ Sandopolis. And White Park feels like a mash-up of Sonic 3’s Carnival Night and Ice Cap Zones.
It does a grand job of giving longtime Sonic fans this feeling that “this is familiar,” but not “I’ve already done this before.” It’s a precarious balance that I feel Sonic Team did a great job of maintaining in Episode II.
Also, fans will be giddy over the return of two longstanding staples of the Sonic franchise: Tails and Metal Sonic. Tails is your tagalong companion à la Sonic 2, only this time there are some additional combo moves that Sonic and Tails can take advantage of when teamed up. Tails’ ability to fly while carrying Sonic has returned, only now there’s the option of utilizing this skill even with only one player present. Additionally, now Sonic and Tails can join together to form a cooperative Spin Dash, where they form into a bigger ball that can smash through certain walls. However, this co-op Spin Dash is a bit difficult to control, and will often be triggered when you don’t want it to be. There are even power-ups that will allow Sonic and Tails to combine and deal mega damage via a quick time event. While QTEs generally annoy me, Episode II’s were subtle enough and rare enough that they were forgivable.
With the return of Tails, Episode II features two-player couch co-op. While this sounds like a welcome return to the glory days of Sonic 2, it simply wasn’t implemented all that well. Both players must share the same screen (there’s no splitscreen here), and, since the game is all about speed, one player is constantly getting left behind and falling off the edge of the screen. And as soon as a player drops off the screen, they are prompted to press a button (X on the PS3) to come back in. You will literally spend half your time in local co-op pressing X to respawn back in next to your partner. At least there’s online co-op as well, so each player has their own screen.
Metal Sonic also makes a return, and while he spends most of the game antagonizing Sonic, he’s also playable for anyone who also has Episode I. He’ll go through a series of stages pulled out of Episode I, though these have been tweaked a bit for added difficulty.
His real job, though, is to make Sonic’s life miserable, and he’ll do so both on foot and in a plane. Just as the Metal Sonic race in Sonic CD was easily the most frustrating part of the game, Metal Sonic’s fights in Episode II might put your controllers in danger if you are prone to throwing them in rage. Some things never change.
Now, one thing I noticed while swapping between various Sonic titles was that, while the graphics in Episode II are a step up from those of Episode I, they can’t hold a candle to Generations. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are some backgrounds from Episode I that have been reused here, just with the hues adjusted. So, if Episode I is your only point of comparison, Episode II looks fine. But if you’ve played a lot of Generations, prepare yourself for disappointment.
Audio is a mixed bag here. The classic sounds of collecting rings and jumping will trigger those nostalgia centers in your brain, but you definitely won’t be rushing out to buy the soundtrack. Most of the music is just forgettable. Thankfully, Sonic Team cares about our ears enough that even various acts in the same Zone have different music, so you won’t have to spend an overwhelming amount of time with each tune. I do admit, though, to being somewhat fond of the Death Egg music this time around.
In the end, Sonic 4: Episode II is a definite step up from Episode I—and a step closer to the gameplay style of Sonic 2—but it’s just not enough to satisfy those of us looking for the perfect Sonic experience. In fact, for a perfect Sonic experience, you might be better off purchasing Sonic CD for a third the price.
I still hope to see an Episode III in the future; I just hope Sonic Team can take this criticism to heart and figure out the tweaks they need to make so we can truly love a Sonic game again.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
More detailed than Episode I. Just don’t compare them to Generations or you’ll be sad. 3.6 Control
Getting closer to Sonic 2, but they still feel a tad bit “off.” The controls in the half-pipe should be more sensitive, and the addition of Tails’ co-op moves only exacerbates things. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The retro sounds are back, but the music is just plain dull. 4.0 Play Value
It’s 2D Sonic, with brand new zones, seven half-pipe bonus stages, and a Metal Sonic story for those who purchased Episode I. Not bad for fifteen bucks. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|