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Oh, for fuck’s sake… Do I have to? I’m only going to get set upon by rampant fanboys for hating…

Sonic 4 – Episode 1: Whilst there were some glowing reviews out there, claiming the game was some kind of “magnificent return to form”, many of the more hardcore fans of Sonic’s original Mega Drive outings didn’t really like it. Me included.

It didn’t play like the classic games, it felt horribly rushed, and it was clearly apparent that Sega had no fucking clue how to appease those classic fans. “This is Sonic 4 as you truly imagined it”, said Ken Balough, Sega PR gibbon. No Ken. No it wasn’t.

One of the main issues that Sega didn’t seem to understand was that there is a specific momentum, a weight, to the way Classic Sonic controlled.

“Physics” – It’s a word that’s echoed down the halls of Sega ever since. Sega claimed Classic Sonic would have correct physics on Sonic Generations, but it was only an approximation, made worse by being stuck in an engine that just wasn’t built for that type of play in mind. I didn’t like that, either.

So now I step forward with apprehension to review Sonic 4: Episode 2. Yet again, Sega are claiming “they’ve done it right this time”. I’ll be the judge of that…

 

Definitely not Aquatic Ruin Zone - There's a castle in the background.

 

Firstly – The presentation. There is no doubt that far more time and effort has been put into making this game look nice. The game is now totally rendered in 2.5D  as opposed to the 3D sprites/badly tiled 2D Map in Episode I, and makes the game look far less of a cheapy rush-job.

Sadly the developers still don’t much originality in their veins, though. The level designs are heavily borrowed from earlier Sonic games, however some of the levels now feel like a cross between 2 classic levels or have a few extra features in them (For example; the bonus stages are pretty much Sonic 2’s, but with the added bonus of being able to boost! Isn’t that great!), which I guess changes things up a bit and makes it feel a bit more “original”.

It’s still a bit poor for something that’s supposed to be a continuation of a series, and not a remake/reboot. Whilst the Sonic series has always had repeating level themes, they always felt fresh and not direct rip offs of levels from previous games.

 

Definitely not Ice Cap Zone - There's a rollercoaster in the background.

 

The music is still a mish-mash of synth instruments with drumbeats sampled from the Mega Drive, in an attempt to sound “retro”. It’s an acquired taste, I guess. Sometimes it sounds fine, other times it sounds like a strangled cat.

But who cares about things like presentation, hey? It’s the gameplay that matters.

First the physics. MUCH better. Sonic has his weight back. Letting go of the pad no longer makes Sonic grind to a halt, and the jumping and rolling feel much more natural. (Edit: This does not mean this is “perfect” by any stretch of the imagination, see the comments)

Speaking of (dead) weight , he’s got that fucking fox in tow again, and blow me if he doesn’t actually turn out to be useful – there are now a handful of “tag-team” moves you can do with Tails to get you past certain areas in the game.

I liked that, it was a new feature that fitted the gameplay style, unlike the homing attack which should never have been added to a 2D Sonic game as it reduces any timing and skill involved in many platforming situations. Sadly it’s still there.

Another piece of good news is despite the level rehashing, this time the bosses are actually original. The bad news is a couple of them are a might confusing and will probably lead to a couple of cheap deaths.

 

Definitely not Oil Ocean Zone - There's no oil at the bottom of the map!

 

Now my main gripe: All the physics in the world don’t matter if the level design is atrocious, and S4EII’s level design is (with a few exceptions) just as bad as the first. There’s still that placement of near endless booster/spring chains that take control out of your hands (usually followed by a chain of Bubbles for that little bit of no-skill lock-on attack fun!), and now we’ve got some really horrible underwater levels which can be damn frustrating at times

Although I haven’t witnessed it myself, I’ve also been told Tails can now steal your fucking air bubbles too if you don’t watch out, why the fuck would they add that in the game? He’s supposed to help, not fucking hinder you. Imagine the scene:

 

DUNDUN-DUNDUN-DUNDUN-DUNDUN…5…4
Fuck. Need air, quick!
DUNDUN-DUNDUN-DUNDUN-DUNDUN…3…2
There’s a bubble!
DUNDUN-DUNDUN-DUNDUN-DUNDUN…1
*Tails Gulps the bubble*
TAILS YOU FUCKINGCUUUUUUUBLOBLOBLOPPLE.

 

You know it’s going to happen. You know it probably has happened to somebody. It’s probably going to happen to you.

 

Definitely not Sky Chase Zone - There's... No. Fuck it. I can't do this anymore. That's fucking Sky Chase Zone.

 

All in all Sonic 4 Episode II is an improved game over the first. Sega have managed to claw their way from shit to average. Does it wash away the bad taste from the last episode? No, some of that taste is still there, some of it by design. Is it something you’ll be able to go back to time and time again? I don’t think so. Is it worth rushing to your digital distributor of choice and purchasing? Probably not… It’ll be in a PSN/Steam/XBLA sale at some point.

Note: Owners of Episode I & II, on the same format, will get the additional option of playing as Metal Sonic in Episode I.

As I have each episode on a different format, I’m afraid I haven’t played this so can’t comment on if playing as a different character in Episode I magically makes it less shit. It probably doesn’t though