- The brilliant Sonic platforming we all know and love is back
- Tails makes a welcome return
- Physics are spot on
- Barely any replay value
- Not very rewarding
- Recycles old ideas rather than using new ones
After a painstakingly long wait between episodes (though fans of a certain Valve-developed FPS probably wouldn’t view an 18 month wait as even being close to ‘painstaking’), the second part of the Sonic 4 saga is finally with us. Episode 2 builds on the foundations that were laid in Episode 1 back in 2010, expanding on the concept of the first game with new gameplay mechanics whilst addressing a number of the original game’s flaws, which results in a markedly better Sonic game.
Metal Sonic is back from the dead, and he’s very much out for one thing and one thing only: a pack of those Duracell StayCharged batteries. No, hold on, that’s wrong, I meant revenge. Although Dr. Robotnik (I refuse to call him Eggman thank you very much) is very much present in the game, Episode 2 is all about the return of Metal Sonic. The game picks up with Sonic and Tails soaring through the skies on Tails’ plane; the Tornado, as they attempt to find out exactly what Robotnik and Metal Sonic are up to. That’s right, Sonic is joined by Tails in Episode 2, so you’d best be a fan of the orange fox because you’re going to be seeing quite a lot of him.
Speaking of Tails, perhaps the game’s biggest new gameplay mechanic in Episode 2 are the new combination moves that Sonic and his twin-tailed buddy can perform. One of the new moves, for instance, allows Tails to carry Sonic up to places he couldn’t normally reach on his own, whilst another combines the spin-dashes of both Sonic and Tails, resulting in a powerful spin attack that can tear right through enemies and obstacles. A second player can actually take control of Tails, either locally or over Xbox Live, harking back to the days of Sonic 2, but I found it much easier to just play solo and control Tails myself. Still, the option is there for players that want to go through the game with a mate which is a nice inclusion.
If you played Episode 1 past the first level, then you’ll likely be immensely glad to hear that the physics issues that marred the first Episode for many have been mostly rectified for Episode 2. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that Sonic handles even better than he did in the recent Sonic Generations. It may have taken a fair amount of trial and error, but SEGA really have got it nailed this time. No longer does Sonic stop dead when you let go of the analogue stick or D-Pad whilst running/jumping or when spin-dashing off of ledges like in Episode 1. Also, you now slow down much more relative to the speed that you’re moving at, so essentially the faster you are going the longer it takes to slow back down to a halt, just like in the original games. Trust me when I say this, in terms of controls, this game plays like a dream.
Graphically, Episode 2 holds up well. Whereas Episode 1 opted for a flat 2D style, Episode 2’s look is closer to that of the Classic Sonic levels in Sonic Generations with its 2.5D graphics. The character models of Sonic and Tails themselves are fully 3D and look great (the model of Sonic himself is much improved on his Episode 1 counterpart, having lost that odd shine that he had in the first Episode), whilst level environments, from the snow-laden White Park Zone to the sand-drenched Oil Desert Zone, are a mixture of 2D and 3D and look stunning with their vibrant colours and textures.
Now if there’s one single area that Sonic games are generally consistent in, it’s in the quality of their soundtracks. Just open up YouTube and have a listen to the Casino Night Zone theme from Sonic 2 or the Flying Battery Zone from Sonic and Knuckles if you don’t believe me (I guarantee that one of those will be stuck in your head for at least a few hours). Sonic 4: Episode 2’s soundtrack, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Some tracks are brilliant and genuinely catchy, like the tune that plays in Sky Fortress Act 2 or the music that accompanies the Metal Sonic boss fights, whereas others are just plain forgettable and even downright irritating in a couple of extreme cases.
In terms of length, it took me a solid three hours to beat the game to basic completion, and another couple of hours on top of that to get all of the Chaos Emeralds and Red Rings. The bonus Episode Metal content that unlocks if you own both Episodes of Sonic 4 on one system is decent, adding an additional four levels that show what Metal Sonic was up to during the events of Episode 1, but it only adds roughly half an hour’s worth of gameplay so it isn’t really all that substantial. Considering the game is £10 on PSN/1200 MSP on XBLA, there just isn’t enough content here to justify the high price tag. Most disappointingly of all however, is that there isn’t any kind of secret ending for players that have obtained all of the emeralds, which breaks one of the series’ biggest and longest running traditions.
When you look at Sonic 4: Episode 1’s gameplay and level design, it’s clear to see that it was mainly inspired by Sonic’s first two Mega Drive outings, with the game’s four zones alternating between takes on levels from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2. Episode 2, on the other hand, is more like a mash-up of all of the original games. For instance, the game’s opening stage, Sylvania Castle, is a bit of a mix between Sonic 2’s Aquatic Ruin Zone and Sonic 3’s Marble Garden Zone, whilst Oil Desert throws together ideas from Sonic 2’s Oil Ocean stage and Sonic and Knuckles’ Sandopolis Zone. Fans of the Mega Drive originals are bound to love identifying all of the retro references SEGA have included in Episode 2.
But that’s the kicker really, just like Episode 1, most of Episode 2′s ideas are nicked from the old Sonic games, there’s barely anything here that hasn’t been seen before in a previous Sonic title. Considering that SEGA made the risky, yet bold move of calling the game Sonic 4, thus officially making it a part of the original series, it’s more of a greatest hits collection than an entirely new game. Sort of like that notorious flashback episode that most U.S T.V dramas get at one point or another, where there’s some new stuff intertwined with clips of previous episodes.
Having said that, even if Sonic 4 is essentially just a mash-up of the best ideas from the original games, it does a good job of reinvigorating them to make them feel new again. The first act of Sky Fortress, for example, begins as an almost carbon copy of Sonic 2’s Sky Chase Zone, but then it brings in the new gameplay mechanic of being able to boost with Tails’ plane to clear a path through obstacles and enemies and suchlike. The point I’m trying to make here is that Sonic 4: Episode 2 is fun, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, far from it, but it certainly is a blast to play through while it lasts.