For the last few years there has been a mythic curse that supposedly existed on any Sonic games that weren’t made in the mid-90’s. However, for the most part, it’s been a few bad games that tarnished the reputation of the series. The rest was just loud complaints from groups of overly nostalgic gamers who refused to give any Sonic a chance if it wasn’t an exact replica of one of the Genesis titles. Even so, SEGA has managed to churn out several solid and even great Sonic titles in recent years. Yet they still felt the need to appeal that vocal segment of their fanbase who has demanded new games in the vein of the classics.
Their first attempt at this was Sonic 4 Episode I, which was released to significant amounts of nerd rage. Despite the death threats, they decided to give it another shot, addressing fan complaints in the latest sequel. So will Sonic 4 Episode II finally appease the critics and give those classic diehards what they want? Of course not, because the Sonic they want will only ever exist in their heads. Still, that doesn’t mean Sonic 4 Episode II isn’t a great game. Read on to find out why.
Audio & Visual
So quite possibly the biggest improvement between Episode I and II is the music. The music is now much more reminiscent of classic Sonic with some great tunes that I could definitely hear myself listening to outside the game. Each area has it’s unique and catchy tune and of course all the standard audio effects are in place.
From a visual perspective, it certainly looks clean and crisp as you’d expect from a 2D game and runs buttery smooth. The art and level design though are very impressive. They take largely from a stable of levels that you’ve seen before in previous games, but they are tweaked, redesigned and look much prettier. Take a look below, it will be easier for you get a feel from a video than from writing.
The biggest complaint from the first game was how Sonic controlled. Many players felt the physics were an issue, especially in scenarios where Sonic was able to do things that were outside the realm of possibility. However, that was one of the first things addressed in the new game, and if this was an issue for you, you’ll be happy to know that controls exactly as you’d expect from the older 2D entries, with the addition of the homing attack of course. He is not too fast, or too slow. He accelerates correctly, keeps momentum when jumping and loses it when he should.
Another major complaint has been the use of Sonic’s friend character in games in all the 3D entries. It may have concerned many of you that Sonic 4 Episode II decided to include Tails. Tails however, has been a staple of the Sonic games since Sonic 2, so he’s never been quite as unwelcome as the rest, as long as he didn’t stick his nose in the gameplay. However, that’s exactly what they’ve done here, making him an essential part of the gameplay in certain levels. Before you throw your controller in frustration though, you may be surprised to hear that it actually works really well.
Tails adds a couple of additional gameplay elements to Sonic. One, is the ability to fly short distance, another is the ability to swim while underwater. This makes it possible to get past certain obstacles, and reach shortcuts. You can also use it often in inventive ways to make certain difficult platforming segments much more manageable. Tails also collect rings for you as he has in the past, and joins you in the bonus round to help you get Chaos Emeralds. He also, can combo with you into a giant omni-directional ball of doom that just rolls through most things in its way until the way is blocked and it can’t get past. It can be a very useful and often enjoyable attack. Best of all is, in situation where you need to control or use Tails, he handles very well.
Returning to this game is the classic Sonic 2 stile bonus levels. Finish the level with 50 rings and jump into a giant ring for a chance at a Chaos Emerald. In the style of Sonic 2, you take a view from behind Sonic and Tails as they race down a long half-pipe road, avoiding obstacles and collecting enough rings to win a Chaos Emerald. The number of rings necessary increases as you collect more making the later levels more difficult. However, they added a new way to collect rings two. A chain between you and Tails you can use kind of like a net to collect rings in.
As for the main game, running and platforming are implemented in fine form here. Gone are the endless pits of death that appear with no warning. They still exist, but are properly telegraphed and easily avoidable. Platforming sections abound and are largely dependent on quickly reflexes and proper timing. Multiple routes are available in each level and as you replay you’ll be able to master exact timing of jumps to hit specific enemy placements, allowing you to zoom smoothly through the level. This is very much like the classic games.
Later in the game does begin to ramp up in difficulty, and there are some sections that can be quite frustrating. Even so, none of the deaths feel cheap or random. The challenge is a clean one, and getting the timing and jumps right to get through a level as fast as possible is just as satisfying as it should be.
Also, as a special bonus for those of you who picked up the original Sonic 4, you get some bonus levels featuring Metal Sonic. There are only 4, but they are unique to him. He basically plays exactly like Sonic, except he doesn’t have Tails along for the extra moves. It’s a nice bonus, though not as long as I would have liked. There’s also added replayability in the form of co-op/vs. It’s an odd combo, since as Tails and Sonic you’re working together to make it through the levels, beat bosses, and collect chaos emeralds, but at the same time you’re also racing each other. It’s really quite a bit of fun and works both locally and online.
Overall the game plays really well, with the exception of one random annoyances. Sometimes, the lock on can be a bit weird on the homing attack. This makes you try to home in on things you think you should be able to home in on, but the game has decided you can’t, resulting in loss of rings or death. Aside from that, the game does feel rather short. You’re likely to get through it in one sitting, but that’s somewhat expected from this type of game. In the end, the question is whether the game can keep you coming back, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t. The most enjoyable part of the old games was mastering levels, and getting speed runs, and that’s fully present here.
Regardless of whether you’re a classic or modern Sonic fan, there’s plenty to love here. Classic 2D Sonic goodness, with a small dose of new elements that make it refreshing to play. Some great level design and music put this game over the top. All the annoyances of Episode I are gone, distilled into a high speed platformer that lives up the standards of the best Sonic games, old and new.