Earlier this year I wrote a preview for this very game. In that preview I said that I stuck up for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 more than most. I’m not sure if I went as far as to make claims that it was a good game, but I certainly felt it was something worth picking up. Well, it seems it doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me as Episode II comes out, is far better than its predecessor and still receives a mixed response.
It’s obvious right from the start that this game got a lot more funding than the first part. The game looks a lot more polished and it’s improved in almost every conceivable way, one of the biggest improvements takes the form of the game’s improved physics engine, something people will not stop banging on about when it comes to these 2D style Sonic games.
As those of you who read my preview may remember, Sonic 4 Ep2 has been built on an engine based on that used in the original Sonic games on the Mega Drive (Genesis) way back when. The intention being that the game ‘feel’ as much like Sonic game as possible, as opposed to a pinball game I suppose. Sarcasm aside, the game is very satisfying to play, moving around feels familiar and Sonic builds momentum naturally rather than out of nowhere.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty right away and discuss the sore spot people really have with any modern Sonic Game; does it feel right? One of the biggest complaints people threw at Episode 1 was that the game, despite claiming to be an homage to the Sonic games of old, managed to get the game’s physics completely wrong.
Sonic gained momentum in a really unnatural way, and was able to scale almost vertical surfaces with almost no speed behind him. Jumping was the other issue, rather than jumping in a quick arc, Sonic seemed to float up into the air and hang there for a split second rather moving in any realistic way. In these old style games, Sonic can only really do two things, run and jump, Episode 1 got both of these wrong.
Episode 2 did work to remedy this, to an extent. Sonic’s movement is much better, his speed is actually affected by the gradient of the surface he is walking on and he builds speed at a much more familiar pace. They have also done away with the mysterious spider powers he gained for the first one. Jumping has also improved, but it still does feel a little floaty at times. That’s nitpicking though, overall, it plays much better and, like I said earlier, it’s makes for a satisfying experience.
Episode 2 wasn’t purely out to improve on the basics of the first game, it introduced some new game play elements too, coming in the form of the mutant fox Tails. To begin with, the comment assumption was that the inclusion of Tails was just going to be a nod to Sonic 2, and he would do nothing more than follow Sonic around and take some hits for the cause. But no, Tails has become the major gameplay element in Episode 2. Throughout the course of the game it is rare that the player will not find Tails not right on their heels, and that’s because he is required to progress through certain sections of the game.
Aside from the standard runny jumpy gameplay that we have come to expect, there are a number of double team moves that can be performed at a touch of a button. Depending on Sonic’s current situation, different actions will be taken when activated. So, if the player presses the button when Sonic is in midair, Tails will launch over to the player and start flying while holding on to him. The player takes control during these segments and the ability to fly at the drop of a hat makes navigating levels much less of a pain.
If the player is underwater, Tails becomes a personal submarine. This makes a change from Sonic 3 when Tails couldn’t hold Sonic at all underwater, guess the little guy has been pumping iron in the intervening years. Finally, if Sonic is stood on the ground the two perform a double roll which works like a super spin dash, smashing through certain obstacles and enemies without any trouble.
I thought that these changes to the basic game would draw the ire of many of the purists that always seem to be bashing these games at any opportunity; however, these elements seem to have been well received and make for a welcome addition to game play.
However, I do have a little issue with this area of the game, it is a reoccurring problem that I find in many of the more recent Sonic games, and that is how hand holdy these games are. They give their players far too little credit, even young kids can figure out patterns and actions in order to solve problems. Hell, I was a particularly dumb kid, but I still managed to play through the first two Sonic games without any help.
This issue is especially irritating in Episode 2, taking the form of free floating television screens showing the player they need to perform a certain action move in order to progress. This isn’t something that just shows up in the first few stages either, even in the final stage of the game, I was stood in basin with the only available direction being up, so of course I was going to have to go upward, but the game still felt the need to remind me that Tails could fucking fly. It’s not like I’ve used that ability 50 times already to traverse the game’s world so far.
These are kids games at the end of the day, I understand that, it’s just the relics like me who still hold on to their childhood playing these Sonic games. But for the love of God Sega, please stop assuming your players are idiots. Because even an idiot would figure it out on their own eventually, and would probably feel pretty good about it, because they didn’t have a giant screen spelling it out as obviously as possible.
I’m rambling quite badly now, so back to Episode 2.
The game takes place months after the events of the first game, apparently, certain cut scenes seem to suggest that the game takes place right after the first one. But who cares, it doesn’t even matter. In itself, Episode 2 doesn’t really have much of a story. Sonic and Tails are flying the Tornado and land in Sylvania Castle to start the game. Along the way Metal Sonic shows his face, which isn’t a surprise at this point considering that he was teased at the ending of the first part, and he was all over the promotional material for Episode 2.
Sonic and Tails chase Eggman and Metal Sonic through a number of zones before making their way to his newly built giant space station for the final showdown. At this point, the Earth that Sonic lives on must be orbited by an awful lot of huge destroyed death stars. Sonic collects chaos Emeralds along the way in the Sonic 2 style special stage, which I detest by the way, however they don’t change the game’s ending in any way.
For those who did want to look a little more deeply into it, there was a story to the game. The ‘Little Planet’ was once again passing close to earth, this is the setting for the game Sonic CD. Metal Sonic, who made his first appearance in Sonic CD, is still lying destroyed on the planet. Dr. Eggman takes the opportunity of the returning planet to reactivate Metal Sonic and repair him.
The locations of the first game, the Mad gear and the Lost Labyrinth, were both places instrumental to repairing Metal Sonic and then restoring him to his full power. It seems the full story of the two Sonic 4 games was simply to restore Metal Sonic and use him to destroy his flesh and blood counterpart.
There isn’t much to these stories, which is intentional. The older Sonic games that they’re based on never really had much of a story either and that was because nobody cared. The thing is, in the older games, nobody ever asked what the hell Robotnik was going in the Hill Top Zone or Ice Cap Zone. No, we just said “Oh, a cave, best run to the right.” And that was the end of it.
What story this games does have is mainly supplied to us in the tie-in content ‘Episode Metal’. Those who bought Sonic 4 Ep2 on the same platform that they bought the first one were treated to a bit of extra content within the game. Episode Metal acts as the prologue to Ep 2, showing Metal Sonic’s return and letting players control him as he goes through one act of each of the zones from the first game with the all new physics introduced in the second episode.
Up until now I have spent a lot of time comparing this game to the one that came before it, which is understandable considering that pretty much everyone who picks this game up will have undoubtedly picked up the first one and will be making the same comparisons. On its own though, this game does stand up in its own right for a number of reasons.
Graphically, this game is a joy to look at. It came as disspointment to the few that bought the first one on the Nintendo Wii and then learned that this game would be unavailable for it. The game was developed purly for the HD consoles, and it shows. It benefits from the increase in graphics quality more than you’d think.
Everything in the game looks clean and crisp. The environments are brightly coloured and engaging. It’s the backgrounds that are the real visual candy though. I know I always advise this, but once in a while you need to slow down and soak in the environments. The play of light is also a treat, in the stages that take place during the evening, with the sun low in the sky, this light will actually interact with the objects in the foreground, including shining through the rotating rings on the stage, that little touch alone really wanted to make me stick up for this game no matter what came afterwards.
Si, visually, it is impressive, but how about the audio? The music in Sonic games is one of the big selling points for me, music from past Sonic games have endured as some of the best in gaming. So how is the music in Sonic 4? Meh. The tunes range from forgettable to downright annoying. While there are one or two little tunes that get stuck in your head and do evoke the appropriate feeling of their stage’s theme, many of them are just dull noises in the background you’ll struggle to remember an hour later.
Speaking of things you might not have noticed, Sonic 4.2 has a multilayer mode bundled in with the main game. In Sonic 2, a second player could pick up a controller and start controlling Tails through the main game. He couldn’t do a lot, but it was a nice little feature. That returns here in Sonic 4.2, but not in the same guise. Multiplayer is a separate option, allowing local and online play. The multiplayer works exactly the same as the single player game except both Sonic and Tails are being controlled by separate players. It’s much the same as the feature seen in Sonic 2, except Tails can do everything Sonic can.
The game also prevents Sonic and Tails from venturing too far away from one another. If one player gets too far ahead, the other will warp back to keep up. A lot liberties are taken with the laws of reality to keep this multiplayer working.
From the few online games I played of this mode, despite being called co-operative, everyone I played it with treated the mode as a straight up race and while I was trying to just play at a normal pace, my ‘teammate’ was constantly surging forward in a desperate attempt to ‘beat’ me. This seems more like a feature than a serious multiplayer, I actually enjoying it in the local form, it sent me back to my childhood where I would play Sonic 2 with my brother and always forced him to be Tails. It was a throwback, which is exactly what this game was initially going for.
It seems to me that the developers went out specifically to tackle the issues the very vocal fans had with the first game and remedy them for the sequel.
Overall the game is brief, it took me a little over two hours to play through all of the stages and see the game’s ending. While the game does feature more things to do such as collecting the chaos emeralds and a hidden red ring on every level, there isn’t a whole lot more to it than that. The only thing keeping you coming back to it is the same thing that kept you going back to those original Sonic games: grit.
Sonic 4 Episode 2 is, by it’s own rights, a fun little game. controls are tight, the graphics are brilliant and gameplay is fast paced and very enjoyable. When compared to the first game, it makes this one seem much better than it really in by comparion, not to take anything away from Episode 2. My point being though, if you feel like picking up this game, you really don’t have to feel inclined to buy the first one to make sense of it.
At the moment, it looks like Sonic 4 has been finished and there are no plans for a third entry in the series, which is a shame.
At 1200 points though, I’d be wary of recommending this game to just anyone. If you’re a Sonic fan now or were in the past, I’d say it’s worth a look. If you’re not really a fan of the series or on the fence about it, I would direct your attention elsewhere as you’ll probably just find this game forgettable. Unlike Sonic Generations, this isn’t a game I’d advise everyone to play, it’s a strictly ‘fans only’ affair I’m afraid.
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