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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II review

Mediocre
AT A GLANCE
  • Sonic and Tails demonstrate some new moves
  • Certain stages are a blast
  • Makes you want to revisit old Sonic games
  • The soundtrack had us hating our lives
  • Falling to your death because Tails got tired
  • The final Robotnik fight is straight-up painful

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I had a lot riding on it, since Sega hyped it up to be a potential revival of the franchise. It ended up being pretty divisive – you either loved or hated it. After a couple years of uncertainty as to whether Sega would keep the episodic format or not, the publisher delivers Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, which sees the return of Miles “Tails” Prower as our helpful sidekick. Unfortunately, this “sequel-to-a-sequel” lacks the spark that defines the great Sonic games of the past, eschewing unbridled speed for boring platforming and some truly maddening boss fights.

With Tails in his classic role as invincible teammate in single-player and a second player in co-op, he’ll assist Sonic traverse each level with some fancy team-up moves with the press of a button. The catch here is that these maneuvers do a poor job of camouflaging questionably designed levels; having to get a lift from Tails to ascend out of a dead end just feels cheap, and though the duo’s double rollspin looks cool and travels quickly, you can’t change directions while spinning, making this feature near useless for most levels.

The co-op seems to prioritize griefing your friends instead making real in-game progress. Because either player can force the other to warp to their position instantly, the platforming segments turns into ridiculous games of “make your partner fall into the pit first.” What’s even worse is when you accidentally tag-team a maneuver at the wrong time; because it’s a conditional one-button transformation, we were constantly flying when we meant to spin. What could’ve made for cool co-op ends up feeling like Tails babysitting Sonic – and that’s no good.

Sonic controls smoothly, though the Tails team-up moves felt just as jarring as the physics tweaks seen in Episode I. That said, while the gameplay mechanics play too fast and loose with Sonic’s classic formula, the soundtrack does the game a greater injustice. Frankly, it’s awful.

While the Genesis tunes were catchy as all get-out, the soundtrack to Episode II is nothing but grating music that sounds like a short MIDI file stuck on loop. Throw in a few ear-piercing sound effects, and it’s assured to disappoint any fans of the series’ 16-bit ditties.

Episode II still looks sharp, but the visually-stimulating stages of Episode I far outclass the bland settings of Episode II, which include sparse oil fields and generic space stations (though the wintry White Zone themeparks are pretty great). Each act in the five stages has multiple paths and secrets to uncover, but they’re incredibly inconsistent in the entertainment department. Every time we felt like we were reliving our old Sonic glory days, the next stage would incorporate limp and uninspired gimmicks like shifting winds or avalanche snowboarding.

 

That’s not to say that Episode II is a total trainwreck; it’s still got some great moments. The second act of the Sky Fortress Zone finds Sonic and Tails zipping across airships and soaring over bottomless pits at a liberating velocity. But it’s bookended by two sluggish and bland flight stages filled with cheap deaths and monotonous mini-bosses. The game’s pacing ensures that in the five-odd hours it took from start to credits, there isn’t a brilliant play session that isn’t totally undermined by a groan-worthy, momentum-halting hurdle of a level.

But nothing comes close to the disappointment of fighting the game’s bosses. It’s not that early Sonic bosses can be defined as an enjoyable experience, but the Zone bosses in Episode II can easily be described as “obscenely un-fun.” Each battle feels like it’s artificially drawn-out to cheaply lengthen the experience; because of Sonic games’ damage system, you can look forward to multiple, cheap deaths, since the boss fights are poorly structured and far too long. To add insult to injury, with each death, you’ll be forced to endure the same unskippable animations for each bosses’ introductions and transformations.

Even if you loved Episode I, it might be hard to stomach Episode II’s constant stumbles and shortcomings. When instructed to collect every Chaos Emerald after the final cutscene, all we could think was “no thanks.” No, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II isn’t an atrocious game, but poorly implemented mechanics and questionable design decisions consistently hobble its attempts to deliver the exhilarating speed that we’ve come to expect from the series. Given the more stout options that have recently graced consoles – Sonic Generations and the downloadable redux of Sonic CD come to mind – there’s little reason for most gamers to bother with this game. After finally getting it right with the most recent game, misfires like this once threaten to re-break those nostalgia goggles we got after the surprisingly great Sonic Generations, and that’s the last thing anyone wants.

More Info

Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Published by: Sega

25 comments

  • SouthTippBass - May 15, 2012 4:30 p.m.

    Shame...
  • Darkhawk - May 15, 2012 4:43 p.m.

    Thank you GR! Just saved me $13 (f***ing terrible Canadian MSP system!)
  • Redeater - May 15, 2012 5:56 p.m.

    I got suckered into buying episode 1. I actually believe Sega when they said they were going back to their roots and it was going to be great.It still hurts.
  • Divine Paladin - May 15, 2012 6:23 p.m.

    After Sonic 2006, you can't ever trust Sega.
  • Darkhawk - May 15, 2012 4:46 p.m.

    Correction! I thought the game was at the semi-reasonable price of 800MSP. 1200MSP / $20 CDN for this p.o.s.? NO THANKS!
  • BlueStigma - May 15, 2012 4:49 p.m.

    "Episode II still looks sharp, but the visually-stimulating stages of Episode I far outclass the bland settings of Episode II" ...what?
  • RareHero - May 15, 2012 4:59 p.m.

    Yeah Episode I kind of looked like a bad flash game. Sega should check out at Sonic Fan Remix or Rayman Origins for inspiration, because Sonic 4 Episode I and II look like they were thrown together in a day.
  • Cyberninja - May 15, 2012 5:51 p.m.

    What does justin think of the game?
  • Arucard04 - May 15, 2012 6:49 p.m.

    This. His opinion is the only one I really care about. Nothing personal Lucas.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - May 15, 2012 7:52 p.m.

    None taken - I'd also like to hear what he thinks, though I can't see anyone giving this game a 9 or above. Judging from the preview Justin did of Episode II, it sounds like a lot of the worrisome things he noticed just weren't fixed in the final product.
  • Moondoggie1157 - May 15, 2012 8:15 p.m.

    A 9 or above would be a prayer for almost any game... You make the 9 score seem like a shoe-in.
  • Moondoggie1157 - May 15, 2012 8:18 p.m.

    Hell, a 7 or and 8 are still brag-worthy scores I think.
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 18, 2012 4:34 p.m.

    Sorry I'm late, had work on. I wouldn't normally add my opinion to a finished review, but seeing as Lucas asked too, here goes! Just finished the game first time through, so note my opinion may change when I've finished it properly. Took me 2 hours, not 5. Final boss is brilliant and hardcore, music is decent in my opinion, but everyone's got different tastes. The bosses only take a minute or so once you work out how to hit them. Graphics are way better than episode 1, wonderful ray effects, gorgeous skies and still lovely 60fps on Xbox 360. Love the pipe run special stages, the upside-down madness of final zone... I think Iizuka should rightly be proud of this one. I don't think the level design quite hits Episode 1 for speedrun potential (but we'll see), plus Generations has moved Sonic forward since then. The physics are still iffy and some sections, especially in White Park, can be a bit dull. But they're pleasantly in the minority. Based on this single play through, I'd be thinking around an 8 if it was my review. But Lucas argues his points well. I read this review before playing the game so probably enjoyed it more as a result as I expected issues. I think short of using the Generations engine or going fully 2D, it's as good as it was likely to be, and better than the preview event suggested. Top end of expectations - take that as a seal of approval from me :)
  • Moondoggie1157 - May 28, 2012 5:05 p.m.

    Yea, I finally bought and played Episode 2, and I have to say I enjoyed it more than Episode 1. The physics are not quite "old" sonic, but they are far better than episode 1. The graphics are more beautiful, the music is far from annoying (I thought) and the bosses are great fun... I appreciate the review, Lucas... But I really think you are off on this one... Just an opinion though. Keep up the good reviews, man!
  • forestfire55 - May 15, 2012 5:58 p.m.

    I thought this game was great... but whatever, at least if everybody gives it bad ratings the price will go down...
  • ultimatepunchrod - May 15, 2012 7:08 p.m.

    Word. I have a feeling it wasn't this bad, but I'm one of the few that like Ep 1. I just didn't think it was long enough to be $15.
  • ThatGamerDude - May 15, 2012 6:10 p.m.

    I'm still getting it.
  • Moondoggie1157 - May 15, 2012 8:18 p.m.

    I would still urge people to give it a try, especially those who liked Episode 1, like I did. As Lucas said, you either loved it or hated it... He seems like someone who hates it. I'll still give it a go.
  • Annihilator820 - May 15, 2012 11:45 p.m.

    Sega still screwing up? I'd say was just them screwing up, but then I saw that the final Robotnik fight is balls-hard. ...I'm starting to think a certain someone is running Sega and effing up the Sonic franchise on purpose, all while stroking his ginger mustache.
  • Japanaman - May 16, 2012 5:33 a.m.

    Don't buy any Sonic game after Sonic Heroes.

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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