There’s no easy way to say it, Sonic 4: Episode I was an absolute travesty. It didn’t have the same feel as the Mega Drive classics, despite being billed as the true successor. As a consequence, many fans of the franchise seeking a return to form were left disappointed until the recent celebration of Sonic’s 20th birthday in the form of Sonic Generations. The balloons have since been popped and the cake has long been eaten. Now we get into the uncertain aftermath with Sonic 4: Episode II, which promises not only to fix the issues surrounding Episode I, but also includes the return of Tails and Metal Sonic. Is this episodic about to take an epic turn, or are we in for another bit of disappointment?
Let’s get straight to the point: if anyone else out there tells you that Sonic is all about speed, you should probably direct them to Sonic Advance 2 – which was terrible due to poor level design choices. For the sum of its parts, Sonic 4: Episode II fares a little better when Sonic is at speed, but there are several glaring issues. Firstly he needs to be stripped of the homing attack power, a tool that was initially made to make the 3D Sonic’s more playable. The momentum has been fixed slightly, but in my eyes it still feels wrong. Is it the implementation of Tails sections being a requirement for some levels that slow down the momentum? In parts certainly, such as the forced underwater sections that feel lethargic and tedious.
Despite the boss battles being huge in scale with an obvious dig at Episode I’s mostly rehashed encounters with the first boss battle, the inclusion of Tails and the duo abilities make the vast majority of them too easy. Given that the build-up many of these battles have are somewhat epic, it is baffling to report that the first one can be easily be dispatched by flying up to his face. Things are varied with the inclusion of Metal Sonic; but then again with just five stages with three acts each, the entire game can be finished from the start in around an hour or so. Adopters of Sonic 4: Episode I will also obtain a secret chapter – dubbed “Episode Metal”, which apparently explains how Metal Sonic went from his defeat in Sonic CD to the present episode. Here you will see rehashed stages from Sonic 4: Episode I that further outline just how bland the design was back then, and this lasts even less time.
So what exactly is there on offer here at around £10? Well aside from the Sonic 2 inspired Special Stages (that are mostly a joy to behold) and finding Red Star Rings that were present in Sonic Generations, not a lot. There is functionality for co-op play both locally and online, though the spring-back mechanic in place is jarring to say the least. You can curiously link game data across both Xbox 360 and Windows 7 phone versions, though this wasn’t available to test on launch. Mind you, only the dedicated would probably be prepared to pay twice for the same game and having a two for the price of one strategy doesn’t seem like Microsoft’s bag here.
Is there actually anything this game does right fully? Well it certainly looks very slick with the vibrant colours we’d expect from a Sonic game. Particularly the backgrounds and their animations are just a wonderful joy to look at. The classic sound effects are present, though you will most certainly wish they had put the rate of extra lives down a notch as the end of every single stage will most likely yearn over 10000 points. Music is a varied success, trying to emulate the 16-bit melodies, even down to the synthetic instruments, but they never really impress. In short, the answer to the previous question is a resounding no.
Despite its many shortcomings, Sonic 4: Episode II is certainly a step in the right direction compared to Episode I. Its strays on the verge of brilliance with its stylish visuals and has a great setup by using one of Sonic’s classic foes making a long-awaited return. However, it’s generally poor level design and dull boss battles rarely make much of an impact. Sonic Team’s baffling issue involving the physics from Episode I hasn’t quite been fixed, despite a brand new engine designed solely to fix them. The lack of key extras pretty much sums up Sonic 4: Episode II in a nutshell; a sadly tedious return to form in the wrong direction. Having said that, at the very least though, it isn’t as woefully disappointing as Sonic 4: Episode I was.