There was a lot of expectations for Sonic The Hedgehog 4 when the first episode came out a year and a half ago because of the name alone. When it did come out, it was a disappointment filled with unoriginal and rehashed level concepts. While the gameplay was functional enough to be reminded of the Genesis games, Sonic fans were not pleased with how Sonic was controlled especially with the bad physics. Here we are now with Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II as it hopes to correct the flaws Episode I had to be a better game. As it turns out, it is a slightly better game, yet it brings a slew of new problems now that Sonic’s sidekick Tails is tagging along for this sequel.
The story continues the events from Episode I and Sonic CD for some odd reason as Dr. Eggman is out in the wild scheming and it is up to Sonic and Tails to defeat him yet again. Since this is somewhat of a sequel to Sonic CD, Metal Sonic makes a return appearance in attempt to defeat his real counterpart for Eggman. Sonic and Tails have to once again traverse through four three-part stages that culminate in boss fights before taking on the final stretch. If you have both Episode I and II on the same console, you can play as Metal Sonic in four of Episode I’s levels called Episode Metal. This is reminiscent of the lock-on feature from the old Genesis games allowing players to play as Knuckles in Sonic 1 or 2. Episode Metal basically explains how Metal Sonic was brought back after being defeated in Sonic CD. Of course with these Sonic games, the story isn’t much, but at least Sega and Sonic Team tried to connect things together to set up the events for this episode.
The gameplay is your traditional 2D Sonic The Hedgehog fare as Sonic speeds through the levels running through loops and spin dashing when necessary. Having recently played Sonic Generations, you have to stop and setup the spin dash rather than mashing a button at will at any moment on the ground. The homing attack from modern Sonic games and Episode I also returns in Episode II when defeating sets of enemies. One of the biggest flaws from Episode I was that the physics were pretty bad and they have improved a little bit, even though there will be moments where the physics won’t go your way. Since Tails is tagging along in this new adventure, new team mechanics are in for the first time in a Sonic game along with co-op play. Basically, Tails is now useful in certain situations, unlike in Sonic 2 where he constantly tries to catch up to Sonic and usually spends his time dying. That is still the case in Episode II, and at times the AI will decide to troll it up, like stealing your air bubble when underwater. The team rolling attack can go through destructible environments and defeat enemies. Tails can also fly Sonic up to certain spots he can’t reach. The team mechanics are nice to have to spice up the gameplay, but you’ll be fighting the controls most of the time, especially during the flying sections over bottomless pits and through various obstacles. Co-op can be played locally and online as Tails can be controlled by another player, but good luck trying to catch up whoever is playing as Sonic in most of the levels.
My biggest complaint with Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I was that Sega and Sonic Team used a lot of rehashed level concepts from the Genesis games. There are still some rehashed concepts in Episode II though, but they’re not that bad to the point where the levels look nearly identical to their original counterparts. The new stages do look fresh and different, but the final stretch does bring back similar elements from the old games and the new takes on them are not as good as they were back in the day. The boss fights from Episode I were also rehashed fights from prior games, but at least Episode II has newer boss encounters. However, these new boss fights take pretty long to beat, especially for a Sonic game, and dying in the last phase can be frustrating as you have to start the long fight over again, which includes watching the boss intro animations over again too. Special stages make a return in Episode II, wihch are similar to the special stages from Sonic 2, so Sonic fans can guess what happens when you beat them all. In addition to collecting the chaos emeralds from the special stages, there are red star rings to collect as well in the various acts.
With fresher and different levels, Episode II does look a bit better than its predecessor. From a castle with some underwater elements, a zone with both snow and theme park themes and an oil desert, there is at least a sense of variety in the levels. Sega and Sonic Team tend to have games out with a smooth frame rate that do not hitch and this game is no exception. While the graphics are fine, I cannot say the same for the sound as the soundtrack is nothing special. The sound effects are generally the same from Episode I and the Genesis games. With a history of great songs and soundtracks for Sonic games over the years, Episode II’s music falls way flat as the tunes are not memorable at all.
Is Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II a worthy entry to Sega’s over 20-years-old franchise? It does fix some of Episode I’s flaws including the overuse of rehashed level concepts and bad physics. However, Episode II has new problems that will not make hardcore Sonic fans happy. The Sonic/Tails team mechanics seem nice on paper and useful whenever the stage prompts you to use them, but the controls can be frustrating to deal with, especially during the flying sections. The boss fights are also frustrating to play through, as they are pretty long for a Sonic game and dying near the end forces you to start the whole fight over again. Even though the graphics look better than Episode I, the soundtrack is nothing memorable, which is disappointing for franchise standards. For $15 on Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and PC (also coming to iOS and Android on later dates), Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II is still worth it for those who like platformers and the old school Sonic games. For hardcore Sonic fans though, prepare to be disappointed, because it is not much better than Episode I.