Reviews

Sonic 4 Episode II: The Review

Sonic 4: Episode II taught me a lot of things: the power of teamwork and friendship. The soft bigotry of low expectations. The fact that WHITE CASTLE! SYLVANIA PARK! jokes never get old. But is this spiritual successor to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 a Hidden Palace or just lost somewhere in the courtyard?

When Sonic 4: Episode I was released back in late 2010, I pulled a sneaky move: I claimed that I was going to write the review knowing full well I had no intention of doing so. Because the game was basically damned from the start and so emotionally loaded for so many people, there was no way to actually talk about the game without talking about the huge fan backlash for it even existing independent of any merits of the game itself. After all, the fanbase (or rather, a couple dozen people on our forums who felt they could monopolize discussion) lost their minds and the ensuing chaos drove me insane. That sort of chain, my friends, is worse than a trail of Bubbles over a pit. However, I’ve always felt that Episode I is a decent game if you play it exactly in the way intended–for the player to spend most of the time flying around and smashing buttons for chains when necessary with a small amount of actual platforming mixed in. If the player wasn’t used to the mechanics of older Sonic games, I’m sure the adaptation curve was much more natural than someone who was thrown off when Sonic controlled like ass. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see where someone who grew up on Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 could enjoy it.

That there are 12 year olds who have no memory of games before Sonic Adventure 2 both makes me feel old and helps put the Sonic 4 saga into context.

In contrast, the hype around Sonic 4: Episode II has been mild at best. After the PR blunders made with Episode I, there was little faith that Sonic Team and Dimps would make much change or improvements. After all, why should they? Episode I, flaws and all, sold more than a million digital copies. There were feedback meetings, but they failed to inspire much confidence. There was an unintentional game leak, but no one really seemed to care.

(For the record, Sega? Please stop the “there will be changes from this build” when a near-final game is released shenanigans. It just makes you look bad.)

Regardless, Sonic 4: Episode 2 has arrived for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS, Tegra 3-powered Android devices (non-Tegra 3 Android owners should be seeing a release in June) and Windows Phone 7. The game picks up on the Sonic 4 story by having Sonic and Tails team up to defeat a resurgent Metal Sonic while Dr. Eggman builds the Death Egg mk.II using Little Planet. The game diverges from its spiritual predecessor of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with the addition of Tag Actions, first seen in Sonic Advance 3. With Tails’ accompaniment, three new actions open up: the Copter Combo, which lets Tails carry Sonic and fly him over short distances, the Submarine Combo, which is essentially the same action but for swimming, and the Rolling Combo, a powered-up Spin Dash using Sonic and Tails combined in a ball. These new actions bring a breath of fresh air to Sonic’s gameplay style, and I am actually a big fan of the concept–they feel organic, natural and a natural evolution of 2D gameplay. What’s frustrating is that these new moves are hardly utilized by the game in any creative fashion. There are parts where the Copter Combo is required to move forward in a stage, but few points where choosing it over traditional gameplay is rewarded. I struggled to find any points where using the Rolling Combo would break through a hidden wall or do something beyond clear a temporary barrier in the main path. There are times (most notably in White Park) where if you choose to use the Copter Combo and then land instead of run on a path, you will die. I love having options, but don’t actively punish me for choosing them.

The physics have made strides in improvement since Episode I: controls feel slower and more deliberate, and many of the most egregious errors of Episode I (slopes that Sonic should fall off of, sudden bursts of speed, uncurling in jumps, complete drops in momentum) have been resolved, but the game still doesn’t “feel” quite right in terms of weight and paths where speed is added arbitrarily to the character . It comes very close, though, and should be fine enough for the majority of players–it’s really only the Retro contingent that will want more fine-tuning.

The music in Episode II is underwhelming, to put it lightly–most tracks fall somewhere between forgettable and offensively, turn-off-your-speakers bad. This is especially baffling to me given that at the end of Episode I, Sonic Retro was solicited by Sega to give a copy of the same tools we use to create Mega Drive music. The excuse used last game of lacking the resources to pull off authentic Mega Drive music no longer applies. I can appreciate the desire to have a different, yet still lo-fi synth, sound, but the execution of it in this case was just horrendous. The only track I could find myself relistening to would be White Park Act 2, and this is only for the Twinkle Park homage in it. There are tunes I sincerely like (Sky Fortress Act 2/3 in particular) but the arrangement and instruments are so shitty that they make me hate the song by association. It really is a shame, because there are remixes and arrangements of the songs done by fans that really show the songs in a better light–I just wish the release had those instead.

It’s a shame that it feels like more time was spent in making these adjustments than making a quality game, though. The levels themselves feel very bland and uninspired. They should have just named Sylvania Castle Zone “I Want to be Rocky Zone,” because you will do a lot of pointless jumping up and down on stairs. Were there complaints of long straight lines in Splash Hill Zone? Yes. Was this the way to solve that issue? No. Sylvania Castle itself is an interesting setting, but little is done to really make the zone memorable–the destruction of pillars to climb across is rather prosaic, and the zone feels more dense than expansive. Its boss, Egg Serpentleaf, is oddly reminiscent of classic Knuckles’ Chaotix boss fights, and is just as boring as those were back in 1995.

The Special Stage is pretty straightforward: take the Sonic 2 special stages, add slight variations. It’s executed decently, though I’m not a fan of the slight cutscene after each round, which slows down gameplay.

White Park, the only truly new idea brought to Sonic 4: Episode II is probably the most interesting zone in the game, but is still immensely frustrating in its blandness. Tunneling through snow is cool, and the traps set by freezing water are interesting, but it’s supremely annoying to see novel things like swings and carousels in the background and then realize you will never get to see or interact with those things. The concept is right there–why were these things never put in the game? By comparison, Casino Street Zone at least had the memorable flying card rides and flipping card platforms; there’s really nothing like that in this zone, or any zone for that matter. The Metal Sonic race boss is a nice fight but does drag on a bit longer than I would have liked–it really should be a sub-2 minute thing.

Oil Desert’s wind and quicksand mechanics are nice in concept, but again, nothing really interesting is done with them. Being blown backwards and having to race forward isn’t awe-inspiring. At least the sand falling traps seen in Act 3 are motivating and fun without being cheap. The boss of this zone really epitomizes the flaws of the game: a short, annoying boss track, a plodding boss with no real difficulty or sense of urgency and a baffling last-minute switch in fight style. Normally, that’s a good thing, but in the case of A Giant Born of Scrap Metal, it’s just a senseless shift.

Sky Fortress stands out to me as the only really fun level, even if it is also the least interesting: the Sky Chase homage in Act 1 was a pleasant surprise and managed to pull a creative twist with the Tornado ramming through obstacles that made it feel fresh. Acts 2 and 3 truly feel like there are multiple paths and places to explore in a way the other zones do not, which makes up for the dull setting. A fortress that flies and is on its way to the Death Egg? Nope, we haven’t played this setting a million times.

Death Egg mk.II definitely takes a few minutes to get used to–the rapidly rotating stage can be a bit nauseating (or maybe I’m just getting old.) The two  Metal Sonic fights are a blast, including a certain Stardust Speedway nod (!!!) Moreover, the final boss of the game (which I’ll let you discover, dear reader–no need to spoil) may in fact be one of my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog series boss fights, which came as a great surprise. It hits a lot of sweet spots and actually utilizes the strengths of Sonic 4 in the best way possible. It’s a shame the rest of the game didn’t receive the same amount of love and care that this obviously did.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not have an opportunity to play Episode Metal (I have Episode 1 on Wii, 2 on 360) but if you like playing model swaps with improved Episode 1 physics and new Act 1s of Episode I‘s zones, it’s probably not bad. I can’t say I would go out of my way to buy Episode I if I didn’t already have it for this particular feature, but it’s worth checking out if you have both games on one system.

I can’t say that I would recommend this game at the $15 price point it’s currently selling for; perhaps if both Episode I and II were  combined at that price, it would be different. If you can get it under $10, the four or so hours it takes to beat the game start to finish would probably be justified. The meat of the game–the actual zones themselves–just feel too amateur and fangame-y to really recommend, and though there are some genuinely neat and fun parts of Episode II to consider, they’re not strong enough to override what are some really boring-ass levels. If more care had been taken into making interesting levels (especially with the rumors of an Episode III and more backward-compatibility) I would feel differently, but that’s the main stumbling block on what would otherwise be a solid improvement over S4E1. Sadly, for all the flaws of Episode I‘s levels, they’re pulled off better. If the design issues can be resolved (and, for the love of God, some better music can be placed in here), we might finally have a game that could honor the Sonic 4 name by any theoretical Episode III.

tl;dr: It’s OK, but it’s probably not worth $15–wait until you can get it on sale.

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51 Comments

  • Reply

    A fair and honest review. I disagree on some points but I respect where you’re coming from, and in fact I think the age gap and “start point” in the overall franchise is a factor many of us (myself included) haven’t taken into account.

  • Reply

    I found this to be a spot on review. I wish you had mentioned something about the difficulty of the Special Stages (I played the beta versions and kept my save so I don’t know if anything changed). And myself liking almost all Sonic games (classic series, Dreamcast era including Shuffle, etc.) I can say this was a big improvement over Ep. 1 but not quite there. Also, anyone know why Super Sonic has Ep. 1 physics?

    • Reply

      I thought exactly the same thing, I struggled though 7 dull as dog shit special stages for a half baked superform.

  • Reply

    I agree with this for the most part. It’s a lot better than Ep1, but there are still a lot of flaws intact. Though I thought the music was pretty good, personally.

  • Reply

    The local co-op in this game is good fun with a friend.
    For whatever reason, this mode has none of the cut-scenes or ending. I thought that was weird.

  • Reply

    It’s painfully obvious sega can’t get 2D Sonic right anymore, they have an excellent engine provided by Christian Whitehead which they’re pretty much refusing to use on anything other than Sonic CD, but I guess that doesn’t matter considering level design quality is deteriorating so much that you probably couldn’t make any use of decent physics. I hope episode 2 is the last of the Sonic 4 series, so maybe the next 2D Sonic can escape the limitations imposed by Dimps’ inferior programming. Episode 2 ‘s physics were a major improvement but it just felt like a polished turd, you could still feel episode 1’s staleness beneath. Retro should make a new 2D Sonic with original levels and classic physics and put SEGA to shame.

  • Reply

    DIMPS should stop making Sonic games.

    • Reply

      I wouldn’t really blame it on DIMPS. They designed Sonic Advance waaaay back in 2001, which I honestly feel is one of the closest things to a proper Sonic 4. That game has the blueprint to make a successful Sonic game, yet Sega doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge it. They keep sticking to Advance 2-Rush era speedy gameplay with silly level design issues.

  • Reply

    Jun Senoue completely, horribly, utterly, totally, undeniably, sickeningly, disgustingly, irritatingly, revoltingly, SUCKS at making music using classic instruments.

    For Episode 3, simply hire the Dreams Come True musicians again along with the lead composer for Sonic 2 and 2. Or at least just one of the other. Pay them whatever they want and quit being cheap using some Japanese hillbilly to make such ear bleeding music.

    • Reply

      Naofumi Hataya.

  • Reply

    The only thing that they changed from the EpII Supersonic is the electricity that he emits. the physics were never changed.

  • Reply

    Something may be wrong with me but I find myself disagreeing overall with nearly every review I have read. Most have given it mixed to poor reviews, but I find the game to be a lot of fun and much better than its predecessor. Is this because of my low expectations going in? (I DID like Sonic 4 Ep 1 on its own merits, but it clearly didn’t live up to its pedigree). The game feels a lot closer to its Genesis ancestors in tone and spirit, even with its flaws. I even like the music, its much closer to the feel of the old tunes, though they do get very repetitive.

    If it has a large flaw, I would say that I wished they had done more. More zones, stronger level design. But what is there is pretty darn good. I think at this point we need to isolate new games from the classics (which are steeped in obfuscating nostalgia) or the hundreds of fan games out there that have free reign to push envelopes. Its gonna be hard to live up to those standards.

  • Reply

    As well as a lot of other people, I agree with this review mostly. I do like that the physics have been improved, but like a lot of people they still feel a bit off. I also kinda didn’t like the level design at times, but it did feel a bit better.

  • Reply

    I agree for the most part, but i don’t think the music is THAT horrible, sure it’s not so good, but i like several tunes. And you forget to mention horrible spin dash/rolling physics in order to make this review complete.

  • Reply

    I actually liked it, then again I didn’t dislike S4E1 either, the physics actually don’t seem they been improved much, or maybe I’m blind to see them, also the music can use better instruments and maybe make them longer, but the gameplay was actually fun and I quite liked the combo moves, though sometimes you can easily misuse the flying ability to make certain areas easier, wished there was a way to choose either Sonic or Tails, anyway looking forward to S4E3 if it does happen!

  • Reply

    Now, while I may love Episode 2 to pieces, I find no need raise any disagreement against your review. It’s clear, it’s concise, and it really did catch me by surprise considering the usual stuff that one could read here (see forums).

    Well done review indeed, Scarred Sun.

  • Reply

    What rumors about Episode 3? All we have is a unsourced article from a site as reliable as ugh Cute Fluffy Kittens. The launch trailer was talking about Death Egg MkII. They haven’t been exactly open to the idea of further episodes compared to how gung-ho they were about the episodic concept when Episode 1 was announced, Iizuka is ify about it and went as far as having the “to be continued” thing removed from the ending.

  • Reply

    I believe that to expect the Sonic perfection of years past today is a little silly, personally… However, the fact that there is an improvement over the years shows that one day, ST (or DIMPS) will get back there.

    A lot of the arguments I hear is how it makes no sense that a game from years ago, so much simpler in design, had such perfect gameplay. But that’s the whole point! Developing for current gen is in general more complex than back then, correct me if I am wrong. Unless SEGA were to pull a Capcom and released Sonic 5 like Mega Man 9/10, which some of you would like, the only way SEGA can succeed is with the way they have been handling Sonic 4. If SEGA tried to release Sonic 4 in a retail package, its Ep. II content would definitely not have been as good as the current one is.

  • Reply

    This game is ok.

    Just ok.

    That is really all I can say. It plays fine but its just too bland in my opinion. Nothing in the game is very memorable, the music is just there, and while the moves are cool, they usually have no point.

    SEGA, keep the engine. Please though, spread those creative wings a bit. I know you guys have it in you.

    • Reply

      You are absolutley right, SEGA has it in them, but I think they are afraid of what might happen if fans don’t like what they come up with.

  • Reply

    I agree with Scarred Sun when I say Sky Fortress acts 2 and 3 are the most satisfying levels of the bunch. Everything else felt really phoned in.

    I know I’ve gotten flack for saying that, but it’s true. Aside from the aforementioned two stages, every other level feels so dull and lifeless. I don’t really feel any love in the stages so much as the design team was going through the motions. For example, you can feel the heart in Sonic Generations in terms of quality and detail and that really helped it be a better game. Here… it’s just not there outside of SFZ2 and 3.

    It’s not a bad game so much as it’s painfully average. Perhaps Sega was too busy on repairing the physics with that “increased budget” that they forgot to actually put love and passion into the game. Who knows. All I know is that I don’t feel this is a $15 game.

  • Reply

    I can’t believe anyone enjoyed the final boss. It is the cheapest, worst boss in the entire series, even worse than Time Eater. It’s a design mess of cheap attacks, unavoidable moves and gimmicks, and I hope we never see anything that bad again.

  • Reply

    Man, this dude was pretty harsh on the game…and seriously dude!? You don’t remember the Look Alike and Stardust Speedway Bad Future Remixes? Only White Park Act 2? And his last statement that the game wasn’t worth 15$, that’s exaclty what people said about Episode 1!! So this guy is basically saying this game was no better than Episode 1, which is total bull…but, these are all opinions, but I think he WAS too harsh on certain aspects of the game, I believe this game was a major improvement, not a step back, as so many are calling it.

  • Reply

    aside from the game being way to short i think the reveiw is fair the only 2 zones i like to play either as sonic or as tails are white park zone 2 and sky fortress zone 2 mainly for the music other then that the nerfed supersonic like in generations is bad and the special stages granted are close to what sonic 2 did they get annoying on the learning curve to fast on stage 7 where they force you to use the speed function to actually get to completion . now lets hope that the rumored episode 3 will fix all the issues that are about in the game and a non nerfed super sonic

  • Reply

    I do feel like this review is a bit nitpicky; although I agree on most of the nitpicks discussed, I think that more of the good things should have been mentioned.

    I seriously, SERIOUSLY hope that if SEGA makes Episode III, that they introduce some new level settings. I am so sick of seeing old ideas brought back in Sonic 4. Sonic 4 is the next in an epic series, not Sonic Generations! In fact, since Episode I came out around Sonic Generations’s release, it took out a great deal of hype from Generations (notably the Death Egg Robot).

    Furthermore, we didn’t see reused ideas in Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 & Knuckles, so why should Sonic 4 consist of total recycling? Nostalgia is great, but 1) it shouldn’t be what the ENTIRE GAME is about unless the game is Sonic Generations, and 2) nostalgia shouldn’t be executed as recycled levels and areas. White Park Zone Act 2’s music is a brilliant example of how nostalgia can be implemented, while also keeping the game fresh.

  • Reply

    Is there a reason why Taxman’s Engine couldn’t be used on a new game? As I understand it Sonic CD wasn’t an emulation was it?

  • Reply

    Agreed!! I found the last boss to be as easy as the final boss on Sonic CD – even the metal Sonic race was easier than in that game too – I thought there would be an ACT 3 with a “big” final boss – even Episode 1’s drawn out final stage was more challenging

  • Reply

    I beat the final boss in just over a minute Gnargle >.> a real challenge is Special Stage 7

  • Reply

    I guess you have to look at it like this: SEGA has already stated that they were not doing an exact knock-off to the old series…. There were gonna be new elements. One being the physics, two being the moves. The homing attack is now apart of Sonics regular moveset since sonic adventure. They want it to look familiar, but play differently. That being said, I like it. I would play it again. Yes, there are things that I thought they could do better, like the music (why did they just have that boss theme playing over and over again?) but I liked it.

    • Reply

      If the physics are going to be as dramatically different from the classics as they are, then it shouldn’t be called sonic 4. Sonic 1,2 & 3 all had slight variations on the same physics with new moves added (spindash, Insta-shield) and that makes sense as an evolution of the gameplay, but unfamiliar physics in a so called sequel is a bad move to make. I’ve said from the start that if it wasn’t called Sonic 4, it would be so harshly criticised.

  • Reply

    If they make an Episode 3, I hope the first zone is Green Hill, like an exact copy of Green Hill, and after you beat it, there are a bunch of new and creative zones to go explore.

  • Reply

    I agree completely with this review. Didn’t think there were many people who caught on with the pointless jumping up and down stairs thing but I’m glad it was noticed by people other than me~

  • Reply

    This review was very well written. It’s clear and to the point. Though, I’d like to point out that I only have a few minor gripes with the game itself. Overall, I’d say this is a HUGE improvement over the last episode. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with a 2D Sonic game in a very long time, let alone genuinely liked. As fans, we need to draw a line between what the classic games were and how the new games different.

    I feel that some people are just too jaded to accept that something like this will not be as new and different, as well as hit all the right spots where people’s expectations are. This game certainly isn’t Sonic 3 in its entirety, that’s for sure. We can’t fully deem that Sonic 4 as a whole is bad until Episode III is made. As long as enough people buy Episode II, there is a slight possibility it could be made.

    Anyway, there’s my two cents.

  • Reply

    I dunno, I thought the normal Metal Sonic boss theme was the most memorable track in the game (even though someone observed that it’s probably just a sped-up mix of Look Alike from Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie).

  • Reply

    Was I the only one that was annoyed by the lack of traps, badniks and generally Death Egg MkII being an actual level and not just a filler bland level with a boss rush theme?

    Also still uncurling happens, especially after loops and pressing down when rolling doesn’t build up speed, on the contrary it slows Sonic down…

  • Reply

    All of these comments are just making me die inside.

    I LOVED playing this game, and I wouldn’t mind setting it beside the Genesis games. This is the real Sonic 4 we’ve been waiting for……but since this fanbase is out of control, it was destined to get nitpicky feedback.

    This review’s not a badly written review. I will agree with some flaws you’ve noted. But COME ON. It feels more like a rant. If Sonic Retro could give Sonic Generations 3DS a positive review, then why not Sonic 4-2 get similar respect?

    • Reply

      If Sonic Retro could give Sonic Generations 3DS a positive review, then why not Sonic 4-2 get similar respect?

      You will be shocked to learn that, as a site with a quarter-million readers and thousands of active members, we are not a monolith of opinions. That’s why we cycle through reviewers to begin with.

  • Reply

    Still not quite Sonic 4 in my book not bad but not great either. My biggest complaint is that they billed it as a sequel to CD but left out Amy but included Metal who appeared after her.I feel that they should have just brought back Silver Sonic cause it’s very clear that that’s all he’s their for to fill the void. Any way I’ve got to agree with a guy above and say that Sonic Advance is still Sonic 4.

  • Reply

    Listen SMBMadman, as long as you liked the game, who cares what other people think?

  • Reply

    Continuity error: There already is a Death Egg Mk.II.

    (Sonic the Fighters)

    • Reply

      Ah, but you assume that Sonic the Fighters is even in continuity. But regardless, the ship there is simply called the Death Egg II, not the Mk II. A subtle difference that…um…oh, who are we kidding. It’s probably a case where Sega just really doesn’t care. There are bigger things to worry about in the games, though.

    • Reply

      Actually, this explains why there is a Death Egg II in Sonic the Fighters, and that is probably why(spoilers) they didn’t have Sonic destroy the Death Egg mk.II, because Eggman probably uses it for Sonic the Fighters, which could also explain what happened to Metal Sonic and Eggman after the final boss…but this is all theory.

      • Reply

        Yes, at the end of Sonic 4 Episode 2, Sonic, Tails, Eggman, and Metal Sonic do the Time Warp dance and suddenly everything is old school and Metal Sonic becomes a rocket because lol why the fuck not? Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

  • Reply

    Aquaslash, Would you mind if I get this to the SEGA forums?

  • Reply

    If you are looking forward to an awesome 2D Sonic game, then it’s Sonic Megamix. Enough said.

  • Reply

    Episode I has great level design. Really. With the past of time, I have loving and playing episode I more than Colours (Wii).
    This episode II is very good too, though I liked more Episode I’s graphics.

  • Reply

    Super Sonic plays horribly. If Tails interacts with him (i.e. picking him up to fly or curling into a ball with him) he reverts to normal Sonic. This is horrible, horrible, horrible. Playing as Super Sonic is no fun at all.

    Also, the final boss was possibly the easiest boss I have played ever. I beat it first time without even knowing what I was doing.

    The final special stage is brilliant and a real challenge though!

    Sega have fixed many problems, but have introduced a ton more. I’m beginning to doubt that Sega has ever played one of the older Sonic games.

  • Reply

    @abudabu The reason that you revert back to normal when you tag action with Tails is so that you won’t use up your Super Sonic form and also so you can switch back and forth between normal and Super Sonic.

  • Reply

    “I’m beginning to doubt that Sega has ever played one of the older Sonic games.”

    you misspelled Dimps

  • Reply

    You Know I Think it’s funny that it looks like they didn’t finish everything in the game and ran out of time. Notable that the red star rings don’t do anything(except an acheivement). The fact that super sonic still has episode 1 physics. the Lack of the amount of enemies in each level. It plays well but it is dull to say the least. The music I sorta like(but thats my opinion its not yours). I like the idea of nostalgia but sega. Get some new ideas Please. It is very irritating that You use the same level themes over and over again.(white park being the exception.)All the same the physics are great.
    Sega If you want to make a good 2d sonic game. Take time in developing it. Don’t rush. And for god sakes get someone better than dimps. The Only good game dimps has made was sonic advance and sonic advance 3.

  • Reply

    btw p.s. Homing attack should be used for the 3d games. Not the 2d games.

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