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Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 2
Instead of calling this game Sonic The Hedgehod 4: Episode 2, it should have the tagline of “Justification of Tails”. That is what Episode 2 really is. The focus here was definitely how can we make Tails so important in this game? Instead of making the team specials and abilities an interesting way of going through the game, they made them an absolute necessity. You can’t even complete Act 1 of the first zone without them. You can’t even play the game without Tails. Without Tails means no Episode 2.
Sigh… now that I got that said I’ll just come out and say it, Episode 2 is better then Episode 1. However, the problem lies in how much better. Yes, Sonic finally keeps his momentum when jumping. Sonic feels fast again, sorta. There are still issues here that impact the supposed gameplay. For starters, whenever I’m going really fast I like to hit the down button and curl into a ball to damage upcoming enemies. It’s better to do that instead of just running headlong into a crab or something. In Sonic 4: Episode 2, whenever I hit down and curl into a ball I slow down. In fact, the only time it does not slow down when going from running to spinning ball is when heading down hills but then you’d expect momentum to carry you at that point. In any other stretch of zone, including loops, if you switch from running to spinning ball you will actually slow down. I had a huge problem with this seeing as I do that whenever I am running in a large stretch as to protect myself. I have done that since Sonic 1.
Another thing, however more minor, is that the animation that Sonic takes from standing still to eventually running out is just weird. His feet are obviously not moving as fast as the screen is. It looks odd. It looked odd in Episode 1 and I’m surprised they kept it in Episode 2. Watching Sonic’s feet actually move step-by-step no matter how fast you are going just never sat right with me. Thankfully, Sonic’s feet do get into a oval-like shape when running at top speed. It’s just from start up to then that it looks very weird.
Aside from the momentum and animations, Episode 2 just doesn’t feel like the revival all the hype and trailers made it out to be. It seems like Sega really hoped nostalgia would make you forget about the issues surrounding Sonic 4. A lot of old school enemies are back but that really doesn’t matter, does it? Sonic games were never really about what we were jumping on or hurting. It was about speed, excellent level design, and the weird crap Robotnik/Eggman came up with. The enemies really don’t matter when you realize that nearly every stage in Episode 4 continues to hold your hand and guide you through them to the end. This has been a problem since after Sonic Heroes. Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 escaped this issue by providing a ton of little areas in stages to slow you down, make you figure stuff out, and do it right. The old Sonic games did that, too. You had pulley machines, floating steps, and I could go on and on. After Sonic Heroes (in my opinion, the last good 3D Sonic game), the series took on a new route of holding your hand and making sure you took the right path to success. The hardest thing in these new games is picking which track to grind on. Left, right, or center. I was really excited for Sonic Generations and finally go back to playing 2D Sonic but this issue was present in that, as well.
Now, I’m going to run off track here but bare with me. I understand that Sonic was always meant to appeal to kids first then mature, long-standing fans second. That is completely understandable and you can’t really complain if you aren’t complaining about Mario. However, my six year old nephew was able to beat the first act in the first zone of Episode 2 without dying. It’s not that I’m looking for a difficult Sonic game. In my opinion, there are none. Cannon’s Core from Sonic Adventure 2 was the hardest the series ever got for me. It’s the lack of good stage design that is killing this series. Putting a loop followed by a small ramp meant to make you jump and then subsequently homing attack three enemies in an upward fashion just to reach a ledge is not good stage design. That is great choreography. This is exactly what Sonic has become. You go fast, do a series of jumps and attacks, and boom you made it to the finish line. Doesn’t that look cool!? Well, alright it looks kinda cool but it felt more like a quick time event cutscene.
I don’t feel like I’m playing the stage. I feel like it is playing me and all I do is input a button here and there. I know Sega tried hard here and I am thankful for that. I am thankful that they are constantly trying to bring Sonic back to his roots and enable both sides of the fan base to enjoy it. The problem here is that it really seems like Sega has lost its way with the series. What happened to the team that made Sonic Adventure 1 and 2? Those were the best 3D Sonic games. Why not go the Mega Man 9/10 route and create a retro revival of the series?
Nevertheless, we must go back to the review. The above is important, however. It shows how out of tune Sega is with its own mascot and why we fell in love with the series in the first place.
Episode 2 takes all of the described issues above and crams them right back in. I am not a fan of how integral and important Tails is. The only time I sort of liked having to use him was in the boss fights but even then it felt like over use. In the special stages, which are great throwbacks to Sonic 2, Tails follows me and picks up missed rings if possible. He jumps when I jump. He moves when I move. That is what Tails does. He mimics Sonic and sometimes picks him up to fly somewhere. He doesn’t have to fly Sonic through 30-50% of a stage, initiate a nigh unstoppable rolling attack, or several other crazy things. One of the worst things about this is when you wish to get off of Tail’s support. It feels so awkward. For example, with the first boss you have to use Tails to fly up, jump off, and hit Eggman’s head. Just jumping off Tails feels really weird. Sonic just lets go and starts falling. He is curled in a ball and yes he will do damage but I felt like I needed to jump again. This made me initiate the homing attack and I’d completely miss my target. Perhaps that is just me but I didn’t feel like Sonic was safe just letting go of Tails and falling down. I felt a need to hit the jump button.
Why is the homing attack in a 2D Sonic anyways? It is a great thing to have in 3D games. It makes sense there for targeting. However, in 2D space it just serves to make things easier. I see an enemies floating there and I just rush into it, killing it. It eliminates a lot of challenge some stages have thanks to enemy positioning. Just put the enemies in a row, let me jump, and hit that button over and over again until I reach the end of the stage. That’s how the stage design and enemy positioning feel like in Sonic 4.
Am I being harsh? I don’t think so. I really feel like we need to let Sega know what is wrong here. Not just bash them! There is no reason to bash Sega. They are trying. They just have to realize what they are doing that is truly hurting the series. Sega is going through a rough spot right now. Not as bad a THQ but it is rough. They are keeping Sonic around and the most recent news was that there is no planned Episode 3 or 4 or whatever. Good move. End Sonic 4 and focus on another project. I wish they kept the 4 out of this episodic game, though. They should have saved Sonic 4 for a 16-bit throwback revival akin to Mega Man 9 and 10. I was sad to see what Episode 4 really was. It is better then the previous episode but that isn’t saying much. Sonic 4 really is a great example of how Sonic went from a beloved franchise to a mediocre spin dance lesson.
To finish this review, I wanted to delve into Metal Sonic’s return and section of the game. If you own both episodes of Sonic 4 you’ll be treated to these retreated Episode 1 zones and possession of Metal Sonic. Now, I’m not entirely sure how this unlocks, to be honest. When I first started up Episode 2, there was no mention of Episode “Metal”. So I played the first act of the first zone and then saved and shut the game down. When I launched the game again, I got the alert telling me that I unlocked this extra side of the game.
Metal Sonic is still laying there all messed up after losing to Sonic back in Sonic CD. That is a long time. Eggman finds Metal Sonic thanks to Little Planet coming back around towards the main planet (is it Earth? Or do they still call it Mobius? I can never remember) and he revives the old nemesis. Eggman sends Metal Sonic back after Sonic and control is now yours, dear player. Episode “Metal” is indeed the best part of Sonic 4: Episode 2. Playing as Metal Sonic is pretty awesome and a better throwback to the old games then actually playing as Sonic. Just watching as you move and then get pushed along using the rocket in Metal Sonic’s back is just cool. It is everything you thought it would be like.
Episode “Metal” is pretty fun and definitely worth playing. The main question you have to ask yourself is if it is worth owning both episodes of Sonic 4 to play. Do you already? You’re going to have a blast here. Do you just own Episode 1 looking at 2? Or even don’t own Episode 1 but got excited for Episode 2? To be honest, I’m not sure. I was not a fan of Episode 1 in the slightest. While Episode 2 is better, I can barely recommend it. It is just a shame you must own both in order to play this excellent piece highlighted by Metal Sonic.
Played on Steam for the PC. Also tried out the 360 version.