Also available on: PSN, PC, iOS, Android (June)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Platformer
It has been two years since Sonic 4: Episode 1, which many fans might feel is too long for an episodic title. The wait is finally over though, and players can speed their way through the conclusion to Sonic 4. Was Episode 2 worth the wait, or is the blue hedgehog on his last legs?
On paper, Sonic 4: Episode 2 is a near perfect return to form for the series. Sonic is back in strict 2D, which has always been the hedgehog's strength. There is a greater variety in scenery than in almost any past Sonic game too, with each zone split into three acts that each have a fairly distinct visual style. For example, one zone begins with a snow-covered mountain in its first act that transitions to an arctic theme park roller coaster and finally to an underwater maze by the third act.
Sonic and Tails can team up for more than just flying this time around. Underwater, Tails can propel Sonic just like his flying, and on land the duo can combine into a giant rolling ball that can speed over ramps and plow through obstacles. Even when playing alone, teamwork manoeuvres are easily performed with the press of a single button, with the action depending on whether you are jumping, on the ground, or underwater.
The physics have also been tweaked since Episode 1 in order to take Sonic's momentum more into account. There are no longer instances of Sonic stopping in midair or standing still on a vertical slope. And yet, not all tweaks are for the better, as the fixes go too far where it begins to hinder Sonic's basic moves. The spin dash, once Sonic's go-to move for a boost of speed, is rendered nearly useless as it can hardly push the player up steep inclines due to the enhanced effect of gravity. While baffling, that odd behaviour is easy enough to work around using the more powerful combined spin move with Tails.
However, momentum also often gets in the way when targeting enemies with the homing attack. Frequently the homing attack meant an unpleasant surprise, as the lock-on mechanics would target an enemy slightly out of range. Momentum, now playing a significant role, would faithfully carry Sonic to his target only for the hedgehog to uncurl from his attack animation at the last second and take damage. Combine this phenomenon with the common placement of crucial enemies over bottomless pits, and frustration can set in rather quickly.
This leads to Episode 2's greatest weakness, the levels themselves. While diverse in setting and appearance, very few stand out as particularly interesting or engaging. Part of this is Episode 2's reliance on water levels. Never Sonic's strong suit, nearly a quarter of the game takes place underwater where movements are slowed as Sonic trudges from air pocket to air pocket.
This is to say nothing of the music, which dithers between unobtrusive electronica and the painful ten-note cacophony that will have players reaching for the mute button during every boss fight. The Sonic series has had a long history of catchy tunes, few if any of which will be remembered fondly from Sonic 4: Episode 2.
Perhaps the highlight of Sonic 4: Episode 2 is the part of the game only available to those who own the first episode. Owning both Episode 1 and Episode 2 unlocks 'Episode Metal', where players control Metal Sonic on a four stage tear through new levels based on zones from the first game. These stages have a greater sense of speed and more varied layouts, making them the levels players will most want to play through again. Unfortunately they are only accessible with Metal Sonic, so playing through them with a second player is not an option.
The most baffling aspect of Sonic 4: Episode 2 is its timing. It fixes many of the issues that held Episode 1 back, but arrives two years later while introducing many new problems in the process. In the time between those episodes Sega and Sonic Team released Sonic Generations, which successfully fixed the issues that exist in both titles.
What we have now is a Sonic game that takes a step forward from Episode 1, but is still a step back from a game half a year old. Sonic 4: Episode 2 certainly isn't the worst game to grace the series over the years, but not even the most steadfast Sonic fans will fondly remember Episode 2 as one of their favourites, if it is remembered at all.