Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (XBLA)

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (XBLA)

The fact that I still hold out hope for Sonic titles speaks directly to just how much of an impact the original Genesis titles had on me as a lad. For two decades, I’ve played Sonic titles. Even though Mario has a more consistent track record of quality, Sonic’s high points have been bigger and better than Mario’s across the board, in my opinion. I think what I’m trying to say is that, in spite of how hard Sonic tries to make it otherwise at times, I am definitely a Sonic fan.

That’s why Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I was such a disappointment, and why Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is only marginally better.

Let me first say that I absolutely adore and appreciate the thought behind Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and its episodic development and release. In much the same way that Episode I had a very Sonic the Hedgehog feel to it, Episode II has a very Sonic the Hedgehog 2 feel to it. The idea of bringing the classic Sonic the Hedgehog levels to digital download platforms with updated graphics, etc. really appealed to me and gave me something to look forward to with great fervor and excitement. Then, I played the first title:

Spin-dashing is an obvious inclusion, but homing attacks take the skill out timing and angling your jumps. Sonic starts moving much more slowly than he did the original series, taking quite a bit longer to reach full momentum than one would expect. This lack of acceleration, or perception of acceleration, really detracts from the core element of speed that you expect from a Sonic game. Additionally, whereas in previous Sonic games you could jump, release the directional control, and still continue moving in the air based on your momentum, in Sonic the Hedgehog 4, once you release the directional control, your momentum stops dead. This can lead to over-controlling your jumps, and also takes away from the timing and angling skills we’ve developed from past Sonic the Hedgehog games.

For the most part, every one of those particular complains that I had with the first title were at least improved, if not outright fixed, in Episode II. I still think that Sonic the Hedgehog 4’s episodic titles would benefit from losing the homing attacks, but I have a feeling that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The perception of acceleration and speed that was so lacking in Episode I has been greatly improved in Episode II, but still doesn’t match the feeling that you get from booting up your Genesis and playing one of the original titles or from firing up your current gen console and playing Sonic Generations. It’s better, but not yet perfect. Perhaps it’s just the Sonic animation that affects that perception of acceleration, and the actual acceleration is up to par, but regardless, while it feels faster than Episode I, it does not yet feel as fast as it should. Finally, one of the most frustrating elements of Episode I, the lack of momentum from jumps, has been corrected. You can now time and angle your jumps without having to hold the joystick the entire time and over-control your direction.

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Episode II brings new additions to the series in much the same way that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 did. Tails is re-introduced, and combo moves make their way to gameplay. With both local and online multiplayer, or single player using AI, Sonic and Tails can take flight to cover necessary platforming elements and access bonus areas. But wait, there’s more. Not content with simply providing flight, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II brings new combos to play, including a combination spin attack that is far too fun.

When we reviewed Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, we had not yet started giving scores to our reviews. Looking back, and having played a far superior Sonic the Hedgehog title in the gap between Episodes, I’d probably give the debut episode of this series a 50-60. Aside from the issues I had with how the game played, it was still refreshing to play a classic style Sonic. Episode II has made definite improvements over its predecessor, and provides more content with Episode Metal, for those who own both Episodes on their account. If you already own Episode I, then enjoy the bonus Episode Metal content. If you don’t, I wouldn’t recommend spending the $14.99 for both Episodes just to unlock the Metal content. That being said, hopefully SEGA continues to look to the community for feedback, as they did between the first two titles, and puts together an Episode III that makes me eat all of my words.

Review

ProsCons
Various improvements over Episode I
Classic Sonic 2 nostalgia
Still needs work with gameplay mechanics
Homing attacks still feel out of place
Rating
70 out of 100
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