Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2
The moment that Chris and I have been waiting for has finally come. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 released at the beginning of May, and we were both psyched to play through another episode of Sonic 4. I truly enjoyed the first episode of Sonic 4 and had high hopes that this new episode would keep the momentum rolling into at least one other game. To get you up to speed, Sonic 4 revitalized the relatively unpopular homing attack and made it a staple in the gameplay. If you press the jump button while in mid-air, Sonic will either a) lock-on to any enemy near him and pop him or b) quickly boost forward, sending Sonic into a full speed run. The mechanic worked very well in Episode 1, creating a speedy, albeit different, Sonic the Hedgehog experience. Episode 2 turns its focus on a tag-team buddy support mechanic that saps Sonic of his super speed. This split concentration results in a game that doesn’t play like Sonic the Hedgehog, nor is it particularly fun.
The big deal in Sonic 4 Episode 2 is that Tails is back. If you’ve played a Sonic game in your life, you know the deal. Sonic and Tails team up to scramble Dr. Eggman’s plans through four zones, each with three acts and a boss. I’d like to mention off the bat that S4E2 is very visually impressive. Each of the zones looks unique and has a ton of activity going on from the foreground to the deep, deep background. Of particular note are the roller coaster acts in White Park Zone that send you back and forth between the background and the foreground. The Special Stages (unlocked by beating an act with 50+ rings then jumping through the giant ring) can be accessed from the world map. There are seven different stages to play through to get chaos emeralds. The Special Stages in S4E2 mimic those of Sonic 2; the halfpipe tube ring-grabbing marathons of old. The fifth, final zone consists of a racing duel with Metal Sonic and the final boss. All of the Zones look and sound great. The main problem with Sonic 4 Episode 2 is how it plays.
There are three tag-team moves to aid in traversing the Acts in S4E2. Each one is activated by pressing the square button at certain occasions. Pressing square in mid-air will call Tails to grab a hold of Sonic and fly him around for a short period of time. Pressing square on the ground tosses the two into an imprenetrable close-quarters rolling wheel. Remember the chubby lost boy in Hook? Think that, only with a blue hedgehog and a yellow fox. The third special move can only be performed underwater. It’s essentially the flying move, only there’s no limit to how long Tails can court Sonic around. The game puts much emphasis on the tag-team theme, requiring you to use the three moves often in order to overcome seemingly miniscule obstacles. Is that ridge too high for Sonic to jump up alone? Better call Mr. Prower for some aerial assistance. Each time you press the square button, a short animation occurs that has the two heroes enthusiastically high-fiving each other. It didn’t take long before I found it to be over the top. I always knew Sonic and Tails were BFF, but this game takes their relationship to a whole new level. Add to this the fact that in online multiplayer mode, either player can initiate the special moves at any time. Chris and I didn’t make it through half of an act before high-five trolling took the number one spot on our objectives list. Even when we were working together, the game didn’t feel cooperative. The player in the forefront controls the screen’s scrolling. If the second player falls behind, he’s transported as a sort of ghost to player one and hovers over him in a suspended spindash motion. At this point you have two options: Press the X button and rejoin the game or just hang out, ghostriding the hedgehog/fox, as it were. When you press the R2 button, your partner teleports to you. This action, too, is able to be initiated at any moment by either player. Basically, any semblence of momentum is lost when playing with another person, which is the exact opposite of what Sonic the Hedgehog should be. The reason Sonic 2 worked is because you weren’t really playing with two people. One person was playing (as Sonic), and you tossed your younger brother a controller and told him he could fly so he’d stop whining.
There are two collectibles this time around; Chaos Emeralds and Red Star Coins. There are seven emeralds and thirteen star coins (one in each non-boss act). After beating the game, I went back and collected all of everything. It wasn’t a pleasurable experience, per se, but we at PSNStores pride ourselves in thoroughly playing games before reviewing them. The scattered red coins promote exploration within each act. Going through and finding them reminded me of Sonic CD, which I highly recommend revisiting. Collecting all of the emeralds allows you to transform into Super Sonic at any time by collecting 50 rings and pressing the triangle button. If you beat the final boss after collecting all of the red coins, you get a trophy.
If you own Sonic 4 Episode 1, a message pops up when you start playing Episode 2 that proclaims something along the lines of, “Episode Metal unlocked, thanks for buying Episode 1!” Episode Metal is a collection of four acts that span the Zones of Episode 1. It’s a short, bittersweet experience. I enjoyed playing it mostly because I wasn’t forced to use any tag-team moves. It felt like classic Sonic 4, if that makes any sense. If there were an option to play the entire game as Metal Sonic, I would have much rather done that.
Sonic 4 Episode 2 is an overall lukewarm affair. The portions wherein the game truly shines are those that practically omit Tails’s existence. Sky Fortress Zone Act 2, for example, was a late-game glimmer of hope. It’s a ton of fun, there are nifty wall-running sequences, and Tails isn’t tacked on; you use him but it doesn’t feel unnecessary. The Act before it, though, was a slow-paced sidescrolling shmup. It’s a reference to Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2, complete with the robotic turtle platforms and mechanical Squirtles throwing stuff at you. Even the Tornado is given a special move in S4E2. By pressing square, you can spin around and smash through breakable walls and pop enemies. The whole act moves forth at a snail’s pace; it doesn’t fit at all. The bosses are a toss up. A couple of them are fun, while the other two or three are frustrating. The game isn’t completely unplayable (unless you’re playing with someone else), it’s just not fun. I understand that this is Episode 2, and that Tails needs to be in it to tickle the nostalgic minds of Sonic fans, but the tag-team mechanic does not work well with how the rest of Sonic 4 is constructed. If Sonic Team wanted to recapture some of Sonic 2’s magic, why didn’t they add a 2 player competitive race mode? That would have kicked ass, plain and simple. What we have instead is a team-building exercise that is all but unplayable if another human picks up a controller.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Sonic 2 bonus stages
- Episode Metal
- Visually impressive
What I Dislike:
- Buddy system
- Co-op play
- Sky Fortress shmup sequence
- A couple of frustrating bosses