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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (Xbox 360) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (Xbox 360) review


"While I'm disheartened that Episode II feels the need to reuse stuff from past titles instead of attempting a 100% fresh game, for what it is... it's still fun to play."



Distraught doesn't even begin to describe how I felt about Episode I when I played the game for the first time. It was home to bad controls, deaf-inducing music, and limited creativity, borrowing heavily from past games to the point where they're remakes with slight variations. With the exception of the graphics, the entire production came off sloppy, even more so once Sonic Colors came out the following month. As the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II closed in, I was dreading it. I had nearly zero faith the sequel would improve in any way, thinking the Sonic 4 games to be irrelevant since recent, full titles and the oldschool games they're based on to be better products combined.

I know, I could have ignored the game and avoided any possible brain damage... but where's the fun in that?

Honestly, I was expecting maybe one or two tiny adjustments to this successor, but I was stunned with what I eventually experienced; if Episode I is obnoxious in its approach, then Episode II is subtle in its improvements. Only seconds into the first Zone, Sylvania Castle, controlling Sonic felt very homely, as if I was playing this game for decades and got so used to the handling. Jumping feels more natural, running up hills and through loops are very easy to accomplish, and locking on to floating Badniks never results in sudden and painful drops. Extra brownie points go to the starting Zone actually resembling a new place. Granted, it's yet another variation of Green Hill Zone that every Sonic game copies, but this one takes place in and around a ruined castle.

More surprising is the usefulness of Tails. In single player, he's still a bumbling AI sidekick who gets hurt every two seconds, but the developers have transformed him into a breathing power-up. You can summon him at will to help Sonic fly over certain hills, however the flight time is really limited, so it can't be abused. You can also use Tails to help Sonic morph into a killer spin dash that has impressive speed, possibly even faster than Super Sonic, and can crash through certain barriers for new pathways. Another interesting move is being able to swim around underwater. This is used to great effect in the third White Park Zone act taking place almost exclusively in water. You're forced to dodge spikes in tight corridors and walrus Badniks that limit paths using giant ice blocks, with the trademark countdown drowning music adding tension due to air bubbles being strategically spaced out.

Sadly, playing with another person in co-op mode is as gimmicky and awkward as it was in Sonic 2 and 3, especially since both players share one screen. Tails retains his gimped moveset from those titles, while Sonic gets to use current stuff, like abusing his lock-on thrust for quicker momentum. An even bigger blow to Tails players is that Sonic players can go Super, easily leaving their partners way behind if they want to act like complete asses. You can teleport back to your partner's location if you get knocked off screen, but that just gives players more of an incentive to abandon the others. While intentions were good, the devs should have fine-tuned the mode to, you know, actually make it a cooperative experience.

Now, Episode II still borrows elements from the Genesis/Sega CD titles. Before you start moaning, here's the thing: Episode I was absurdly blatant about it, directly ripping ginormous chunks to the point where it's not truly a fresh game. Continuing the subtle theme, Episode II takes bits and pieces, spreading them around with some actual grace. Stuff like the statue heads that shoot arrows make brief appearances, included along with cool new additions like running on walls in the background. Interestingly, even when the team basically does a remake of a past stage, Sky Fortress Zone's nod to Wing Fortress Zone, they don't phone it in like in Episode I. The flying segment with Tails' plane features Metal Sonic unleashing Badniks and projectiles from the background, and you're even forced to leave the plane for a little bit of platforming. The actual Sky Fortress, unlike the Sonic 2 counterpart that takes all of five seconds to complete, is fleshed-out into two, fully-structured acts with enough pits, spikes, and difficult obstacles to view it as a totally different beast.

While I'm disheartened that Episode II feels the need to reuse stuff from past titles instead of attempting a 100% fresh game, for what it is... it's still fun to play. The team has shown that they can actually do this a correct way, featuring improved controls, higher production values (lots of money shots), and platform situations that feel new-ish. Hell, the music manages to be decent in most cases! I was even gawking at the graphically impressive boss fights, including the likes of a colorful, robotic flytrap and a towering droid made from scrap metal. One last inclusion worth mentioning is a bit of a gift for the unfortunate gamers that suffered through Episode I: if you own it, you can replay some of its stages in Episode II with varied layouts and as Metal Sonic! I'm not exactly foaming at the mouth wanting to revisit said levels, but it's neat being able to do them without the crap controls.

Rating: 7/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (May 20, 2012)

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