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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 (PlayStation 3) review

"Do you think Tails has hollow bones?"

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I got a bad rap. Sure, it didn’t feel exactly like a Genesis game, but Sonic fans may have overreacted to it. Developer Dimps took their criticisms to heart and spent the last two years working on the second (and possibly final) episode.

There’s one question on everyone’s lips: “Did they fix the physics?” Well, I don’t think they really needed fixing, but yes, they’ve been tweaked. Sonic is less sluggish, taking less time to get up to speed and not coming to a sudden stop if you let go of the directional pad. It feels closer to the Genesis games than Episode I did, though still not exactly like any of the original trilogy. It also doesn’t feel so terribly different from Episode I that it’s awkward to switch between the two games.

Physics tweaks aside, Sonic controls basically the same way he did in Episode I. He still has his classic side-scroller moves: the spin attack and spin dash. He also keeps his homing attack from Episode I, which is handy for targeting enemies and objects as well as changing direction in mid-air. Tails is missing the homing attack but (of course) he can fly. Flying was fine in Sonic 3 but it’s less novel and more sluggish now. Sonic’s homing attack is much handier and keeps the game flowing more smoothly.

The biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of “Team Actions.” Now that Tails is tagging along with Sonic, they can work together to pass over or through certain obstacles. By jumping and pressing the Square button, Tails can fly or swim while carrying Sonic to save him from bottomless pits or help him reach new areas. Pressing Square on the ground makes the two roll up into a single ball and shoot forward, in a more powerful (but also more difficult to control) version of the spin dash. It’s nice to be able to fly when necessary and the roll is fun to utilize, but both new moves have a somewhat lengthy startup animation (the clock actually stops during the animation) and that’s annoying to sit through every time.

The team also brings a new power-up, the “Special Combination” that clears the screen of enemies and nets you a few more rings for mashing the X button. It really has no practical purpose beyond throwing you extra rings, and it’s so rare it’s barely present anyway.

The inclusion of Tails brings with it a new co-op mode. Co-op mode in Sonic 4 amounts to more than just the ability to control Tails with a second controller that we saw in the Genesis games. Here, it’s a properly supported feature. It’s also infuriating. The camera tries to follow both characters at the same time, meaning that one player lagging behind prevents the lead player from seeing what lies ahead. Pressing R2 teleports your friend to your side, rather than teleporting you forward. If you are left far enough behind, you materialize in a ball that hovers above the other player until you press X to rejoin the action. However, you’ll then be plopped back into the action without the benefit of inertia. If your friend was running (as is likely, since this is a Sonic game), you’ll almost immediately find yourself left behind again. Tails has enough trouble keeping up with Sonic as it is, since Sonic has his homing attack and Tails just has his sluggish flying ability, which meaning the pair are frequently separated from one another. Multiplayer basically only works during bosses and the Sonic 2-inspired Special Stages, when Tails is less likely to fall behind.

In Episode I, the levels were basically new versions of existing levels, such as Green Hill or Casino Night. The levels in Episode II each seem to combine two different levels from previous games. Sylvania Castle, for example, feels like a mix of Sonic 2’s Aquatic Ruin and Sonic 3’s Marble Garden. This helps levels feel like familiar throwbacks without also feeling too same-y. The graphics are fully 3D this time around (as opposed to the pre-rendered sprites and backgrounds featured in Episode I) and they look great. The lighting effects, especially, are a treat. You could probably cut Sonic’s sprite out of any screenshot of the game and still be able to tell what zone the sprite was exploring just by the way the light hits the character.

The music still sounds like it could come from a Genesis game, but in less of a “screaming cat” way than it did in the previous game. Each act has its own music that does a good job of capturing the feel of Sonic games of yore (and one song even samples Sonic Adventure’s Twinkle Park theme).

A few acts from Episode I return in “Episode Metal,” a bonus unlocked by also having Episode I installed on your system. As teased in Episode I, Metal Sonic appears as a boss in this game, and if you have the previous episode installed on your system, you can unlock the ability to play as Metal Sonic in the first act of each zone from the first episode. Metal Sonic controls basically like Sonic does in Episode I, but he looks different and has his own set of animations and sound effects. The ability to play as an alternate character is not exactly a game changer if you’ve already played through the first game, but it’s a nice bonus and the included cutscenes are worth watching if only to catch a glimpse of a modern version of the Sonic CD’s Stardust Speedway zone.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II fixes many of the problems introduced by Episode I, but it brings a few new ones to the table. The co-op mode is mostly terrible, though completely optional if you’re not worried about trophies. The refined physics feel more natural than those featured in Episode I, and the levels are fresher and much more beautiful. Even if you were disappointed in Episode I, Episode II is worth a shot for Sonic fans. It’s a pricey investment at $15, but there’s a demo you can try before you buy. It’s just too bad we’ll probably never see Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode III & Knuckles.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 24, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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