Oh boy. It's no secret that I hated the first episode of Sonic 4. Between getting constantly annoyed with the poor physics, uninspired level designs and boring bosses, to say I was looking forward to Episode 2 would be like saying that I was looking forward to my dentist appointment. But like a sucker, I bought Episode 2 based on promises of it being an improved sequel. I will say this much - after playing through it, it does feel like an improved sequel, but it's not really a good game. There's just something about it that makes it feel like a boring, mediocre and forgettable platformer, even though this review will make it sound like it's at least a good game.
Return of the robotic clone. After the events of Episode 1, Dr Eggman, who was thought to have been dead, is alive and well. What he had been doing the whole time was bringing Metal Sonic back to life back on Little Planet. When it returns to Earth for its annual visit, Sonic hears word of Eggman still being alive and goes after him with Tails, while Metal Sonic comes down to Earth and chases them down. There are little scenes between each level that tells the story, but that's about as much as you'll get. Beyond that, well, there's a good reason nobody plays Sonic for story... there's either bugger all story (like here) or it's not very good.
Least it ain't "hold right to win". But yeah, this is an improved sequel to the bitter end. First off, the physics feel a lot better. Sonic actually has momentum when he runs down hills and loses some as he goes uphill. Not only that, but you don't stop immediately. You go a bit further before stopping when you let go of the d-pad. It's especially noticeable when you're flinging off the top of a ramp - letting go in midair or before you fling off doesn't stop you completely, it keeps you going in that direction! Really, that's the point of a Sonic game - *bleep* this nonsense about it just being about speed, because it wasn't about that back when Sonic was good. I have to say though, the physics aren't 100% there yet. When you curl into a ball on a downhill slope, it's not certain whether you'll pick up momentum downwards or not. Sometimes you will, and sometimes, Sonic will move about a few centimetres before getting back up, regardless of whether you're holding the d-pad towards the downward slope or not. Are his spikes digging into the ground or something? But hey, that's the only physics related issue I have, which is better than the botched physics engine from Episode 1 (and if you still think I was nitpicking, obviously, you had no problem. Congrats. I hated the physics engine, it never felt right to me and many other people), so at least they're making progress. Just not as fast as Sonic Team did in Unleashed and Generations.
The other thing is that the level designs are significantly better. Episode 1's felt like simple reiterations of levels from the Genesis games with maybe one or two details changed... oh, and feeling scaled down. Episode 2's levels feel a lot bigger, with more diverging paths and whatnot, and there were always a few things to keep the levels interesting. In saying that, I found the levels here to be hit and miss. Some of them had interesting sections, like one where you had to use the homing attack to get to the top, but others had.. wind storms? I mean, I guess that could've worked in theory, but when playing the game, this gimmick just felt forced and wasn't really fun to go through. Oh, and when it comes to interactivity, most of it is done using the homing attack. I don't know about anyone else, but I thought Sonic could spin dash, roll, jump, run AND use homing attacks. But at least we're taking baby steps here, as the levels have a sense of scope and intrigue, like you want to know what else this level has to give you. It's just that the levels are either interesting or mediocre.
But the biggest improvement was Robotnik's arsenal of robots. They were certainly a lot tougher than the lot he used in Episode 1 as they could take more punishment from Sonic's spikes and can dish out some pain if Sonic's not paying attention. The basic idea is to find the weak point and either jump on it or use the homing attack against it while dodging the attacks, which all had a formula to them that you can memorize. The only piece of criticism I have for them overall is that the fights can feel a tad too long, but unless you're on a tight schedule, it's no big deal because these bosses actually manage to keep you on edge the whole time, and really, it only takes a while if you die because you have to restart the battle from the beginning upon death, but other than that, I felt that they took a good amount of hits to keep things interesting without being boring... save for perhaps the first boss, who is slow and not that hard to avoid, but hey, first bosses are usually the easiest and it's still harder and better than any of the bosses in Episode 1.
*bleep* yeah Tails! But Dimps weren't content with just improving on Episode 1. No, they wanted to add something to it as well. Reintroducing... Tails, the two tail fox who can fly by spinning them around like the blades of a helicopter. Just like in Sonic 3, he can help Sonic fly across chasms or up to a ledge he can't jump up to... within a reasonable distance, of course. That much, I'd be fine with because that's what I wanted out of Sonic and Tails working together, but Dimps wanted to add more. I responded with "okay, what have you guys got" with about as much enthusiasm as I'd have for buying non alcoholic beer, and they gave me two more - the rolling and the submarine. The rolling put me in a better mood because it was actually quite a useful mechanic. It was like a spin dash, but more powerful and it had more momentum going for it. Like, you're not completely invincible as spikes and stronger enemies (and a combination of the two) can hurt you, but it is a stronger alternative to the spin dash... just be aware that hitting rocks can slow you down and that changing direction isn't that easy. That much, I like.
Then there's the submarine... which makes the underwater stages, umm, bearable! Seriously, why do they insist on adding underwater levels? Nobody likes them, nobody ever liked them, and there's a damn good reason why - the sluggish control, while it works in terms of momentum (the point of a Sonic game), just makes the levels feel tedious! But at least Tails can carry Sonic in the water for a little while to increase their speed. So... I was pretty surprised by how they incorporated Tails, and I actually liked it. I would love to give you guys something about the co-op, but as of writing this review, I've not had anybody to try it out with. I have heard that it only really works against bosses and in the special stages since Tails is nowhere near as fast as Sonic, and that you have to share the same screen (no split screen), so it's not really worth it anyway.
Tony Hawk's Pro Hedgehog. When you get to the end of a level with 50 rings and jump through the big ring, you'll enter a special stage which consists of Sonic and Tails going through a looooooong half pipe to collect as many rings as possible in order to get the Chaos Emerald. A neat couple of additions were the power ups and boost pads. Boost pads make the ride through the half pipe feel more exhilarating as you blaze through it faster for a little while, while the power ups added more to the experience than just running over rings. But the best addition is the option to restart partway through a run. So if you screwed up badly, pause and select that, then try the stage again! Genius! It makes things so much less frustrating that it becomes possible to really look forward to these stages!
Looking better! Episode 1 had some good graphics, but every object had some pretty damn jagged edges that made me think that it was intended for the DS rather than the PS3. Episode 2 alleviates that for the most part - I mean, some jagged edges are still around, but for the most part, the edges are a lot smoother, making for much, much more appealing graphics on the big screen. Because of that, I'm able to really appreciate the amount of detail put into each of the objects and backgrounds. The colors are especially worth your attention, as they are bright, colorful and full of life. It's the kind of thing that you can't really look away from, which is good, because this is the kind of game you ought to be paying attention to anyway.
Well, I'm shocked and appalled. A main Sonic game with shit music is like a Tomb Raider game without the tits. I mean, this franchise's main games tend to have some real rocking tunes, but this one? I honestly hated every song this game had. It sounded like a bad Genesis soundtrack, complete with obnoxious synths and 10 second loops. The sound effects were mostly ripped right out of the Genesis games with a couple of original ones here and there, and while they still sound as good as they did back in the early 90s, it's not worth listening to crap music for.
Blazing improvement or stagnant? Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 is a definite improvement over Episode 1, but it's not quite a good game. For every step it takes forward, it still doesn't reach the finish line. It does fine technically, but there isn't much fun to be had, and really, for a game like this, fun is the one thing that'll do it justice. Now, sure, there are people who do find this game fun, and you know what, more power to those people, but in general, the game felt like it was just going through the motions, not really doing much exciting with the formula or anything. I mean, it's got all the ingredients for a good Sonic game; it's just that some weren't cooked long enough and some cooked for a bit too long.
Story: 7/10 Again, not much on offer, but the little scenes at least tell the story. Gameplay: 6/10 Some of the levels are actually pretty good, the physics and bosses are much better than Episode 1's and Tails makes for a good companion, but overall, it wasn't really exciting like a Sonic game ought to be. It was... passable. Controls: 8/10 Sometimes, it's either a bit sensitive or stiff, but overall, these controls work out well. Graphics: 8/10 They're colorful and nice to look at, with the exception of some jagged edges. Sound: 3/10 The sound effects work; the music is just bad. Like really bad.