Sega has been trying for a long, long time to mimic the success of the Sonic games from the Genesis era on the current generation of consoles. Their most recent attempt comes with the Sonic 4 episodes – but that in itself brings up the question of why Sega thinks breaking up a series known for it’s fast pace and progression is a good idea. Is Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 worth it? Simply put: not really.
Episode 2 brings back co-op interactivity between Sonic and his flying friend Tails, which is a great way to re-introduce some gameplay elements not found in Episode 1. With his assistance, Sonic is able to fly through the air, swim through water, and most importantly, crush everything with powerful death-ball. However, these additions don’t really feel fluid and can often cause the gameplay to slow down. This can cause a whole list of problems, ranging from instant death to coming in contact with the many enemies scattered across the zones.
While the game’s level design has it’s neat twists and turns, as well as hidden areas, they often are inconsistent and have elements that slow down the flow of the game. Boss battles are fun, but often are repetitive (particularly Robotnik’s fights…more on that in a moment). There’s also a return of the half-pipe stage from Sonic 2, which is Sega’s way of keeping people in the game, rewarding them with lots of extra lives and, assuming you do well in the bonus stage (which isn’t hard), a Chaos Emerald.
One of the most annoying things with this game is it’s soundtrack. Sega tries to make it sound like the days of the classic Sonic titles – which would work great, if all tracks were reasonably-done and longer. While some of the tunes were great to listen to, if I have to listen to the literally 10-second loop of “music” that plays during Robotnik boss battles one more time, I might just go deaf. Strange design decisions hurt what could have been a nostalgic trip back in time.
The game’s graphics aren’t bad at all for an XBLA title, and the environments Sonic and Tails run through are full of detail. Something to note is the glazed effect that was commonly knocked on about Sonic’s model from Episode I is gone. There’s no doubt that this is a great looking Sonic game – I just wish it played as well as it looked.
While Episode 2 improves on just about everything Episode 1 offered, it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough to bring back the franchise from the depths it’s sunken to in the past few years. At 15 bucks for 4 zones, it’s also very expensive, and even after you complete one episode, you’re stuck waiting until the next one to get more out of the story. The turnaround between episodes one and two was over a year and a half – long enough that whoever bought Episode 1 probably had forgotten about it by now, whether for better or worse. There is a plus to owning both episodes, though: An additional episode, called Episode Metal, is available to owners of both Episodes I and II. As the title suggests, it involves the backstory of Metal Sonic after his demise in Sonic CD.
Sega has said they’ll develop Episode III if Episode II sells well. While their exact expectations aren’t known, it’s likely we’ll probably see another addition to Sonic The Hedgehog 4 in the future – hopefully next time it’ll offer a bit more substance for the price, and feel more unique.