Also On: XBLA
I’m of the mind that Sonic Generations was a pretty good return to form for Sonic the Hedgehog, with some fantastic 2D levels interspersed with the more modern 3D stuff. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 never really manages to capture that same high, but serves as a decent enough 2D entry in the series that might not fully capture the appeal of the early Sega Genesis titles, but is certainly worth a look.
This is, of course, the follow-up to last year’s Episode 1. Like that entry, this game contains a handful of levels, and this time includes Tails as a playable companion. Tails function when not playing co-op is to accompany Sonic much in the same way he did in Sonic 2. But here he serves a little more purpose than simple window dressing, with addition of tag moves that allow you to temporarily team-up with Tails to fly through the air, turn into a giant ball and break down walls, or jet through underwater sections quickly.
To be honest though, the ability to fly through certain sections feels almost game breaking on stages. To help limit its usefulness Tails can only hold Sonic for a few seconds at a time, but it’s generally enough to fly over a chunk of the stage that’s meant to be far more difficult than it actually is. Also, the reliance on the tag moves for most boss fights is a little too much, and takes some of the fun out of timing jumps and looking for weaknesses. Also, the boss fights tend to go on too long anyways, often times in excess of 5 minutes or more, which just feels out of place in comparison to other 2D Sonic games.
Also, the level design feels like it’s all over the place here. A handful of levels manage to let you run through them without almost any obstacles or jumping involved, which makes for a pretty short and not particularly satisfying experience unless you’re seeking out hidden rings or other items. Other stages rely too heavily on Sonic’s homing attack, which returns here but still feels out of place in a 2D game. The homing attack was introduced for the 3D titles to help offset the difficulty in jumping on enemies in a 3D space, but using that technique in the 2D games feels largely unnecessary. The reliance on using it for platforming that replaces actual platforms with set enemy placement can be annoying if you happen to time the execution poorly, often negating an entire path with one missed button press.
On the plus side of things, Sonic’s jumping, and just overall feel in general, is way more in line with the original Genesis titles than Episode 1. It’s clear some improvement was made in this regard, and it certainly feels like a better experience than before. Also, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and I love that the stages here are wholly unique in design and don’t rely heavily on past stages. And while I didn’t care for the actual boss fights, I did enjoy the look of the bosses, which are generally large and akin to the classic Robotnik that we all know and love.
But still, this isn’t quite a great Sonic the Hedgehog game. I’ve made my peace with the fact that we’ll probably never get something as good as Sonic 2 or 3 again, but I had hopes that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 would deliver a little more than it did. The discrepancies between Episode 1 and 2 stand out, and while Episode 2 feels like it’s managed to get more right in the control department, its level design and boss fights actually feel like a step back in comparison to Episode 1. This inconsistent level of quality between the two games becomes more glaring when you play them back to back.
I’d say Sonic Generations is still the modern Sonic title to beat, and while Episode 2 is worth checking out, I’d keep your expectations on what the game delivers firmly in check. It’s by no means an awful entry, but it’s not the second coming of the Sonic franchise either. If you found no redeeming qualities whatsoever in Episode 1, then you’ll probably be pretty underwhelmed on what Episode 2 manages to deliver, but if you got some enjoyment out of the previous entry then I think you’ll find this second act worth your time.