by Keaton Arksey
reviewed on X360
The return of a classic
Growing up in a Sega household, weekends often ringed with the classic sound of Sonic the Hedgehog jumping and speed-dashing through Green Hill Zone. While the predominant trend is to rag on Sega’s prominent franchise, the blue hedgehog’s recent games have actually been quite solid. Sonic Colours on the Wii was the best 3D Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2. Last year’s Sonic Generations, while not without fault, provided a great mix of nostalgia and modern Sonic gameplay. Sonic the Hedgehog 4, released in the summer of 2010, is probably the originator of the Sonic’s resurgence. While not received particularly well by fans, the first numbered sequel to the original Sonic games in over a decade and the promise of future episodic games provided a ray of hope for a franchise mired by lackluster releases. While Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 takes inspiration from Sonic CD, what many consider the pinnacle of the Sonic games, it is not entirely without fault.
It may seem weird, but Sonic games live and die by physics. While Episode 1 was not terrible by any means, the physics did mess with the previous numbered Sonic titles. The most noticeable upgrade for two is the return of the Mega Drive/Genesis physics. Sonic retains forward momentum now if no direction is pressed on the control pad, and falling down while spin dashing no longer causes Sonic to fall like a rock. It definitely helps the feeling of a numbered Sonic game.
Trouble in the air
Dr. Robotnik/Eggman is up to his usual tricks, reconstructing the Death Egg (now mark two!) and with Little Planet, the world from Sonic CD, passing near earth once again, the Eggman can further his villainous plot that began in Episode 1. Finding Metal Sonic, who Sonic defeated in Sonic CD, Eggman rebuilds him and gives him new powers. Sonic, noticing the return of his metallic doppelganger and the giant moon hanging in the sky (no wait, that is a space station), recruits his pal Tails the Fox and the two head out to once again end Eggman’s plot. If Episode 1 is praised for anything, it is cutting down the excess number of extended characters Sonic has accrued over the years.
While Episode 2 doubles the number of characters, Tails is easily the most important non-Sonic hero, and Metal Sonic is the most notable antagonist not shaped like an egg, so at least things do not go overboard. Story is not exactly the focal point of the Sonic the Hedgehog experience, but the ties back to Sonic CD are nice, even if only directly mentioned in the instructions.
Not every fox takes care of its own tail
Adding Tails of course means gameplay also changes to accommodate the two characters now on screen. Just like in Sonic 2, in singleplayer Tails follows Sonic around, usually doing nothing of note, though occasionally Tails will steal an air bubble while underwater. Sonic and Tails can perform a few tag moves as well. While on the ground, the two can form one giant ball that can burst through barriers and various badniks. Tails can also grab Sonic in midair and carry him a short distance, while useful for saving Sonic from a bottomless pit. Underwater, Tails can carry Sonic indefinitely, limited only by the need for oxygen. Of the three special moves, only the underwater one seems to have significant gameplay ramifications. The combined spin dash is necessary for a few areas and boss fights, but not much elsewhere, and while the ability to fly short distances is useful, the level design does not take advantage of the added verticality.
Classic physics return, some visually interesting bosses and zones, return of Metal Sonic.
New abilities feel underutilized, not a lot of reason to come back once beaten, difficulty spikes in later special stages.