I’ll admit that I enjoyed Sonic 4 Episode 1 once I got used to it. It looked nice in HD and the stage design was surprisingly good for a predominantly Dimps-made game… enough to keep me replaying it often so I guess that’s saying something.
But Episode 1 also re-used too much of the past and it needed something more… a spark with good gameplay physics and content that would feel fresh.
Two years after the release of Episode 1, Episode 2 is finally here. It’s been a long wait to find out how fan feedback has factored into the game’s development. But I’m happy to say that I’m throughly pleased with the changes they’ve made…
Just like Episode 1, there are 4 zone themes plus a final boss zone once you’ve beaten them all. Each zone has 3 acts and a boss act. And if you already own Episode 1 on the same platform, you’ll get Episode Metal as a bonus (which is a nod to ”lock-on technology” featuring 4 reworked acts with improved physics and no uncurling!)
This time with Episode 2 much effort has gone into ensuring the stages look and feel original, with 3 of 4 zones appearing to be only loosely inspired by 2 classic zones each with a mix of old and mostly new enemies. It makes Episode 2 feel far more like a sequel should to the point that it’d be criminal to call these zones rehashes.
Content that you have seen before in the classics is not so ”in your face” and while the 4th zone is based heavily upon a familiar and key Sonic 2 zone, I feel that it outshines its Sonic 2 variant with a faster pace while simultaneously bringing back beautifully nostalgic memories.
Bosses are also wholly original and progressively challenging, with some gorgeous visual design too! You’ll enjoy the contrast in gameplay between fighting Eggman and Metal Sonic.
Thankfully, they didn’t allow for ridicolous spoiling of the progression this time. You unlock zones in order… though you still need to press a button to continue on to the next act without returning to the 2D world map (there’s an achievement for playing through the whole game without returning to the map).
Speaking of which, the 2D world map seems to transition over from the right of Episode 1′s map which is a nice touch (and allows you to play Episode Metal from within Episode 2).
The map functions as it did in Episode 1 - once you’ve beaten a stage, boss stage or special stage, you can go back and replay it from the world map to improve those online leaderboard times/scores.
Stage design is similar to but better than Episode 1, continuing the traditional middle route, lower route and challenging to reach but rewarding higher route which often makes use of the new combo moves. This adds replay value to stages especially for players who like doing speed runs. Red rings can be found although they only unlock an achievement.
Bottomless pits are placed more intelligently in Episode 2 and more often than not, you will hit a ramp with enough of a platform to stop yourself from falling into a pit. That and the seemingly popular warning signs which have been around for a few games now have made their way into this game too.
As for enemy placement… not bad. I rarely crashed into enemies off-screen and didn’t feel any unfair lack of warning (except maybe that bear). And you still lose all your rings when you get hit as you should!
Coupled with Tails’ abilities and no uncurling (more on that later), and assuming you’re familiar with Sonic games, it is far more difficult to die in ”unfair” deaths than Episode 1.
Stage gimmicks are better implemented and tastefully make use of combo moves and the homing attack which factors in more naturally and feels like it belongs now.
Many gimmicks have been seen before in previous games but some of the best ones are in Episode 2 and there are some new ones too.
On the point of stage gimmicks, some of you will still feel the game has too many speed boosters taking control away from the player and I can understand that. But aside from maybe White Park Act 2, I’d say there is a more reasonable amount of them than Episode 1 though still too many compared to the classics.
Special stages are accessed the same way as they were in Episode 1 – a big ring appears at the end of each stage if you finish with 50 rings.
This time around special stages are similar to the style you’ve seen in Sonic 2 and some Dimps handheld games. Keyword here being ”similar” as they play quite differently from Sonic 2 for better or worse.
I actually loved the special stages once I got used to them. You can’t move as instantly and responsively as you can in Sonic 2 special stages but the pacing is gentler and easier.
Oh and computer controlled Tails no longer loses your rings for you!
Interesting new twists have been added such as the ability to boost through them faster, perfect ring challenges and a power up to link with Tails for more rings.
Challenging the 7 stages are (especially the last 2) but if you think you won’t have enough rings for a checkpoint then as with Episode 1, you can just hit pause and retry. As with Episode 1, I find the special stages here to be an overall improvement over the stages they are based upon.
The previous game, Episode 1 only really became enjoyable once you’d adjusted to its somewhat stiff and unnatural gameplay as well as the disliked ”uncurling off ramps” which hurt the game’s pacing and allowed homing attack chains to overpower the game.
With Episode 2, all of the above has been addressed and fixed. Whether they are close enough to classic physics depends on your own feelings but the team has clearly taken feedback into consideration to the point that the gameplay feels smooth and natural, especially the jump which now arcs properly, doesn’t drop like a stone and doesn’t feel floaty but doesn’t feel remotely heavy or stiff either.
Momentum-based gameplay is there and while you won’t feel its presence as strongly as some of you would like, letting go of the Analog Stick / D-Pad will no longer put you to an instant stop. And while not perfect or a big factor in stage design, you do gain some speed rolling down a hill now.
Basically unless you are of the crowd who on principle won’t accept anything other than ”Classic 100% Physics” then there is a good chance you will enjoy Episode 2′s smooth gameplay.
That said, I do have a few criticisms such as there appears to be a Sonic 1 style maximum running speed cap which weighs in most noticeably on the speed act, White Park Act 2. The spindash also seems a tad weak but I wouldn’t want it as strong as Sonic Generations HD either. And although still really fun… Super Sonic strangely lacks most of the physics improvements… bit odd?
Combo moves add a new dynamic to the game giving you a sense of choice in tackling a stage, requiring only a simple button press whether on land, sea or air. Whenever you activate a combo, it freezes time for a second giving you a fair chance to observe your surroundings. This makes the traditional ”Copter Combo” more useful than before for saving Sonic from miss-jumps into bottomless pits.
The ”Copter Combo” is more balanced than the classics allowing you to gain height quickly but within a short flight time. Plenty of platforming relies on it and its focus removes the sense of ”too many homing attack chains” that Episode 1 suffered from.
Other moves include the ”Submarine Combo” an ability allowing Tails to finally carry Sonic underwater which I personally feel is a huge improvement from the classics and makes underwater sections a 100% more fun. I especially liked that you can swim infinitely fast in all directions.
The ”Rolling Combo” is some crazy fun motorized roll that factors into some stage gimmicks and paths. It can feel somewhat overpowered especially on a couple of acts and spoils an iconic section late in the game but on the plus side, you won’t find it suitable to use all the time as it’s balanced by being awkward to control and one directional.
Disappointingly, elemental shields have not yet returned but hopefully we’ll get an Episode 3 with them. Of course the usual shield, invincibility, running shoes and ring boxes return including a new item that destroys everything on screen in a spectacular fashion.
Overall, Episode 2 offers far more enjoyable and challenging gameplay over Episode 1.
Episode 2 offers both offline and online co-op allowing 2 players to enjoy every stage, boss and special stage they’ve unlocked so far. Both players share lives, rings and combo moves which kicks the challenge up a notch.
Tails can also fly and swim independently in co-op. Since players share the same screen, if one player starts to leave the screen… the other player is boomeranged back to them and floats in a jump state. This player then has to mash a button a few times to regain control. It’s an odd looking solution but it works really well.
For the most part the online works quite well so long as both players have a really good connection to each other. Hence forth you can get some nasty results on Quick Match. For an online buddy (USA) and myself (UK), co-op provided us with hours of entertainment, amusement and only the occasional lag spike.
Co-op really is best enjoyed with someone you know is interested in playing the game properly, since co-ordinating the co-op moves is a challenging team effort but incredibly satisfying when you pull it off.
Episode 2 manages to strike an awesome balance between the simple art style of the classics with the gorgeously detailed graphics expected of a modern game, and continues to do this at a smooth 60 frames per second. And importantly, they managed to make the graphics detailed enough without looking too busy or distracting.
Episode 2 sticks to a wholly 2D perspective for that classic feel but the graphics are now all 3D polygons so no more ”pop-up book” or plastic looks that Episode 1 sometimes had. And yes… this game has god rays.
Animations are also vastly improved over Episode 1 with Sonic’s ”wheel of feet” animation looking better than ever.
Honestly, I can’t stress enough that this game’s graphics are gorgeous and quite detailed, especially White Park. No… I don’t mean multi-million retail title detailed. I mean that care and attention has been taken into smaller details.
You are even treated to neat little cut-scenes for a few of the stages reminiscent of the transitional cut-scenes in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Sound effects are meant to be similar to the classics and work well. There is not really much I can say about them. I remember someone saying the spindash sound is wrong so if someone could explain that in the comments I’d appreciate that.
Music is a vast improvement on Episode 1 in my personal opinion. Some better instrumentation, I rather like the opening act tune and some catchy tunes that stand out such as Metal Sonic’s boss theme, Sky Fortress, Oil Desert and the rest are all pretty decent. Eggman’s boss theme still repeats too often but it’s passable and it’s not the ”clown” music at least… it’s the music from Egg Station.
I still question whether they should be trying to recreate the Mega Drive / Genesis 16-bit sound for music when they have left 16-bit graphics behind. That said, it works well for Episode 2 and I enjoyed it.
Sonic 4 Episode 2 seems a much better package for all Sonic fans including those who grew up with the classics. Not everyone will be convinced because there are those whom have much higher expectations of anything carrying the Sonic 4 name. But SEGA has certainly convinced me and likely millions of others that giving Episode 2 a try was well worth it.
As someone who has already spent countless hours with this game, I would personally highly recommend it. It’s an all-round polished product that surpasses Episode 1 in every way. A fun game in my book!
Posted by MrFranklin on May 18, 2012Tags: android, CO-OP, Dimps, Download, Episode 2, Fox, HD, Hedgehog, iOS, Mulitplayer, Online, PC, PlayStation, PS3, PSN, review, SEGA, SEGAHD, Sonic 4, Sonic Team, Steam, Tails, XBL, Xbox