Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (PSN, XBLA) Guest Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II came to digital platforms such as PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Today we have a guest review from my older brother for the title for your enjoyment. Is the $15.00 too steep or just right for this downloadable game?

The Real Acceptable Power of Teamwork

Sonic has been enjoying his 20th birthday in rather fine fashion. Sega’s mascot has been on the comeback trail as both the console version of Sonic Generations and the CD remake were both excellent titles worth giving a spin. Dimps has been a part of this celebration as well, having released their own version of Generations on the 3DS. While that game didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it was a fine effort that I recommended. Now that they’ve taken care of that, Dimps is going back to the consoles once again to expand upon an idea that they started nearly a year and a half ago. That idea was Sonic 4, a game that tried to capitalize on the “good ol’ days” of the Blue Blur to rather mixed results. Even with its flaws, Episode I did wind up selling quite a bit, and that has allowed Sonic 4 to see a second episode made with a higher budget. Does Dimps put its money where its meal ticket is, or does this second episode get lost in the Sonic shuffle?

A familiar sight for Sonic fans-- the Tornado!
It’s been a few months since Sonic slammed the door shut on Eggman’s latest plot to take over the world by crashing into and tearing down the E.G.G. Station. Even with this setback, Eggman is back and thanks to Little Planet’s return from Sonic CD fame, he’s brought along a familiar foe to face off against Sonic once more. Yes, Metal Sonic is back, and he’s ready to see Sonic fall once and for all. With this tag team of terror conspiring against the Blue Blur, it’s only fair that Sonic gets a helping hand of his own in the form of his old pal, Tails. The race to save Little Planet and the world from Eggman and Metal Sonic is on!

The first thing to note is that the physics engine has been built up from the ground for this game, and I find that to be a step in the right direction. No longer will you see Sonic drop like a rock or come to a complete stop if you weren’t holding forward as would be the case in Episode I. The momentum is closer to the Genesis days, but that’s not to say there still aren’t some flaws. The levels have and make use of plenty of boost pads to get you top speed fast, and Sonic still doesn’t gain speed when he starts rolling down hills. It seems that the cap for his speed whether running or rolling is about at the same. In fact, if you want to get to top speed as fast as possible, just simply homing attack the ground twice. It does confuse me that Dimps did have it right back in the Sonic Advance days on the physics, but at least it’s nowhere near the deal breaker it was in Episode I.

There are five zones within this game.
As stated, Tails is also back, and you can either have a friend join you, either locally or online, or let the AI take control of him. Either way, Tails more than just a cosmetic addition as the game makes great use of him through the Tag Action system. As you progress through the first zone of the game, you will come across signs that indicate how to utilize these powers. The first one you’ll learn is the flight command, known in this game as the Copter Combo. Simply jump in the air as Sonic and press the square button to call your buddy right to you to give you a lift. This can be used to reach higher ledges, but your flying friend will tire out after the seventh time you press the jump button while flying up. It’s different from the Genesis days, but once you realize that this move can give you more horizontal flight time in some levels if you don’t just mash the flight button, you’ll learn to appreciate this.

Sometimes all you need in life 
is a helping hand.
You also learn a similar move in the water, except that in this case, Tails will never tire out as he’s carrying Sonic along through the depths. This can be very useful as it gives you a lot more speed than just merely letting Sonic run around in the water. Speaking of speed, the third and final Tag Action, the Rolling Combo, is a ground-based move that gives you the greatest sense of it in the entire game. Sonic and Tails will join forces to combine into a wheel that will tear through breakable walls or a giant enemy in one go that would take Sonic three shots with his homing attack to bust down. It’s a very effective move when you know the layouts to levels as you can jump off of inclines or fly off of curved ramps to cover more ground or reach areas that you might not have been able to fly up to without the proper momentum. There’s that word again. Nice to see you using it, Dimps.

Break out the butter because
Sonic and Tails are on a roll.
It’s also nice to see a bit more originality thrown into this title. Yes, the game’s zones will remind you of levels from the old days as Sylvania Castle screams Aquatic Ruin and Sky Fortress is just Sky Chase and Wing Fortress combined, but it’s what they do within the levels themselves that makes me enjoy this title more than I thought I would have. The level gimmicks generally don’t come across as tacked on like the torchlight “puzzles” in Episode I. For instance, I enjoyed the sandstorm act that wanted you to learn to use the wind to your advantage by the time you reached the end where the game wanted you to fly over a bottomless pit in similar fashion. Another act in the desert level has a few rooms where sand will fill up inside a factory. These areas get more challenging as you go along, but again, they build up to that moment. The lone exception is the final act in White Park in which the game goes from challenging to cheap. At the very end of it, you will come up across an enemy that can block your way to the end. You get one shot at clearing this part, and if you screw up, you’re going to be hearing that drowning music because you will be stuck with no way out. That’s just asinine.

The bosses are a little more hit or miss. In the game’s first four zones, you’ll either face off against Eggman or Metal Sonic at the end of it. Now, the Metal Sonic fights are very fast and frenetic. You’ll have times where you can only dodge before getting another opportunity to hit the metal minion, but that’s all right because these moments only last for a few seconds. The Eggman fights, however, are some of the worst I can remember in a 2D Sonic title. It feels like you are constantly playing the waiting game. From lengthy intro animations to similar lengthy mid-fight ones, you spend more time just standing around than just attacking. They’re just not fun. Thankfully, they get things right for the final battle, but man, those two boss fights I mentioned are ones I really don’t want to be playing again any time soon.

One of the non-Eggman boss fights.
What I did enjoy playing along the way were the special stages. These use the Sonic 2 half-pipe formula that we’re all so accustomed to by now, but they also throw in a new twist instead of just being the same old style we’re used to. In these areas, Sonic and Tails can once again team up by collecting a tether to collect large groups of rings all at once as well as obstacles like these electrical cubes that won’t make you lose rings but will shock and slow you down considerably. There are also parts in these stages where you can launch yourself up on a spring to reach another pipe with more rings to snag as well as challenge parts where if you can collect all of the rings in one go, you’ll earn a ring bonus. It’s pretty neat, although I found these parts to be much more manageable when I had a partner to play with instead of just the AI. Those last two special stages are also some of the trickier ones I’ve played in some time. Glad there’s a retry option because there was a lot of error in those trials, that was for sure.

Sonic 4: Episode II emulates Sonic 2 in many ways.
Honestly, Sonic 4: Episode II just feels like a better made product than its predecessor from the moment you first boot it up. The look, the music, the actual quality of the game in motion... almost everything was better than I thought it was going to be. Yes, there are a few moments where the game and sound drags itself down, but it isn’t long after that where it picks back up again. I’m certainly not going to call this greatest Sonic game ever or even say whether or not this should be called Sonic 4 in the first place. Instead, what I’m going to tell you is that I came into this game with plenty of reservations yet stayed around long enough to both complete Episode II and have fun in doing it.

Overall: 7.0/10

Note: One thing the review does not cover is that this game has a lock-on feature for those that bought Episode I. If you have the two games on the same machine, you will unlock Episode Metal. This lets you play through four tougher acts from Episode I as Metal Sonic. It’s a nice bonus, but it really doesn’t fit into this review. 

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