Monday, 21 May 2012

Sonic 4 Episode II: First Impressions

The game has come out and the dust has now settled. Many, many Sonic fans held their breath as they turned on their consoles, downloaded the game and continued the Mega Drive-esque adventure Sega had promised. We at Kung Pow Pixel have now finished the game cooperatively and separately and our opinions of the game are starting to form and solidify. This site's clearly not about formal reviews, but we thought it might be nice to share our personal opinions on the new game for those who might want a second opinion before opening their wallets.

So, for those who are interested, hit the jump to hear what we think of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II!

Michael (Sega MikeyDrive):

Well, well, well, look who it is again, Sonic the Hedgehog 4.

Sonic has always been one of my favourite series of games. In fact, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the very first game I remember playing. So needless to say that when Sonic 4 was originally announced, amidst the numerous and bitterly disappointing current gen offerings, I was absolutely ecstatic.When Sonic 4 Episode I finally came out, my rose-tinted glasses ensured that I enjoyed every last bit of the game. Unfortunately, the smoke and mirrors fell away and I was left with an unpolished, mediocre gaming experience which left my wallet a whopping 1200 Microsoft points lighter.

Roughly a year and a half later and I'm glad to say that Sonic 4 Episode II is far closer to being a Sonic game of Mega Drive calibre than Episode I and, while imperfect, will probably be as close as we will get.

Episode II has a much more prevalent story than it the previous game.

The revisions of the Episode I formula come in two forms, the first being the way the game's narrative unfolds. As was the case with many third and fourth generation games, the story was told via short on-screen cut-scenes, action sequences, and the environment and this approach has been lovingly brought over to Episode II. The game sets place some time after Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and immediately after Episode I, but is reviving the storyline of the cult Mega CD classic, Sonic CD. Little Planet has reappeared and, as usual Dr. Rotbotnik wishes to harness its power for his own evils ends. In addition to this, he also finds and resurrects one of his greatest creations, Metal Sonic. While recycling may be a cheap and cheerful way to establish a recognisable storyline amongst Sonic fans, boss battles against Metal Sonic serve to describe his undying rivalry with Sonic, progressively changing level backgrounds show Little Planet's role is the doctor's plans and the changing environments help get a good feel for the quest Sonic & Tails have embarked on.

Death-pits are now clearly marked and enemies are difficult to miss.

This brings us nicely into the second major change, which is the level design. The issue many had with Eipsode's I's levels was an over-abundance of cheap deaths in the forms of poorly placed enemies and pitfalls. Also, many commented on the lack of flow and momentum in these levels. This has been greatly improved in Episode II, with pitfalls being clearly marked as such, and badniks used as simply obstacles rather than platforming tools. The new Sonic & Tails 'tag-team' abilities do not interfere with the flow of the levels and also act as tools for exploration and the discovery of short cuts.

The game also has some neat additions that increase the longevity of the game, the new co-op mode being one of these. Emma and I had quite a bit of fun playing together and it does allow the game to be played in a slightly different way. The mode isn't perfect, however, as as soon as one player runs off the screen, the other is automatically to be dragged to their position, in addition to this the biplane sections of the game are poorly designed for co-op play and are incredibly frustrating.

Getting those red rings is simple at first, but will quite memorisation in later levels.

There's still more for me to do, with a red ring hidden in every stage, and seven Chaos Emeralds to collect in the new Sonic 2 inspired special stages I've got my work cut out for me. Oh, and I have to make doubly sure to beat all of my friends on the online leaderboards, add me on Xbox Live if you think you're up to the challenge.

Overall, the game is an improvement on Episode I and stands tall as part of the Sonic canon. he game is short, and relatively easy aside from some frustrating boss battles, at about 2.5 hours for the main game. Even though there's some other bits-and-bobs to be getting busy with, I can't help but feel that my precious Microsoft points be spent on something a bit more substantial.


I come to the Sonic games as a new fan, having never really played any Sonic games as a child (I only vaguely remember playing a demo for a Sonic game on the PC). I've enjoyed playing Sonic 1, 2 and 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, both on Michael's Mega Drive as well as on my Xbox 360 via the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection disc. I played through Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I on both the Xbox and on the iPod (don't bother with the iOS version, it's nearly uncontrollable), and enjoyed it, but could never be bothered to beat the final boss, as it didn't really feel like a challenge to be overcome, but more of a cheap trick to make completing the game near impossible, especially on the iPod. 

I was reasonably excited about the coming of Episode II, as it was supposed to be like Episode I, but better. And given that in the mean time we've had Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations, both of which are great games, I was expecting something special from Sega. 

The bosses are imaginative, but long cut scenes and annoying music make them boring.

I'm going to be brutally honest with you, regarding Episode II, I don't much like it. The levels look nice, and play well, for the most part, I'll give you that, but to me, it feels like there is something missing. I just couldn't get into playing the game single player, I don't think I would have completed if I hadn't played it co-op. There's just no hook. The music isn't very catchy, and the boss battle are boring, some taking over 30 seconds to get started every time you die and to make matters worse, they took what was already fairly annoying boss battle music from Episode I and made it horrible to listen to. 

The flying levels were very creative, but fraught with cheap deaths.

Talking about playing co-op, the game mechanics are pretty good, for the most part, but there are some sticking points. For example, as Michael said, if you're not fast enough and your partner runs off without you, you'll get teleported to where your partner is and follow them around in a little ball and can't do anything until you press A. Once A is pressed all momentum that you had when in the little ball is lost, and you're stuck trying to catch up with your partner and just end up in the little ball again. There were times where I just stopped trying to keep up and let myself be floated around until I was needed. The acts on the aeroplane are also pretty bad and made the last few levels extremely frustrating. 

As I said, I approached this game pretty fresh, with very little nostalgia, and I think that this made the game less enjoyable for me. At 1200 MS points, I don't think it's really worth the money, and I didn't even pay for it. I think you'd be better off buying yet another port of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which is my favourite of the original series.

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