Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I was a solid platformer bogged down by sluggish physics, wonky controls, and some questionable level design. It was a decent game to be sure, but by no means was it the triumphant return to form that the teeth gnashing Sonic fans had been waiting for. Now, Episode II is finally available, and it is vastly improved, but not without faults.
While Sega built the game from the ground up in a new engine to address physics issues, it’s still lacking, and definitely doesn’t live up to the days of “Blast Processing.”
Just as Episode I borrowed heavily from the original Sonic, Episode II borrows from the second Sonic, reintroducing Miles “Tails” Prower as an AI controlled partner. He isn’t just here to collect extra coins and help you fly though. At the press of a button, he’ll help you fly, swim, and even do an awesome combined spin-dash attack which is nigh unstoppable. The first game was also lacking in speed based level sections, which has been remedied here. There are some sudden stops that seem out of place, though. It would be fine if the physics were really fixed, but from a stopped position, Sonic still takes too long to get up to speed.
It doesn’t help that the controls still offer no tweaking or customization options. They work well enough, but the tilt controls can feel a bit off, and the virtual D-pad is absurdly tiny and awkwardly placed. Still, the game definitely feels better than Episode I. The level structure is the same as before, with four areas split up into three levels and a boss fight. This time around, every single level isn’t available from the start, and there is actually a level progression. There is a great variety between zones in regards to visuals and gameplay alike, whether you’re in a winter theme park wonderland, half sunken castle, oil drilled dessert, or high in the sky.
The boss fights against Dr. Robotnik and company are also much more original, incorporating the abilities of Tails fairly well. They do fake you out a few times with blatant references to Sonic 2, which mdae me giddy. Levels are still divided into normal, score attack, and time attack modes, and with Game Center and OpenFeint leaderboard and achievement support. Just like Sonic 2, you can also play multiplayer, and just like the old Genesis days, you can only play it locally, except over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
In between the releases of episodes one and two, the classic Sonic CD was also ported to iOS, and it was a shining example of classic Sonic gameplay with near perfect controls. This port now seems to have been very intentionally released when it was, because Metal Sonic reappears in this title. In fact, if you go through a process to “lock-in” to your copy of episode one, you can unlock a whole new chapter in which you play as the robotic rodent himself. It involves playing though reworked levels from the original game, and tells of his rise back to prominence after his defeat in Sonic CD. Clearly, Sega’s biggest strategy is still to beat you over the head with nostalgia, and to be fair, it works much better in this title than the last one.
The upgraded visuals are far better as well, and the background and foreground don’t clash like they used to. The music, which is usually pure excellence, is a mixed bag here. Some tunes are pretty groovy, but others are outright annoying. Other old school elements also return, such as the ring collecting half-pipe levels, although they’ve been reworked in such a way that I wasn’t very into them. Of course, you can always collect the Chaos Emeralds and go Super Saiyan-errr… Super Sonic. Episode II is iOS Universal and available for seven dollars at the time of this review. If you enjoyed episode one, you will surely enjoy episode two. If you didn’t, I’m not sure what this game adds will be enough to make it worthwhile, but it is definitely a fun platformer.