Sonic fans will find a lot to like in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II. Sidekick Tails returns, rival Metal Sonic makes a playable comeback if you own Episode I on the same console, and those pesky physics issues have been ironed out. Those looking for a true sequel, a true reason for that number 4 to be there may be disappointed and maybe even a little bored.
In SEGA’s never-ending mission to return Sonic to his glory days — they’ve practically remade Sonic 1 with Sonic 4: Episode I and redid entire levels from a bunch of Sonic games in an entire game dedicated to the hog’s past in Sonic Generations – they neglected to push the series’ further in any considerable way in Episode II beyond Sonic and Tails’ team-up attacks. It all looks too familiar. Just like Episode I pulled level and enemy design from Sonic 1, Sonic 4: Episode II pulls entire levels from Sonic 2, as well as several elements of Sonic 3, and of course Sonic CD. It’s great that Sonic controls well, and it’s cool to see the turtle and chicken robots from Sonic 2 in HD, but as far as creative effort goes, I’m not really seeing it here.
I never thought I’d say this, but… I’m becoming tired of the nostalgia-mining. I think I’m ready for Sonic to go in new directions, whatever those may be. I know, I know, after years of whining and complaining that Sonic’s not what he used to be, now that we got several games in the classic style, I want something… well, new. Something like the BioWare Sonic RPG, something like the Archie comics or the OVA. Not exactly those things, but something like them. Maybe something minimalist like a “Team Ico” version of Sonic, where he’s all alone in a desolate land and an army of robotic monstrosities encroach upon — okay, yeah, this is not the time or place for that, but I think we got our money’s worth with the past few Sonic games. Colors, Generations, and Sonic 4 pretty much nailed the classic style we all wanted back and Episode II demonstrates that the only ideas Sonic Team has left are old ones we’ve all seen before. After 20+ years, perhaps it’s time to evolve.
But first, Sonic 4: Episode II.
I never thought I’d say this, but… I’m becoming tired of the nostalgia-mining. I think I’m ready for Sonic to go in new directions, whatever those may be.
Stages are decently designed. I have no problems with the branching paths — replay value! — and enemy and spike placement reaches Sonic CD levels of evil in some spots, especially in Episode Metal. Aesthetically, each level is taken right from Sonic 2 and 3. There’s a dead ringer for Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3, Oil Ocean Zone from Sonic 2 (now an Oil Desert) returns and the Sky Chase and Sky Fortress Zones from Sonic 2 are as close to remakes of those particular levels as it gets. Nostalgiahogs will have a field day with these variations on past levels, and while I enjoyed seeing some old landscapes I feel a little shortchanged. They hew so closely to the levels of old, they might as well have been included in Sonic Generations, an entire game dedicated to remakes of old Sonic games. Sonic 4 could’ve done something different, but it does nearly the exact same thing as that game. Surely, there are more worlds for Sonic to jump, run and loop-the-loop through than ones he’s been to many times before.
The callbacks don’t end there. The bonus level from Sonic 2 — that awful half-pipe thing — also comes back and it’s as anxiety-inducing as before. I wish these bonus levels would go away. They weren’t very fun then, and no real improvements have been made to them. In fact, they’re more sluggish than before. Some day, some game, Chaos Emeralds will be obtained without having to go through some burdensome trial stage divorced from the rest of the game.
Boss battles continue the recent Sonic game trend of being unremarkable. They’re so drawn-out and dull, without any real sense of excitement or awe. Most of them involve a lot of waiting as crates fall from the sky (gotta dodge ‘em!) or bosses take on different forms (gotta… wait for that to happen!). The best “fight” in the game, a race against Metal Sonic, was easily conquered by using the team spin-dash move. It was kind of laughable how that fight, what should’ve been a bombastic setpiece, was done with so swiftly. There’s nothing in Episode II like the memorable boss fights from Sonic 3 & Knuckles or even the final boss from Sonic Colors. The final boss here is just as dull as the others. No build-up or sense of weight. It feels like Sonic Team was going through the motions here.
Visually, everything looks pretty good, especially the snow level. There’s a level of detail in the backgrounds and even in enemy models that wasn’t achieved in Episode I. Though the opening title screen, which recreates Sonic 2‘s title screen, misses the mark with the janky, low-frame 3D models used. Tails looks like he’s having trouble popping up there. But yeah, as you can see, nothing all that original here. More old stuff recycled.
Even the sound effects are back from the Genesis days. The music isn’t nearly as reminiscent of the catchy, illustrious tunes we can still whistle from memory. The soundtrack may not be as bad as Sonic 4: Episode I‘s — maybe, I can’t remember any of it — but either way, the grating sound they went for in Episode II‘s soundtrack is murder on the ears. The cacophonous compositions loop after 40 seconds or so, ensuring you will get tired, even furious at them. I don’t know what the excuse is either. Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors before it had stand-out soundtracks. It’s odd the numbered sequel can’t share the same auditory distinction.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II fixes nearly everything from the first episode, except the confounding music, and should give forgiving fans a decent Sonic fix until the next game. But like many of his contemporaries, Sonic’s in need of a shake-up. The time for nostalgia (gulp) is over. Dangerous for me of all people to say, I know, but with almost 21 years of hindsight under SEGA’s belt, the time for by-the-books, copy-paste game design is over. The way things are going now I fear I’m growing bored of the Blue Blur. I’d hate for that to happen. Hopefully the next game does something new with the hog, so long as “new” doesn’t mean werehogs, human princesses, or guns.