Perhaps I’m the wrong type of person to review a game like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2. See, I remember Sonic’s 16bit heyday on the SEGA Megadrive – a heyday that seems to have lasted roughly 21 years, seven console generations and is still going strong to this day. There’s no doubting that the original Sonic the Hedgehog adventure is the quintessential title for gamers who appreciate the charm of retro 2D side-scrolling; so whilst Sonic 4 Episode 2 occasionally nods back to the franchise’s glory days with visual panache and a strong host of memorable techno-inspired numbers, it never comes anywhere close to surpassing the delights that gamers once enjoyed.
This is down (in some part) to Sonic Team’s clear misunderstanding of the games’ core physics – a somewhat fundamental part of Episode 2 that determines Sonic’s acceleration, movement and overall speed during play. Sluggish would be an understatement; for a game that relies so heavily on featuring a protagonist who blisters through levels at blinding pace this game constantly keeps player progressing at a frustratingly slow level. Enemies, bonuses, walls, blocks, changes in direction, combo-moves and shifts in terrain all cause Sonic to stop still – which would be fine if it were not for the few subsequent seconds it takes to get him moving again. These issues with momentum usually lead to some cheap deaths, particularly in underwater sections (of which there are many) where it becomes easy to misjudge the distance between yourself and spikes.
That’s not to say the game is all doom and gloom; aside from a few minor physics and coherence issues it’s actually a very solid, faithful entry to the “classic” Sonic franchise. Combat is refined here thanks to a useful homing attack, a dominating move which appears as a reticule usually targeting nearby enemies or weak areas on bosses. The art style is impeccable, a mixture of modern day Sonic iconography with breath-taking thematic backgrounds that occasionally blur the lines between 2D and 3D. Sound plays as strong a part as ever, with catchy songs accompanying each zone and their particular themed levels. These songs also pay a perfect homage to the original classics (of which I’m pretty sure 90% of us can recite off the top of our heads right now) from the Megadrive/Genesis era with charming sound effects, such as the Jaws-like “you’re about to drown” tune, being recycled to add extra layers to the stylistic authenticity of Sonic 4 in regards to its predecessors.
The moments where Episode 2 really shines, however, are during its frequent sections of intuitive co-operative play. Your old trusty pal Miles “Tails” Prower joins you this time round and throughout the game you’ll encounter plenty of moments in which your yellow-copter buddy must assist you in order to complete puzzles, destroy blockades or fly over things in order to continue. These moments provide the perfect balance of challenge and puzzle-solving without ever becoming too taxing, although an overall lack of clarity (vague hints slightly aiding as they appear on TV screens prompting a co-operative action) will leave newcomers struggling to understand how to pass the first few obstacles and destroy the first few bosses.
There’s also a very welcome addition of local and online multiplayer, giving players the opportunity to adopt the role of Sonic or Tails and traverse the games few zones regardless of their progress in the single player mode. This is well-realized as it allows newcomers the chance to play with more experienced gamers, a feature that really needs to be more promoted in games of a larger calibre. For players using XBLA or PSN there’s also the enticing feature of unlockable achievements up for grab, although good luck getting them all as due to Sonic’s pacey problems some of these seem virtually impossible to obtain!
In conclusion, the blue, spiky hedgehog in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 just isn’t the same hedgehog we all know and love. While I’ve made it pretty far avoiding Sonic’s next-generation spin-offs (such as Riders, Unleashed and the shameful Olympic Games) this should have been a title that would have been impossible to mess-up, seeing as it replicates the style of one of gaming’s most all-time successful titles. It just goes to show that despite all the effort spent on producing bonus content, adding multiplayer and finessing both the audio and visuals – a few simple mistakes cost Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 a richer score of which it probably deserves. It’s very short yet rather sweet, definitely worth a punt for fans of Sonic games or 2D side-scrollers in general. If you’ve got some gold rings to spare, investing some hours into the next entry of SEGA’s all-blue legacy might be worth a good shout.