Another Sonic game is out. Guess it's time to finish the cycle.
You know what cycle I'm talking about. Every time a new Sonic game gets announced, fans become apprehensive and cautious about the whole ordeal: Will it be new? Will it be classic? Will it be good? Then, as tidbits of information, photos, and videos are slowly revealed, the anxiety seems to wane and excitement builds. "Hey, this one could be different," they all say. And then comes the day when it's finally released.
Well. We all know how that goes.
Sonic Generations seemed to break this cycle. For once in the blue hedgehog's tainted past few years, a fluid, intuitive, and (most important of all) fun Sonic game actually got released. Of course, some fans may argue, but for the majority of players it seemed like Generations was putting Sega's famous mascot on the right path. And then Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 was released.
Before we jump to conclusions here, I will state this: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 is not a bad game. It's just not the best game in the franchise.
What it does, it does well. Sonic moves at a quick pace, doing the most unlikely things any real hedgehog has ever done. If you're familiar with any 2D Sonic game from the past, you'll be familiar with what goes on this time around. He spins, he air dashes, and he runs fast. Moderately fast. Not too terribly fast. Maybe fast enough that you sometimes get surprised by a jump. If I had one major complaint about this episode of Sonic 4 it would be that I never got that exhilarating feeling of pure speed. The game progressed, and I held the control stick to the right and jumped to avoid obstacles, but not once did I ever widen my eyes in excitement because the frantic rush of speed was simply too much for me to handle.
That is this game's biggest downfall. You're always kind of hoping for that level of speed where you have absolutely no control, Sonic is whisking away in some loop-de-loops, and at any moment the game could run you face first into a wall of spikes, but it just never seems to come. There are some fun runs here and there (and don't worry, the loop-de-loops are there), but most of these fun portions are segmented by platforming areas that bring you to a halt.
These are interspersed throughout the levels due to the necessity of Tails. In case you don't know who Tails is, or you're a time-traveller from the year 1895 who just so happened to discover the internet and have stumbled upon GayGamer (In which case, Hi! Welcome to the future!), Tails is Sonic's orange fox companion who just so happens to have two tails and can spin them at will to propel himself and fly through the air, though mysteries of the universe prevent us from figuring out why those tails never get tangled. He follows Sonic everywhere he goes and is useful for context sensitive situations, like carrying Sonic around while he flies in short segments, or latching onto Sonic and turning into a blue and orange ball of one-way destruction.
While these areas can be occasionally clever, and you can even use Tails to prevent Sonic from falling down those pesky bottomless pits of death, they just seem to break up the flow of most of the stages. They're even required in some boss battles, although the game makes no mention of that fact, which leaves you avoiding the boss for a few minutes before you eventually get tired of waiting for something to happen and figure out what you're actually supposed to do (believe me, you'll be thankful you read this).
And while we're on the topic of sluggishness and boss battles, the game has a few moments toward the end that bring you to the brink of thinking "Okay, this is going on for way too long. Am I supposed to be doing something here or just keep avoiding stuff?" Right when you propose the idea of pushing buttons to try and fight back, the game lets you know that, no, you were doing everything right. You were just supposed to sit there.
For what it's worth though, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 delivers an entertaining adventure. It's not a long adventure, nor is it a hard adventure (and this is coming from a guy who would hardly consider himself a pro at any Sonic game), but, gripes aside, it is enjoyable. Some of the stage designs are rather crafty and unique. I loved the roller coaster themed stage and particularly loved the final two levels of the game because of their unique traits. I won't spoil the mechanic of these levels that made me smile, but I will say that I don't quite understand why it is that every Sonic the Hedgehog game has to conclude in space. Seriously, I've played, like, four of them. Space. Every time.
Graphically, Episode 2 trumps Episode 1 in every way. It's simple and it works. What I liked most about the graphics this time around is that everything is composed of 3D models as opposed to the 2D sprites from Episode 1. Animations are fluid, backgrounds look detailed, and there are even some nifty sun streaks that part through the clouds and rocky surfaces. It all looks fantastic, but not so distracting as to keep you away from the game's main purpose of getting from point A to point B.
Sound design was another particularly enjoyable part of the game. It seemed like Sega took a note from Capcom's book when they made Mega Man 9 & 10 and made all the music and sound effects retro, to the point where they convincingly sound like they are being generated from an actual Genesis sound board. The tunes are catchy and vibrant, always fitting the mood of the area you're in, but it's this nod to classic sound design that sealed the deal. I think this aspect alone brought me back to my childhood, sitting in front of a 16-bit system and marveling at how amazing technology was.
In most of these ways, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 beats out its predecessor hands down, but unfortunately it still seems to suffer from the hurdles the first game did. While the game is enjoyable and always tries to grasp at your nostalgia, it doesn't ever seem to stray too far from what it considers safe. There aren't any new game mechanics or inventive sections that make you think "man, that was awesome," nor are there any unique features or modes, aside from a multiplayer mode. It plays like a Sonic game and happily stays in that realm of comfort.
Whether or not that's good or bad depends entirely on your own view of what makes a good Sonic game, and unfortunately, due to such a diverse fan base and varying opinions, I think that's something Sega is still trying to figure out.
EccentricTomboy and myself, who live in the same household, received a review copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 to play for Gay Gamer. It took me roughly an hour and a half to play the game from start to finish.