A Tail of Two Games

He is one of gaming’s most beloved mascots, but in recent years, the spiky speedster that is Sonic the Hedgehog has had trouble even getting out of the starting gates due to a difficult transition into the 3D realm. But, with games like Sonic Generations and the first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, we’ve come to realize that Sonic’s natural environment may just be that of a classic side-scrolling platformer. So, when SEGA announced they were finally releasing the second episode for Sonic 4, many fans, myself included, could not wait to see if Sonic could hit the trifecta.

Unfortunately, where Sonic succeeded in his previous two side-scrolling forays, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is held back by one key factor: Sonic’s ever-irritating sidekick, Tails. And it’s not that I mind Tails’ presence in the game, but more that SEGA felt the need to force Sonic to share the spotlight with his sidekick. In fact, the game almost feels more like a Tails game than it does a continuation of a Sonic adventure. Many of the puzzles, obstacles, and even boss battles require you to team-up with Tails in order to navigate the branching pathways of the four new acts presented to us. Whether grabbing Sonic and briefly flying with him to scale a particularly steep cliff or a special double-spin attack that lets you barrel over nearly everything in your path, the emphasis on Tails is ever-present and quite off-putting if you’re an old-school fan.

Another down point is that even though the controls have been tweaked and it is nice that Sonic feels a lot smoother than in Episode I, with the Tails team-up maneuvers, it feels like you’re fighting your joystick a lot of the time when flying or rolling in the double-spin. Just another aspect of the game that is taken down a notch due to Tails’ overbearing presence.

There are some positives to this game as well though. The audio/visual aspect of the game is absolutely top-notch. From racing down rickety roller coasters, to working your way through a Robotnik Oil Refinery, or sliding down snow-covered slopes, the level design is diverse and no two areas really look the same. The music, specially tailored to sound like the 16-bit tunes of old, are simple, but catchy, successfully reminding us of Sonic’s past exploits.

There are even some positives to Tails. Since they make you drag the fox around anyway, as he continues being flattened, forked, and flambéed as he gets left behind constantly when just being controlled by the computer, the least SEGA was able to do was insert both local and online 2-player co-op. Playing with a friend as Tails is still difficult depending on your communication skills, but at least it’s a lot more entertaining when you can yell at your friend for dropping you instead of the computer.

The game also offers a fair amount of replayability with the time trials feature where you can upload your times to an online leaderboard, and there are always those seven Chaos Emeralds to collect. As a nice additional bonus, if you purchased Sonic 4: Episode I, once you beat Episode II, you can unlock an additional act where you can play as Metal Sonic and learn just how it was that he came back as he traces a unique path through levels from the first few Sonic games. These levels were particularly fun as it gives fans a chance to revisit some classic locales as well as you don’t have to deal with an irritating sidekick most of the time.

All in all, this game does a decent job of finishing off the Sonic 4 story and does offer enough platforming and old-school elements that should please hardcore fans enough that they can look past many of the game’s shortcomings. It is efforts like this though that remind us why so many people consider Tails a nuisance as him hogging the spotlight for this game really forced a lot of the game play to take a step back from what fans expect and appreciate from an old-school Sonic adventure.

SUMMARY:  The controls took a surprising step back and there were too many puzzles that required Tails’ assistance for my liking. If you can get past these though, there is a solid Sonic adventure here at its core that’s worth taking a look at for long-time fans.

  • THE GOOD: Classic Sonic style action in bright and colorful new locales
  • THE BAD: Tails-centric obstacles and puzzles
  • THE UGLY: A.I. Tails still constantly getting killed just like in Sonic 2

SCORE: 6.5

Sonic 4: Episode II is available on XBLA (Xbox 360), PSN (PS3) and PC. Primary version reviewed was on XBLA (Xbox 360).