Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was a peculiar game.
It's a Modern Era Sonic game that's trying to act like the Genesis Era Sonic games. As a result, it lacks parts of what made the games that came before it so great.
While I enjoyed it to some extent, I agreed that the next episode would have to improve upon Episode 1's shortcomings.
So when asked, "Can Sonic 4 get better?" I reply, "Yes, it can."
Time has passed since the events of Episode 1 as the Little Planet, from Sonic CD, starts to make its way towards Sonic's planet. However, Sonic has heard that Eggman is up to no good and both him and Tails go to investigate.
Basically, they're tying Sonic CD into the storyline of the Genesis Trilogy.
- -Sonic's moveset is the same as it was in Episode 1, while Tails' moveset is taken from Sonic 3
- -Sonic and Tails have the same running speed
- -Sonic can do a Homing Attack by pressing the A Button twice while Tails can Fly/Swim around using the same Button combination.
- -The Rolling Physics have been changed, allowing Sonic and Tails to stay in ball form longer.
- -Sonic no longer uncurls when going up inclines and can actually bounce off enemies instead of just using the Homing Attack.
During the Sky Fortress Acts where you control the Tornado, in Single Player, you can move around and have Sonic attack anywhere and the plane will automatically fly to where he'll land. It also has a Tornado Boost, where it does a fast spin attack. While the Tornado Boost is useful, Tails will do an animation where he gets dizzy and during this time you can't move.
In Episode 2, Sonic and Tails can use Tag Actions, which are special moves, to get past certain areas and find secrets.
The first Tag Action is the Copter Combo. It's basically Tails flying while carrying Sonic. To activate it, someone has to press the X Button while in Midair. In Single Player Mode, you can press A to have Tails fly higher while in Multiplayer, whoever is controlling Tails will be in charge of pressing the A Button. It seems that trying to go higher will tire Tails out more, so you have to time this. Sonic can let go of Tails by pressing X again or A.
The second Tag Action is the Rolling Combo. It's kinda a combination of the Spin Dash and the Boost. To activate it, press the X Button. It's starts out very fast and gains speed. It can destroy obstacles that were normally take 2 or more hits to destroy in 1 hit, while even being able to ride on top of spikes. If you hit a wall, or slow down, you will eventually stop. You can also hit X again to revert back to normal.
The last and final Tag Action is the Submarine Combo. This is an underwater version of the Copter Combo. In underwater sections, Tails can carry Sonic for an infinite amount of time in any direction and with quick and precise movements while grabbing Rings and air bubbles and dodging enemies and obstacles. When you leave the water, you automatically go into a Copter Combo and vice versa. I hope we see something similar to the Submarine Combo in future Sonic games.
Like Episode 1, Episode 2 has 5 Zones, with the game starting out in Sylvania Castle.
After clearing Sylvania Castle Act 1, White Park and Oil Desert Zone will be unlocked, along with all their Acts. Like before you have the freedom of choosing your destination instead of being forced to play Acts from Zone 1 to the last Zone. If you want to do it the old way, press the Y button after clearing an Act/Special Stage when the "Play to Next Act" appears.
The Zones for this game are more challenging and longer than in Episode 1. Underwater areas and Bottomless pits appear very early in the game and there are many hazards that try to crush you, bury you, drown you, and burn you.
Acts still increase in difficulty from Act 1 to Act 3, while Zones range from Sylvania Castle being the easiest, White Park being slightly harder, Oil Desert being intermediate, and Sky Fortress being the hardest.
All the Zones including Sky Fortress, which is a throwback level, are unique. There are a few elements you may recognize in some of the Acts but they are used in new ways.
Each Act offers different challenges as well as shortcuts and hidden passages. Also, you'll sometimes get a heads up with the Headings like "Sky Fortress Zone Act 1: The Tornado Takes Flight".
As far as Level Design goes, there is a heavier emphasis on platforming. There are still areas where you can try to speed run but only experienced players will be able to pull it off. While I've noticed that the Acts have an abundance of Springs and Boosters, they really didn't have an impact on me. Though I do admit some spots didn't really need them.
Episode 2 introduces some new Badniks (enemies) along with some older ones that also make the game more challenging. For example, Spikes is a badnik that can only be destroyed using Tag Actions while Snowy, a giant polar bear Badnik, normally needs to be hit at least 3 times to be destroyed. While I'm happy with how Episode 2 uses its enemies, for some reason Bubbles is still being used in most of the Acts. At least with uncurling is gone so I can bounce off of them without any problems.
While the Item Boxes are the same as in Episode 1, Sonic and Tails will both benefit from the Item you get. Also, there is a new Item Box called "Special Combination". While it's rare, hitting it will trigger a special team attack where Sonic and Tails bounce around the screen and you have to press the A Button quickly to increase the numbers on the screen. At the end, you will receive Rings based on how high the number is.
In order to reach the Special Stages in Episode 2, you still have to do 2 things:
- -play the regular Acts and reach the goal with 50 rings or more
- -jump into the giant ring before the goal sign stops spinning
However, the Special Stages themselves are modernized versions of the Halfpipe Highway, which has been used in the series since their first appearance in Sonic 2.
The difference in Episode 2 is
- -they work like they did in Sonic 2, where you have to pass Checkpoints with a certain amount of Rings
- -Sonic and Tails can boost to gain speed
- -there are 10 Rings on the tracks and a new obstacle that slows you down
- -there are springs that can take you to different paths
- -there is a power-up that forms a rope between Sonic and Tails that grabs any Rings it touches, allowing you to get more Rings
- -there are areas where you have to collect a certain amount of Rings before time runs out to get a Bonus
- -in Single Player, if Tails gets hit, you won't have to suffer for it
The first 5 are OK but the last 2 Special Stages are hard. Luckily, you can still cheat by pressing "Retry" when Pausing.
If you have a friend who's good with the Special Stages, you can team up to get more Rings.
Once you get a Chaos Emerald, an icon will appear over the Act where you got it, so you can't replay the same acts to get to the other Special Stages.
Just like in Episode 1, once players have cleared Acts 1, 2, and 3 of a Zone, the Boss Act will be unlocked.
In this Episode, Eggman and Metal Sonic take turns against Sonic and Tails in some of the most original and challenging Boss Battles.
You won't be able to spam the Homing Attack or the Rolling Combo against Bosses because most of the Boss Acts have Eggman out of Sonic's reach while Metal Sonic has a "Unleashed Mode" that will hurt you if you touch him.
One of the nice additions to the Boss Acts is that there are now at least 50 Rings in each area before the Boss allowing you to be able to use Super Sonic during Boss Fights.
Once you collect all 7 Chaos Emeralds, you can become Super Sonic during Regular Acts and Boss Acts, after you've collected 50 or more Rings, and pressing the Y buttons.
In Episode 2, Super Sonic is a combo of the "Power Sneakers" power-up, "Invincibility" power-up, and the Rolling Combo. Plus, his jump is higher and his Home Attack range is bigger.
His rings still deplete as you play and he reverts back to normal once it reaches Zero. However, if you use a Tag Action with Tails, he will turn back to normal and the Rings will stop depleting.
While I started my first playthrough by myself, I spent most of my time playing Episode 2 in Multiplayer.
For local Co-op, you need 2 controllers and someone to help you. For Online Co-op, you can either do a Quick Match, join a game, or create one.
Anyway, here are some differences in Multiplayer:
- -both characters are shown in one screen. If a person goes too far off screen, they will automatically float over to where the person is and can press A to reappear. Also, using Tag Actions can rejoin people together.
- -all Rings are shared. If Sonic or Tails take a hit, they will drop all the Rings, regardless of who collected them
- -all Lives are shared. If Sonic or Tails get hit when there's no Rings or die, a Life will be used up. If both characters die simultaneously, 2 Lives will be used up
- -any Acts or Bosses cleared and Chaos Emeralds or Red Star Rings collected in Multiplayer are added to your file in Single Player
Playing with someone else makes Episode 2 more engaging, whether it's your first time or you've beaten the game. For most of my team ups, I learned secrets and ways to get through certain areas that I hadn't noticed before in Single Player. There were also some pretty good playthroughs.
While Multiplayer is fun, you have to work together to clear the levels. If your partner wants to rush through the level or isn't on the same page as you, they're more than likely to lose Rings, use up your lives, prevent you from getting to the Special Stage, or cause you to miss out on Item Boxes.
If you have Episode 1 and Episode 2, you will unlock DLC where you can play as Metal Sonic, as some form of Lock-On Technology.
While this is cool and all, compared to Sonic and Knuckles, where you can play as Knuckles in any Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 levels, you can only play as Metal Sonic in 1 Act of each Zone in Episode 1.
The backstory cutscenes were interesting but I hope that future DLC has more content.
Episode 2 has a new graphics engine, that puts Episode 1 to shame. While it's not as good as the Hedgehog Engine, which was used in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations, it still does an impressive of looking good.
To be honest, the speed is kinda controlled. Sonic and Tails are not too slow, not too fast, but just perfect.
For the Tag Actions, Rolling Combo is the fastest way to go, while the Copter Combo is the slowest.
Overall Speed Score: 9
Like Episode 1, the music for Episode 2 was made to sound "retro".
While I would have preferred actual instruments, I didn't have a problem with the music.
Some of the tunes are catchy while some have bits and pieces of music from other Sonic games. Sylvania Castle Act 2 has a little of Aquatic Ruin Zone Act 2 (from Sonic 2) in it while White Park Zone Act 2 has a little of Twinkle Park (from Sonic Adventure) in it.
Eggman and Metal Sonic each have their own themes during the Boss Acts.
My Final Overall Score for the game is a 7.
Episode 2 improves upon what Episode 1 started with. However, Episode 1, Episode 2, and Episode Metal still need some work done to be able to call themselves a "Sequel to Sonic 3 and Knuckles".
It was said that Sonic 4 may end with Episode 2 depending on how well Episode 2 does. While there is no "teaser" in Episode 2, I hope that Episode 3 gets made and that it completes Sonic 4.
If you're interested in trying the game, download the demo.