Following on from my review of Sonic 4 Episode 1, in this entry I am going to review Episode 2. At first glance Episode 2 looks pretty identical to 1 except with the sidekick Tails included. However, there are more differences between the episodes than it first seems.
First of I want to mention that because this episode allows not only single player but also for two players to play, all the controls and key bindings are now different to the first episode, and so the PC controls are pretty bad. I would highly recommend to play this game with a gamepad/controller that can be connected to the PC.
Now that out of the way, let’s discuss more on the game mechanics and the stages themselves. Now that we’ve got Tails to help us, there have been several new moves added which Sonic and Tails perform together, like getting a chance to fly for a short distance or to produce a power roll that can destroy certain obstacles on the way. At first I wasn’t too fond of these additions as I simply wanted a more old-school gameplay fun, but the more I played the game, the more useful I started to find these new moves. In fact they make Tails a lot more useful than to simply mindlessly follow you around like your tail (sorry for the pun!)
With the stages, they take on a similar format as in the first Episode – three acts and then a boss fight. At first we have the Sylvania Castle Zone. Once we’ve completed that, we get access to two more zones to play in our order of preference – White Park Zone and Oil Desert Zone, and once those two are completed as well, we can play through the Sky Fortress Zone.
Sylvania Castle Zone quite noticeably borrows its inspirations from the Aquatic Ruin Zone (Sonic 2) and Marble Garden Zone (Sonic 3), and basically takes place among ancient ruins that have been overgrown with plant life. In the second act we get to spend some more time in the underwater parts, and the third act changes the overall look to night time.
White Park Zone takes place in an amusement park in the snowy mountains. The first act here has some similarities to the Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3. The second act is one I really enjoyed as it takes place on various rollercoaster tracks, and despite various obstacles that can one-hit-kill you, it still manages to be really high speed and incredibly fun. The third act makes you delve into the underwater parts and is much slower-paced compared to the first two acts.
Oil Desert Zone is really stunning looking and as the name implies takes place in a Middle-Eastern-looking area. The challenges here include having to traverse the quicksands before you sink into them, sliding on oil streams, managing to get past the sandstorms, among a few others. It does remind me greatly of the Oil Ocean Zone from Sonic 2, but with tonnes of changes. The third act in this zone is perhaps one of the hardest in the game as during some parts of it you end up inside vertical structures which get quickly filled up with sand, and your job is to climb up the structure as fast as possible or else end up getting buried beneath the sand.
Sky Fortress Zone is, as you might’ve guessed already, very similar to the Wing Fortress Zone from Sonic 2, where we have to make our way through a giant airborne structure that’s floating in the skies. The first act of this zone has us flying aboard a Tornado airplane (just like in Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2). I had mixed feelings on this act since there were parts in it where you had to bounce and use homing attack on the aerial enemies, but lock-on feature not always working as intended would sometimes cause you to fall to your death. Acts 2 and 3 were a lot more enjoyable as they were pretty much the classic Wing Fortress Zone but a lot more high speed. They were definitely my favourite acts in this game without a doubt.
Once we’ve cleared the Sky Fortress Zone, we head to the final stage that is the Death Egg mk II. What I liked about it is that it’s been split into two parts, as opposed to bundling everything together like the first episode did.
Now this is definitely not all. Apart from the stages mentioned above, we also get some bonus stages where we get to play as Metal Sonic, who is one of Dr Eggman’s creations that is made to look and act the same as Sonic. These few bonus stages are actually the stages from Episode I with a few small changes made to them.
And finally let’s not forget the special stages where we get a chance to collect those elusive Chaos Emeralds. Episode I made its special stages very similar to the ones from the original Sonic game, and so Episode II made them very similar to the ones from Sonic 2, where Sonic and Tails must run through a 3D half-pipe structure and collect certain number of rings in order to get past checkpoints. I actually find these special stages a lot more fun than the ones from Episode I.
Also really worth mentioning the boss fights. Not going to reveal too much due to spoilers, but the boss fights really do shine in this game as each one of them is unique and different to all the others. I’ll admit that I wasn’t too fond of the first boss fight, but most others were great. The ones in White Park Zone and Oil Desert Zone certainly come to mind as highly enjoyable fights, and the Final Boss fight was fantastic as well. It was much better, in my opinion, than the final boss fight in Episode I.
And so overall I really enjoyed this entry in the Sonic franchise. Apart from a few minor hiccups, Episode II actually does improve on many aspects from Episode I. The graphics are very colourful, the stages tend to throw a variety of challenges your way, the boss fights really stand out from each other, and the soundtrack is really addictive to listen to. As far as sidescrolling platformers go, in my opinion you won’t find many better than this as it’s a really well-balanced and all-rounded game.
My score: 9.5/10
And as a final note I really wonder what Episode III in this series will hold for us. As many would guess, it would probably have Knuckles as a sidekick. But also, seeing that most stages in these two episodes have been highly inspired by already existing stages from the original trilogy, it makes me wonder which stages will be included in Episode III. I personally would really want to see something heavily inspired by the Starlight Zone from the original Sonic.