After dealing with the ho-hum old-school return of the world's most famous blue hedgehog in Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I and the above average nod to just about every Sonic title released in Sonic Generations I was starting to suspect that the fastest thing alive would forever be subjected to a life of mediocrity. Episode II of Sonic The Hedgehog 4, however, puts those misgivings to rest, bringing us a true spiritual successor to the side-scrolling days we all fell in love with.

Unlike in Episode I, where the game takes place after the events of Sonic & Knuckles, Episode II finds our hero after the events of Sonic CD, as Dr. Eggman has revived Metal Sonic and is set to build a new Death Egg to wreak havoc on the world. It's up to Sonic and Tails to stop Dr. Eggman yet again, bringing peace to their planet once again.

Taking place between five worlds, Sonic and Tails run, fly, swim, and even snowboard down snowy hills, underwater labyrinths, and cloudy skies filled with Badniks and other hazards that wish to take you down. Each world (with the exception of Death Egg II) is split into three stages, followed by a Boss Battle that will have you facing off against either Dr. Eggman or Metal Sonic. As it was in the Sonic games of the Genesis era the name of the game is collecting rings and clearing each area in the fastest time (or highest score) possible.

Episode II acts in a way as a successor to Sonic The Hedgehog 2, as you have the capabilities to use the advantages of both Sonic and Tails to  conquer the worlds you run and fly through. On occasion you'll find yourself using Tails to help you reach bigger heights and use a super spin attack that can clear away any enemies and debris that will keep you from reaching your destination, thanks in part to some wildly new combo maneuvers. By pressing the Square button you can pull off these combo maneuvers, though you might find yourself accidentally using one instead of the other during a dire moment (especially during boss battles).

As you progress through the stages, the difficulty level tends to spike a bit. In one level you might find yourself clearing it in just over two minutes, whereas in the next stage it might take you close to seven with a couple lost lives here and there. (This was evident in Stages 2 and 3 of the White Park Zone.) Boss battles will also take a lot of strategy to conquer, as no two bosses are alike. Sure, you have to hit it a number of times to defeat it, but it's about how you go about doing it as you avoid lasers, falling boxes, Balkiries (first seen in Sonic 2), and robotic vines that will attempt to slam into you.

One of the nice additions to the game is the usage of Tails's plane the Tornado during the Sky Fortress Zone. In these instances you will be both flying the plane with Tails while taking out enemies with Sonic. The plane also has its own rendition of a barrel roll, which can be used to rid the screen of pesky crates that will block your way or Badniks that are overcrowding your area. It's during the boss battle against Metal Sonic and his hovercraft where the Tornado shines the most.

As it is customary in side-scrolling Sonic games, Episode II wouldn't be complete without a trip down some special levels that must be played in order to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds. Fortunately, these levels bring us back to the classic bonus levels found in Sonic 2, where Sonic and Tails must collect a specific amount of rings before reaching a specific checkpoint. The 3D-twisting tunnel that also has its share of bombs and electric orbs that will keep you from collecting that much-needed emerald, which when collecting all seven will help you to become Super Sonic.

The single player experience of Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode II will take you roughly four to five hours to complete the first time around, but that's without revisiting levels to collect the emeralds and red rings hidden throughout each stage; not to mention the twelve achievements that you can earn by doing various tasks. Those that own Episode I will also be able to unlock the four-staged Metal Sonic levels, but you need to make sure you purchase the game on the same console in order to access them.

Players can even go co-op both local and online, taking on all the levels as either Sonic or Tails and using the combos to your advantage. While online mode has its moments, there is a lot of lag happening throughout the stage as this review is being published. (The Tornado-based levels will also take some cunning strategy to tackle, as I found myself falling off the plane more often than not due to the other player being unable to catch me for my landing.)

PROS:

  • Feels like playing the original Genesis games
  • Combo moves add something distinct to the Sonic universe
  • Tornado-based levels

CONS:

  • Lag issues while playing online
  • Difficulty spikes as you go along
  • Doing the Tornado-based levels in co-op mode a major pain

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Episode II of Sonic The Hedgehog 4 manages to sweep away the clunkiness of Episode I, replacing it with smooth gameplay and a truer feel of the Sonic games of generations past. Those that were a tad disappointed with the first part will be happy to know that their beloved blue hedgehog and his two-tailed fox partner have returned to form, finally giving us a real follow-up to the brilliant Sonic CD.

FINAL GRADE: 8.5 (out of ten)

Press copy of PSN version provided by SEGA and Ryan Morgan of TriplePoint PR.

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