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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3 DEVELOPER: Dimps/Sonic Team PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (NA): May 15, 2012 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Episode II-thousand-and-late!

There must have been enough of an element of success in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, because Episode II has appeared! Continuing to attempt to drum up feelings of pure retro goodness, Episode II picks up right where Episode I left off... sort of. Apparently, Sonic did NOT defeat Dr. Eggman in the previous game! The mad scientist once again did not die, and now he has devised plans to create the Death Egg mk.II, likely modeled after the Death Egg of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, only improved and with more espresso stations in the cafeteria. To help combat this new threat, Sonic calls up his ol' pal Miles "Tails" Prower, the two-tailed fox, to join in the fun. Also, Metal Sonic shows up for some reason, having survived a previous defeat in Sonic CD.

What exactly is Tails good for, aside from being left behind after dying while Sonic continues his journey unfazed? Here, he serves a couple of more required functions. Jumping in the air then calling him has Tails lift you in the air, where he can carry you to much greater heights (useful for getting out of the water in those beloved underwater levels). Okay, I say "greater heights", but I was usually underwhelmed by how far he could legitimately carry you before giving up. If you are simply standing around when you beckon for your two-tailed friend, you'll combine into one giant spinball of fury, capable of knocking down grittier obstacles and larger enemies with relative ease. But Sonic also shares his life and ring counters with Tails, so caution is a definite must. Maybe this explains why, although I racked up well over 100 lives in Episode I, I was a bit more strapped for lives in this round. And, of course, Tails is adept at piloting an airplane, so expect Sonic to have to ride one of those for a while and hope he doesn't slip and fall to the planet below, at which point he might exclaim, "Gotta go fast... to the hospital!"

The game plays pretty much like the first: side-scrolling action with, yes, that strong "gotta go fast" flavour. The developers claim to have implemented a new physics engine, but although I really didn't notice much of a difference, I actually have no complaints about his physics in Episode II, either. Granted, Sonic still will probably end up doing a faceplant directly into a pointy enemy after a long dash through part of a level, but that's part of the classic formula. There seems to be fewer absolute needs to pull off lightning-quick homing attacks this time around, so at least they improved the level design somewhat. Make no mistake, however: they still manage to make things frustrating. There's an excruciating underwater ice level that I would have much preferred be chucked in the dumpster. Like Episode I, the final boss design just screams for improvement. And whoever decided that the very first stage should have underwater sections, truly the cause of misery and despair for some, should be demoted to the Sega mail room.

Also added are Red Star Rings, additional collectables hidden in each stage. Find them to... uh... well, get trophies... if that's your thing.

Heads, you win. Tails, you fly.

Now that Tails is in the mix, two players can rock the joint at the same time, either with local co-op on the same couch or via online play. That being said, we all know who's the star of the show. This isn't "Tails the Two-Tailed Fox 4: Episode II". Sonic's always going to be in the lead, and wherever he goes, Tails is forced to follow. As in Sonic 2, it's sometimes pointless to be the second player because you're often just dragged along, rather than actively contributing.

B-B-BUT WAIT!! If you already own Episode I on your console, you'll get to unlock Episode Metal, additional content that illustrates how Metal Sonic didn't actually get destroyed in Sonic CD and has now risen with bloodlust on his circuitry. You get to play as Metal Sonic in four retooled stages from Episode I. I have to admit, that's pretty cool. It was a nice and unexpected addition. He controls pretty much like Sonic, so it's not jarring in any way. Plus, Metal Sonic doesn't seem to care much about Chaos Emeralds, just revenge, so that works in his favour.

Oh, but what of those sacred Chaos Emeralds? They're still here and collectable, provided you snatch 50 rings and keep them until the end of the stage, where you can hop into a giant golden ring of triumph. Don't get all giddy yet. The stress-inducing special stages of Episode I, which were inspired by those of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, have now been replaced with different stress-inducing bonus stages, straight out of Sonic 2. From a third person perspective, you need to run down a long tube, gathering a pre-specified number of rings before you reach the checkpoint, avoiding obstacles along the way. Except now they have been lined with speed boosters, electrified jewels, and power-ups to tether Sonic and Tails together — all things that we definitely needed. [Insert the sound of a thousand eyeballs simultaneously rolling here. Yep, you can just imagine that moist, viscous echo.] I gave up after trying the last special stage with consistent failure; I really don't need to collect all those chaos emeralds and become Super Sonic... well, okay, the ending I received told me I do...

At least the game still looks good. Sonic is especially shiny, and the attention to detail on the bosses is duly noted. There is much debate among the rampant Sonic fanbase about the look of this game, whether or not it should have been modeled after the classic Sonic look, pixelated sprites and all. Personally, I think Episode II looks dandy. The music continues to try its best to resemble the tunes on the Genesis, complete with that drum beat you can only truly achieve with a sound chip fished straight out of Lake Thatsalottasludge.

Yet overall, I actually had a little LESS fun with Episode II. The game is overall decent, good for people who loved the Sonic games of old. Yet it's mostly a colour-by-numbers Sonic sequel. Episode I set the foundation; Episode II didn't set up any additional walls. The stage design, despite being fairly solid and not causing TOO many flying expletives (with the exception of the bonus stages, which I found to be brow-furrowingly bad), fails to pop and impress. Bottom line is, if you liked Episode I, you'll like the slightly more polished Episode II, but don't expect any major changes or improvements.

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