Windows Phone Central has eagerly covered SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II ever since its first official announcement. The Windows Phone version is still due out in July, but the console and PC versions have already arrived. As such, here are my impressions of Sonic 4: Episode II on Xbox Live Arcade.
Episode II has a larger budget than the original game and it shows. The game starts out with an actual intro sequence, followed by more story bits later on. Graphically, Sonic and Tails are fully 3D and look great in close-ups like those in the bonus levels. The backgrounds feature more interesting and varied locales than before, such as White Park’s snow-covered theme park. New lighting and show effects impress as well. These graphical improvements extend to the currently-available iPhone version, so expect a similar boost on Windows Phone as well. I wish I could say the music had improved, but it sounds as unimpressive as the last game. Can’t have everything, I guess.
As with Episode I, there are four zones, each with three acts a piece. My favorites are the third and fourth zones, Oil Desert and Sky Fortress. The desert stage involves features unique set pieces like sliding down oil slicks, jumping to avoid sinking into quick sand, and frantically climbing silos as they fill with more death-dealing sand. Sky Fortress starts out with Sonic riding along on Tails’ biplane, just as he did in Sonic 2. After that engaging aerial sequence, look forward to navigating the exterior of an airship, running along walls, and firing Sonic from cannons to reach new areas.
Head past the break for more Xbox 360 impressions and details on the upcoming Windows Phone port!
Like a boss
Like before, every zone culminates in a challenging boss battle. You’ll also face a couple of unique bosses on the new Death Egg, which unlocks after the previous zones are cleared. Some folks criticized the last game’s reuse of classic bosses rather than original creations. This time out, each boss is completely new except for fan-favorite Metal Sonic. Eggman’s latest robotic creations fill the screen with their immense size and each one works much differently than the others. They really are one of Episode II’s highlights.
On the downside, most bosses take a few too many hits to defeat, seemingly to compensate for the cool new ability to use Super Sonic during boss battles. (As before, completing all seven special stages unlocks Sonic’s powered-up form.) Super Sonic deals twice the damage, but reverts to regular Sonic should you run out of rings. Oh, and the final boss is far, far less annoying than Episode I and Generations’ abominable end bosses. With or without Super Sonic, the last baddy is actually fun to beat rather than frustrating this time out.
Heroes in a half-pipe
To step into Super Sonic's shoes, you'll need to complete seven special stages (as per series tradition). This time, the rotation-maze special stages from Episode I have been replaced by 3D Sonic 2-style half-pipes. These provide a nostalgic blast while also introducing a few choice new mechanics such as an item that strings a ring-collecting tether between Sonic and Tails. They also get pretty tough, but thankfully you can pause and select to retry any special stage or even the regular ones without losing a life. There's also an Achievement for collecting all of the rings in the first special stage, which is extremely tough to do by yourself. Thankfully...
Sonic and Tails team up
Adding to the fun factor as well, Episode II sees the flying fox Tails return to Sonic’s side. He follows along in single-player, but in co-op games you can choose who plays as Sonic and who gets Tails. The little guy can’t perform Sonic’s homing attack, making him less of an offensive character. To compensate, he can fly for a brief time, making it easy to fly over trouble spots and access new areas. Sonic and Tails now have three combo moves that you’ll rely on whether playing by yourself or with a friend. These allow Tails to carry Sonic over chasms or through water, as well as roll up into a powerful ball together. To learn more about how multiplayer works, check out my detailed co-op review.
Multiplayer is Episode II’s best addition, so we’re naturally dying to learn whether it will be included in the Windows Phone port. The iPhone version does support local co-op using two devices, so there’s a fair chance… Especially given that SEGA’s upcoming Super Monkey Ball 2 on Windows Phone will support local wireless multiplayer too.
One bonus we can definitely count on is that gamers who purchase both episodes of Sonic 4 on the same platform (including Windows Phone) get to unlock Episode Metal from within Episode II. This mode details the events following Sonic CD (a game still MIA on Windows Phone) and Episode I from Metal Sonic’s perspective. It consists of four Episode I acts remixed with new challenges and Episode II’s much-improved physics engine. It’s over pretty quickly, but still a fantastic extra.
SEGA has also worked in a special reward for gamers who buy Episode II on both Xbox 360 and Windows Phone. Progress can be transferred between both versions, making unlocking stages and features in the upcoming mobile version a cinch for XBLA early adopters. The feature is already built into the XBLA game’s menu, but naturally won’t go live until July. Sure, not everyone wants to buy the same game twice, but Xbox 360 gamers who own Windows Phones (including most of our staff) love these connectivity features.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is a fantastic follow-up to the previous game. It improves on many of its predecessors faults (physics, graphics, and bosses) while adding great new features like cooperative play. The level design still shows some rough edges (particularly White Park 3), but the fun parts make up for a few forced instances of trial-and-error. If you still love Sonic or platformers in general, don’t hesitate to give Episode II a try.
Sonic 4: Episode II is available now on XBLA, PSN, and Steam. All three big-screen versions cost $14.99. The iPhone version rings up at $6.99, so expect the same price when Episode II arrives on Windows Phone this July.