Sega's mascot returns to mobile, but does he speed to the finish line, or drown in a sea of mediocrity?
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 isn't a bad game per se, but it struggles to be memorable. Sega and Dimps fixed the oft criticized physics from Episode 1 while attempting to channel the old Sonic 2 Genesis magic with the inclusion of Tails, the blue blur's trusty sidekick. Unfortunately, this recipe for success comes off half-baked, largely due to boring and at times frustrating levels, subpar music and a heavy emphasis on team-up maneuvers.
In previous games, Tails simply follows the hedgehog wherever he goes, but here, he grabs hold of Sonic as the twosome float through the air (the better to vault over walls). The duo can even transform into a destructive ball that smashes objects and carves through snow. Good idea, save for the developers running it into the ground. Forget about that trademark Sonic speed. Sure, Sega's mascot still zips around loops and sails through the air collecting gold rings, but there's a surprising amount of stops along the way, where adrenaline-charged sections end abruptly so that players can watch the buddies fly around. The worst part? They'll often lose steam at the worst possible moments before descending into bottomless pits; a generous helping of checkpoints somewhat alleviates this issue.
Meanwhile, there's a bizarre number of underwater segments (anything more than one is too much) where the action slows to a proverbial crawl as gamers frantically search for air bubbles to prevent Sonic from drowning. On top of that, boss battles last far longer than they should, and sometimes require the use of those team-up moves, though using them in the heat of the moment doesn't always work as well as we'd like.
One of the biggest offenders, though, is the music. For a series that often features outstanding soundtracks, Sega really came up short. We cannot think of one solid track, as each one does its best to sound like nails on a chalkboard. OK, not that horrible, but we were shocked to discover such a lifeless, by-the-numbers score.
Rounding out the list of disappointments are the graphics. Better than Episode 1's by a long shot, with impressive lighting, detailed worlds (including a castle, oil refinery and winter wonderland) and some cool special effects, but no retina support for the new iPad. As a result, the game has a subtle fuzzy appearance.
Despite these warts, the game's somewhat entertaining. The heavier emphasis on platforming over breakneck speed is a decent change of pace from the mindless Sonic levels we're used to, while the inclusion of special Metal Sonic stages (you'll need to own and install Episode 1) let us see things from a villain's perspective; now where's our Eggman-themed adventure?
Not only that, but friends can beat Episode 2 together via Bluetooth, with the other player becoming Tails, and the virtual controls work about as well as we expected, so you should have no trouble leaping over obstacles, gathering rings and avoiding most hazards.
To that end, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 disappoints overall, simply because it should have been better than it is. Sega put some good ideas on the table, but the bothersome water segments, tag team maneuvers and uninspired level design left us wanting a lot more. Hardcore Sonic fans, we imagine, will still gobble it up.
What's Hot: Diverse and highly-detailed stages, improved physics over Episode 1, wireless multiplayer, Metal Sonic bonus levels.
What's Not: Underwater sections blow, too much Tails, plenty of cheap deaths along the way, no retina support for new iPad, atrocious music.