Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad 2
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I was all set to love Sonic 4 Episode II, then I fell to my death. Then I got crushed. Then it all happened again and again ad infinitum.
This is a Sonic game, which means that pretty much any other Sonic review should be read in order to get the gist of the series. The big element in this game is that Tails is now with Sonic, which means the game feels a lot like Sonic 2and 3 in particular. By hitting the partner button, Tails can pick up Sonic and fly him around while in midair for a short period of time, or the two can roll around endlessly and uncontrollably forward at high speeds.
What Episode II does brilliantly, and more so than the classic games, is that because the game is fundamentally built around having Tails to help Sonic, the levels can actively take advantage of being able to use the limited flying ability. No more does it just feel like a hack, the level design is actively informed by the ability. It means that this Sonic game has a feel that even the classic games do not, and it's all by leveraging existing elements into a new fashion.
Sega deserves credit for making the game universal this time around. As well, the "Episode Metal" that was promised to Episode I and II owners is here, part of the game's "lock-on" functionality, which opens up 4 challenging new levels based on Episode I zones. Not only is the name a retro Sonic callback, but the game actually starts at the point where Metal Sonic is defeated in Sonic CD. It's fantastic fanservice.
Early on, while thinking about my review, I was ready to unequivocally love Episode II. But then the instant death traps started. It's not just the occasional bottomless pits in levels – those are actually handled well enough thanks to warning signs that indicate potential hedgehog doom. No, it's moments where a crushing piston pops up while at high speed, or there are blocks for a plane to bust through, and the only way to know when to react is to have died at that section a million times before. These moments pollute the game, and they are just so frustrating, because they're a sign of weak level design, that instead of being challenging in the framework of the game itself, the game must throw cheap challenges at the player in order to fluster them.
This is a problem that has been plaguing the Sonic series in particular since the original Sonic Advance game, when bottomless pit placement replaced actual challenging level design. That another game has become unnecessarily ruined by it is just sad. I wanted to love this game from the bottom of my heart, I was ready to love it like I was a kid again, but the insistence on cheap challenges leaves me just short of unequivocally loving this.