I think at this point, there are three regions of thought in regards to Sonic nostalgia. There’s the camp of people that just don’t think about Sonic the Hedgehog in their day-to-day lives; they are the great scientists, artists, leaders and free thinkers of the world. There are the people who actively curse Sega for ruining their childhood memories with images of interspecies relationships, bad camera angles and multiple anthropomorphic creatures not named Sonic in Sonic games. There might be a few scientists, artists, leaders and free thinkers in this group, I’m not entirely certain. And then there are people like me, who are perfectly content. There was that Sonic Generations game from last year, and it was actually a well-rounded, very sound piece of Hedgehog self-celebration. One that allows me to glance at the Sega and think “okay, we’re cool, I forgive you guys a bit for Sonic Unleashed.”
Having Sonic Generations both exist and deserve to exist makes it weird for another Sonic 4 episode to co-exist. You know, a year and a half after Sonic 4: Episode 1 was released to a unanimously piss-poor response. Not the newly released Episode 2 is a lousy game; nooooo they’ve actually went ahead and pieced together something a bit more respectable.
Well, respectable if you’re already into the idea of a blue, big-eyed creature that moves at an accelerated pace from the left side of the screen to the right. If you’re the kind of person that thought those silly Genesis games were pretty dumb, you should just click away from this page. Go be a good sport and buy Rayman Origins instead.
Many of the problems people had with the pilot episode of the Sonic 4 Comedy of Errors is largely corrected. Controls feel more res…well, more responsive for a Sonic game. Sonic still has a bit of his floaty, not-all-the-way agile leaping prowess that one associates with a Mario or a Meat Boy (yup, slab of meat is the leading mascot for a new generation). But Sonic seems to be, for his own lowered standards, more capable of making specific jumps and picking up speed. Blasphemously enough, this version of Sonic doesn’t seem to run as fast as years past; age and arthritis had to catch up at some point. But while certain psychotic fans may cry foul, I at least found it to be a pleasant change in that I could now reasonably react to oncoming obstacles. The days of running really fast and losing all my rings from a cheaply-placed spike trap are gone.
The visuals feel more organic. Sonic, Tails and the all those woodland creatures transformed into adorable robot animals of death now feeling like living beings and not just sprites imposed on a background. The music feels like it would have come out of a Sega Genesis, minus the tinny audio quality of everything that came out of a Sega Genesis.
Also, Tails is back to being the indestructible-yet-helpless force that is largely helpless to whatever it is Sonic needs at that given moment. The only difference is that now wires spread across the nation allow that indestructible-yet-helpless force to be controlled by someone else over the internet. There are new double-team moves, such as a helicopter tactic for jumping, a submarine navigation attack for making the underwater sequences not suck for once in a Sonic game, and a dual-wheel spinning 69 move right out of an old SNL cartoon of certain notoriety. These new abilities add, well, they add something. Whether that something is enough to make this game feel unique is another matter.
Really, the biggest issue with Episode 2 is the same problem that seems to haunt every other Sonic game, in that there isn’t a whole lot to it. I finished the game’s 24 levels in about two and a half hours. This is a $15 dollar game.
So my problem becomes one of value. I can admire a short, pricy experience if I truly got something out of it. Limbo and Journey are clutch examples of games where the emotional resonance of the experience carries on well past their own limited play time.
No one is going to be mistaking this for a Journey or Limbo. Well, I’d like to think so, anyways. The closest thing Sonic 4 has for an emotional hook is 16-bit, blast-processed nostalgia. Nostalgia that has already been considerably mined, excavated and exploited by Sega. And even if you are someone that still has a wealth of goodwill for this long-desecrated franchise, I can’t help but feel your money and time will be better spent on Sonic Generations or even revisiting those Genesis games. Alas, Episode 2 is an inefficient way to spend your time, but at least it isn’t a total waste. If you are desperate to part with your fifteen dollars, you won’t entirely hate yourself for doing so.