I was starting to think this game would never see the light of day. I also thought I didn't care. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I was really nothing more than an insult to old fans of the hedgehog. Sonic Team and the normally excellent Dimps though they could deliver what at its core was a broken game patched up with pieces of nostalgia from the old 16-bit games. But it wasn't enough.
As I sit down with the controller in my hands and Episode II appears on the screen, I immediately realise how wrong I was. I care. Probably way too much. I care to such a degree that I'm willing to forgive them for Episode I, as Sonic Team and Dimps have listened carefully to the massive criticism Episode I received and in turn used the feedback to develop a much better game the second time around.
First of all, the pinball physics is back in. Sonic no longer runs automatically up walls, stalls in loops or jumps like a tractor. Instead there is some weight to the physics and Sonic can build momentum and speed in a way that makes for better controls and brings out that wonderful sense of high speeds and daredevil stunts.
The graphics have also been given a major overhaul, and you no longer get the sense that they have been run through a laminator. It's more organic, and features an expressive, living Sonic, and beautiful levels. Surprisingly, it is the backgrounds that impress me the most. Burning sunsets where the light filters through the structure of the level as well as the hovering rings. A gigantic space station that contains all of Little Planet from Sonic CD. Every level is a beautiful postcard from a long lost time, refurbished in full HD graphics.
But that paragraph also reveals my greatest gripe with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II. Much like in the predecessor it seems Sonic Team and Dimps have been more interested in rebuilding old levels than presenting us with new experiences. Not that there is anything wrong with nostalgia, but it takes up for too much of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II. As a result the game becomes a bit predictable, and slightly dull for this very reason. It's a crying shame as the new components really shine. Because unlike the first episode the new content in this one feels much more like a sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. Not because of some disgusting homing attack, but because Tails has been included.
The best sidekick in the world of gaming has been redesigned to complement Sonic's abilities, and you can use these even if your playing alone. With the aid of Tails you can fly short distances, swim under water, huddle together and form a blue and orange wrecking ball that crushes everything in its path, and execute special attacks that take out all the enemies on screen. Relatively simple new abilities, but they open up a new world of platforming for Sonic. When these are then integrated into the level and boss designs they make up the highlights of the episode.
It is also largely thanks to these additions that I'm starting to change my view of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 from an entirely negative position to a slightly more optimistic stance. I'm already excited about the prospects of another episode. If Sonic Team and Dimps can continue this progress, we could be in for something really special in the end. Perhaps even something to rival the old 16-bit classics.