16
May
Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-32-27

If you were a child of the 80's or early 90's (and weren't some Nintendo fanboy, pft), the name Sonic probably has some deeper, almost religious meaning to you. I remember worshipping at the Genesis 16-bit altar for hours on end as a kid, and my deity of choice was the hedgehog in blue. Sonic. Sonic 2. Sonic 3. Sonic and Knuckles. Sonic CD (oh yeah). Screw Sonic 3D Blast, though. That game was bogus.

Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-32-27

There have been 30 Sonic video games to date. Sonic 4 Episode II is number thirty-one. In recent years, Sonic has failed to generate much in the way of... anything good. Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were two bright spots in an otherwise really dark 15 years for the franchise. Makes you feel old, right?

The precursor to Sonic 4 E2 is, of course, Sonic 4 Episode I. That game was the first widely positively-received Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2, 10 years ago. And how was that success achieved? By going back to Sonic's roots - 2D sidescrolling action in fun environments. Because of the increasing popularity of tablets, and cheaper downloadable games on consoles, titles like Sonic are experience something of a rebirth.

So, does Episode II continue the comeback kid story? In a word, yes. In fact, on something like Xbox 360, PS3, or a PC, I imagine this game would be hugely fun. On an Android tablet, though? I'd say it's closer to "really fun" (that's to say, still really good), but there still seem to be a few kinks to work out.

Visuals / Story

Sonic 4 Episode II is a massive visual leap forward from Episode I. And I do mean massive - we've gone from a quasi-3D-sometimes but mostly 2D flatland game to something that is really quite pretty. Let me just have the screenshots do the talking here:

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Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-37-05 Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-39-14

As you can see, everything has been 3Dified. The characters and environments are all now much, much better looking than they were in Episode I. You get realistic water, blowing snow and sand, and character models that don't harken back to 1994. It's Sonic, evolved. Of course, to get this experience on Android, you'll have to be playing the Tegra 3 version of the game (the non-Tegra 3 version won't be out for another month), which means using a tablet or an HTC One X, at this point.

Want to see how much better the Tegra 3 version looks? Just take a moment and gawk at these comparison pictures - it really is a night and day difference. I won't even have to tell you which is which:

Sonic 4 Episode II - Tegra 3 S X S 2

Sonic 4 Episode II - Tegra 3 S X S 1

There's a hitch, though. On my Transformer Prime, frame rates weren't stellar. I averaged (eyeball estimate) what felt like 40-45FPS, with consistent dips into the 20-30FPS range. The frame rate tended to drop during intense action or particularly complex scenes (eg, waterfalls, snow, lots of baddies). Not good, especially for a fast-moving sidescroller title like Sonic. Occasionally, this would actually cause input lag, and that... sucks. But hey, it all looks really pretty, so there's that. I've heard from Cameron that on an Acer Iconia A510 the game ran smoother, so maybe it's an isolated issue. Then again, he also had the game crash twice, including once where it actually hard-froze his tablet, requiring a soft reset - and that was after only 15 minutes of playing the game.

The mediocre frame rate isn't a deal breaker - let me be clear on that point. It just isn't as high as I'd like it to be. But given the visuals at play here, I can deal.

To change gears, let's talk about the story. Sonic 4 Episode II takes place after Sonic CD, meaning Metal Sonic is back. Personally, I always thought Metal Sonic was the best Sonic villain, so I was stoked when I heard this was the direction the game was going. Suffice to say, the simple but compelling storylines that made the original Sonic games popular are in full force here, and you'll be having nostalgia-fests left and right.

Controls / Gameplay

Tablets aren't very good for games that require really rapid and precise control inputs. While Sonic is pretty much a 2-dimensional 8-direction movement layout, I just don't like playing it very much with touch controls. Don't get me wrong - the game is totally doable with touch controls alone, but it's just not as fun as it would be with a controller. If you have a tablet, but don't have a wireless gaming controller for it, go buy one. Titles like this make it worth the investment. The touch controls are finicky, cumbersome, and I don't like them. Maybe on a smaller screen they'd be more manageable, but on a 10.1" tablet, they aren't. I don't know that there's a way to fix them, either - it's kind of an unavoidable downfall of large tablet gaming.

Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-23-05

Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-31-43 Screenshot_2012-05-15-19-31-56

Beyond the control issues, Sonic 4 EII takes classic Sonic gameplay's simplicity and adds a few flourishes. You can use Tails for special combo moves (flying, super spinball, swimming, etc.) that add new facets to Sonic's decidedly old-school feel. Boss fights were typical Sonic, though involved more movement and less predictable challenges than titles of years past. Instead of forcing you to be lucky or have superhuman reflexes, Sonic 4 EII makes you learn more complex fight mechanics and adapt. Still, the game has kept a lot of the things that made the originals difficult - objects squishing you, drowning (god I hate underwater levels), and bottomless pits. It's enough to keep you from breezing through the game, but not so much as to discourage you from persevering.

You get all of the old "extras," too - Chaos Gems, time challenges, and bonus levels.

Overall, Sonic 4 EII plays like the sequel to Sonic 3 / Sonic CD should. It keeps gameplay consistent with the series, but avoids being a simple rehash with a new story and artwork.

Conclusion

If you have a Tegra 3 tablet (or phone), Sonic 4 Episode II should be on your "buy" list. It's a fantastically designed title from a studio we all know and love, and even at $7, it's priced to sell. It's well thought-out, visually impressive, and clearly has been developed by people who care about making something fun and polished.

Despite the situational inadequacy of touch controls, and the occasional technical hiccup, it's a great game that continues to reinvigorate a franchise that everyone thought was long dead, and I imagine I'll be playing it for weeks to come.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • moelsen8

    are the touch controls better than episode 1?  they were horrible.. it didn't take long for me to become completely frustrated and give up.  which is a shame and shocker because the controls on sonic cd might be the best i've ever used on a touchscreen game..

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      They're pretty bad. Just buy a controller, it's worth it.

      • moelsen8

        any recommendations?  are there any, dare i say, standardized-ish controllers for android games???

    • Firehazel

      Sonic CD was pretty sweet on my Touchpad with Wiimote controls.

  • Himmat Singh

    Sega released the game across all gaming platforms (console, PC and mobile). Just want to know, is the Tegra/Android version the same as the PC version in terms of the number of levels/length of gameplay? Would be great if it's the same. 

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Yes, I believe so - but I can't confirm because I haven't played the non-Android version.

  • StriderWhite

    We need Xperia Play optimization!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      The non-Tegra 3 version of this game won't be out for another month, sadly.

  • BBQWTFLOL

     Could someone post a link to a store for it, please?

  • http://www.facebook.com/RobJohnson90 Rob Johnson

    "Just take a moment and gawk at these comparison pictures - it really is a night and day difference."

    It really isn't, the Tegra version just add a few little flourishes and tbh, looks like it's trying too hard

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Er, are you even looking at the character models? They're completely different. There's even additional content on-screen. The non-T3 version doesn't even have shadows or lighting. I think you're kind of just out to get Tegra-optimized games, dude.

      • CeluGeek

        I find the extra visual flare of the Tegra version somewhat distracting.
        In one of the screenshots, Sonic looks purple instead of blue -- and it
        wasn't an underwater shot.

        I get that for the most part the Tegra 3 version will be visually
        better, but I don't think it'll be a difference as dramatic as the
        visuals of Sonic 3D Blast in Genesis vs Saturn versions.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          He looks purple because the orange sunlight is reflecting on the blue model.
          Yeah, I find it distracting when things look better, too. We should all just go back to playing the original Medal of Honor and Call of Duty - things were a lot easier to see and simpler back then, none of that pesky lighting/shadow nonsense. All those extra bitmaps and objects just get in the way, after all.

          • CeluGeek

             *sigh* We are not talking 8-bit quality graphics here. The difference is not that radical.

            I'd happily play the non-Tegra 3 version even on Tegra 3 devices if it'd give me a better frame rate and a lag-free experience.

      • http://www.facebook.com/RobJohnson90 Rob Johnson

         Like CeluGeek said, the "Additional content" is distracting, the Tegra screens look too "Busy" and the models look better on the non Tegra screens, they look more oldschool, which is a good thing!

  • CeluGeek

    About the touch controls: Can someone who has played "Sonic 4 Episode 1" and "Sonic CD" tell us how the "Sonic 4 Episode 2" controls compare? I had absolutely ZERO problems with the touch controls of Sonic CD in a 10.1-inch tablet or even a 4-inch phone screen. The touch controls of Sonic 4 Episode 1 are hideous no matter what screen size you use.

  • GBGamer

    No! You must bow down to the Super Nintendo God! Sega will be destroyed!

  • http://profiles.google.com/marcusleejh Marcus Lee

    This Tegra driven fragmentation (yes I'm using the f-word) sucks. Seriously.

    It was bad enough when developers released two versions of their apps - a "normal" one for phones, and a "HD" one for tablets - that made users have to shell out extra $$$ to get the same functionality on multiple devices.

    Now we have to contend with processor manufacturers further forking the app landscape? Ugh.

    I'm not even convinced that a Tegra 3 device is the _most_ capable device at running Tegra 3 games. My reason for saying this? I have Riptide GP on my SGSII and Tab 10.1, and despite the game being released as a Tegra 2 exclusive for a while, it runs much, *much* smoother on my Exynos-powered phone. So I really don't support this Tegra exclusivity at all.

    PS. I don't have Chainfire 3D installed, but I reckon people who do might tell you the same thing.

    • http://www.statsprofessor.org/ StatsProfessor

       Not sure how *much* smoother it can get....

      Usually other versions usually are missing textures/graphical elements.

      Most think Exynos is a benchmark god but a lowly Tegra 2 in a SGSII outbenched it while being clocked lower. That's what happens when you compare apples to apples.

      Fragmentation can be a problem but at least nvidia based games are bringing quality games which android is really lacking.

      • http://profiles.google.com/marcusleejh Marcus Lee

        You're saying that devices with "lesser" processors probably get uglier versions of Tegra-launched games. Yup, I knew that. I think that sucks, but I've accepted it as a fact of life.

        But here's a really laughable example of this: Riptide has an in-game Graphics setting based on a sliding scale of 1-10. On the lower end you get "Higher Framerate"; on the higher end, "Sharper Graphics".

        Now, when I run Riptide on my SGS2, the default setting is 10. So basically the game says my phone can handle its most graphically intensive setting (at least for the level of graphics my "class" of device has been deigned worthy of receiving). And it's right - the game handles like a champ.

        But when I play it on my Tab 10.1, the default setting is... 5. Yup, a middle-of-the-road FIVE. Can you believe it? This Tegra-launched game is actually configured to say my Tegra device should only handle 50% of the maximum graphical load available! And it's also about right here: I can't play the game with graphics above 8, cos framerates get supper choppy beyond that. And even at 8, the textures displayed are visibly jagged.

        Bottom line: Even if nvidia has some deal with game devs to give only Tegra devices all the eye candy, it's a big fat fail if the devices can't even handle it. In my admittedly limited experience with Tegra gaming, I think the whole shebang is a marketing gimmick; nothing more.

        And as for the Tegra 2 outbenching the Exynos when placed in the same chassis - I suppose you're referring to one of the US variants of the SGS2. I don't know what the deal is with that, but I'll just repeat the usual refrain: benchmarks aren't everything, not least of all an indicator of real-life performance.

  • Abhinandanbrthinksphone

    i would still buy galaxy s3..as sonic 4:episode 2 can be played on galaxy s2..:P..now this is the power of mali-400mp..though its not equivalent to tegra 3