Now to discuss this episode’s best new feature: the return of Tails the fox. Whether played solo or co-op, Tails accompanies Sonic for the entire journey. For the most part he just follows along in single-player, not doing much he’s not told to do. Still, the new combo moves turn the little guy from third wheel to indispensable partner pretty quickly. As you complete the first three acts, Tails gains the ability to carry Sonic in the air or water and perform a rolling attack with him. The levels are designed with these moves in mind, and floating signs often indicate opportune moments to use them.
As you can imagine, the combo moves really enhance the cooperative element during 2-player games. First, you’ll need to assign who plays as whom. Sonic and Tails really lean on each other since each character performs a specific role. When Tails carries Sonic, the Tails player controls the flight or swimming. Sonic and choose to jump off and homing attack enemies though – an important tactic during boss battles. Initiating these moves could have been a hassle had they required specific positioning of either player. Thankfully, pressing the combo move button (X on Xbox 360) instantly warps Tails to Sonic’s position and starts the appropriate move, depending on whether initiated from land, sea, or air.
Combo moves aren’t the only things that make Tails more entertaining to play in co-op this time out. Previously, if Tails fell off-screen, it took several seconds for him to reappear and become controllable again. Now, if either character falls behind, he turns into a ball and floats behind the lead character. You can float along like that if you’re having trouble with a particular segment, or press a button at any time to jump back into control. Note that both players share the same pools of rings and lives, so a bad player can botch things for the other person. Assuming you have lives remaining when one person dies, he or she can always respawn alongside the living player. Should both players die at once, it’s back to the last checkpoint.
A few more co-op particulars: Both local and online co-op are separate modes, so a second player can’t just drop into a single-player game. On the other hand, both players get to save their own progress and earn Achievements, so I’m not complaining. Speaking of which, you can only select from levels that both players have unlocked in local co-op games, so if one player is far behind, the other will need to help them catch up before moving on. One slight co-op quirk: the new in-game cinematics don’t show up in multiplayer. Players who go through the game in co-op first will need to revisit it in single-player to catch those bits.
It’s always great when a developer takes fan feedback into account. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II improves on its predecessor in a number of ways, even if the levels and music could still use some work. The additional bonus of Episode Metal (four single-player remixed acts played from Metal Sonic’s perspective) for Episode I owners also shows that somebody at SEGA values their loyal fans. Most importantly for co-op enthusiasts, Episode II was designed from the ground up as a co-op title and it shows. Tearing through stages and thwarting Metal Sonic and Eggman with a friend feels so good, you’ll wonder why every Sonic game hasn’t included a team-up option. Certain segments of Sonic fandom are impossible to please and will inevitably turn their noses up at this entry like they do all the others. But if you're sane and appreciate a good co-op platformer, Episode II is a must-have.
Editor's Note: The Co-Optimus Co-Op Review of Sonic 4 Episode II was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game. The review copy was provided by the publisher.
The Co-Op Experience: Two players can take on the entire campaign locally or online, selecting who will play as Sonic and Tails at the outset. Three different combo moves can be used at any time, allowing both players to work together to overcome obstacles. Players share rings and lives.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.