On the surface, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II gives you pretty much everything you'd want in a followup, and a lot more than you've probably come to expect. New modes, a new character, cooperative play, revamped graphics, and plenty of new levels to run through build on the original game. What they don't do, though, is fix the core issues that made a rather lackluster experience. Gameplay is still slow-paced, level design is still too linear, and boss battles are just plain boring. To be sure, most of the time that you're playing Episode II you'll enjoy yourself--the game is thoroughly amusing, even if it isn't very exciting--but those folks hoping Episode II will transform Sonic 4 into the wild-ride action of yesteryear's Sonic games will be disappointed.
On the one hand, a robotic flower lasts longer than an actual rose. On the other hand, it will try to kill you.
Case in point: the addition of Sonic''s buddy/annoying hanger-on Tails. Having two characters means you can play co-operatively (both locally and online), and even when you play by yourself, the AI that controls Tails is good enough to make him a useful ally. But much of the time, Tails' role is relegated to combining with Sonic to form a super-powerful rolling ball (useful for breaking through large objects) or rescuing Sonic from a fall with his whirling appendages. He has no real part to play on his own, and aside from a few obvious puzzles here or there, no levels feature or even require his skills. Indeed, due to linear, unimaginative level design, even Sonic himself fails to feel Sonic-y. Levels lack boosters, loops, alternate pathways, and other series trademarks, which makes the game feel more like a traditional, unassuming platformer an honest-to-goodness Sonic game.
Nevertheless, jumping around, bounding off bumpers and walls, is a fun way to kill a few minutes. In addition to the redone graphics, which bear a much closer resemblance to early Sonic games than Episode I's did, Sonic's air slam ability (allowing him to dash at a target in midair, damaging and ricocheting off of it) returns in Episode II. The air slam allows for some nifty air combos and provides one of the game's two real chances to feel some momentum. The other comes in Episode II's "3D" stages, where Sonic and Tails run continuously along chutes and loops, collecting rings and dodging (or killing) bad guys. These bonus stages are far too few in Episode II, but when they do come around, they're a huge pleasure to dash through, especially if you've got a buddy along for the ride.