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The lengthy wait between installments could be taken as a sign of Sega's effort to make Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II a better game than its underperforming predecessor. In some ways, that's true. Improved physics, crisply-detailed environments, and a handful of interesting new gameplay tweaks give this second jaunt better staying power, but with speed and precision being crucial ingredients for a successful Sonic outing, Episode II's frustrating touch controls just don't keep up.
Though absent from the first episode, Sonic's pal Tails makes a return this time around and offers some welcome hands-on help -- whether you play solo or with a local friend via Bluetooth. Triggering split-second cooperative moves lets Tails hoist Sonic into the air, drag him through underwater stretches, and form a massive spinning ball of destruction to thunder through levels. Despite being simple to engage, these maneuvers aren't always easy to control once you get going, which dovetails with bigger control issues that mar the experience.
The virtual thumbstick and buttons are nowhere near as tight and responsive as they need to be for a game that flies along at this speed, and Sonic's sludgy response time exacerbates the impact of wild spikes in the difficulty in later stages. Puzzling enemy and obstacle placement also trip up the duo to an aggravating extent when you'd rather be blasting along. However, these zippy stretches are still smoother than the platforming areas.
It's a shame, since there are moments where the fast-paced flow hits its stride and captures the raw momentum that makes Sonic titles a blast to play. Then things fall apart. Beautiful and varied as they may be, the stage environments sometimes run counter to this kinetic energy, and the control problems are severe enough that it took extreme self-restraint not to hurl my iPad at the wall on certain occasions.
The bottom line. Even with some notable improvements, Episode II's frustrating lack of precision builds to an intense crescendo so quickly that you'll think twice about sticking with it to the end.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.0 or later
Great visual design. Speedy sections are great when they click.
Imprecise controls. Brutal difficulty curve. Frustrating stage designs.