GAME NAME: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
DEVELOPER(S): Sonic Team
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, iOS
RELEASE DATE(S): October 13, 2010
This review is based on the PSN version of the game
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a brand new sequel to the classic SEGA Sonic games, meaning the original up through Sonic and Knuckles. SEGA and Sonic Team have again teamed up with the aim of emulating and recapturing the magic that the furry blue speedster has been missing for far too many years.
- I REMEMBER THIS
In his glory days Sonic was a tough act to beat; I mean sure there was that Plumber doing his thing with Nintendo but on the original Genesis, Sonic was (rightfully so) the king. However times change and where Mario games excelled in every subsequent generation, Sonic games seemed unable to recapture the spark they once had. In the many years since the last “good” Sonic game, arguably Sonic Adventure, fans have been begging for a return to form and finally our prayers have been answered because Sonic the Hedgehog 4 most definitely feels more old school than new and gets more right than it does wrong.
- A STRANGE SENSE OF DEJA VU
You know that feeling you get when you think you’ve done something before or been someplace before even though you haven’t (that you know of)? Well, yeah Sonic 4 is basically one big bucket of Déjà vu and don’t take it the wrong way because it is a good thing. The four “Zones” included in Episode 1 are all throwbacks to Zones featured in the original Genesis games. Splash Hill Zone is basically Green Hill Zone, Casino Street Zone is basically Casino Night Zone and so on and so forth but while the theme of the levels is borrowed the layouts and challenges offer up a new bag of tricks, which again for the most part is a good thing.
- HE’S CALLED ROBOTNIK!
Everyone’s favorite egg-shaped villain is back and as good (or bad) as ever. While the name Eggman is used don’t be mistaken, this is vintage Robotnik. The boss battles in Sonic 4, like the game itself, borrow much from its 90’s predecessors. The first bout with the Mad Doctor has him wielding a large ball on the end of a chain and for the first few hits remains identical to the classic attack pattern, however, once his health is lowered he starts spinning around his pod sending the Ball crashing around in a circular pattern. It’s still pretty easy but again it takes something old and then updates it just enough to keep it interesting and keep the player happy.
- I SAW BLUE…HE’S GLORIOUS
For being a naked Blue Hedgehog Sonic’s design sure has evolved over the years. Gone are the days of the somewhat round almost Mickey Mouse type appearance of Sonic, instead in Sonic 4 we get the super lean more hip (apparently) look that he’s sported in more recent titles. Purists may resist but the fact of the matter is that Sonic, his enemies and the environments are all beautifully rendered in that 2.5D thing that seems to be the fad recently. Would I, a child of the NES/Genesis era prefer the classic look, sure but the adult me who loves HD gaming can find no fault in the look of the game. This is one of the sharpest looking games out in the digital download space.
- I (HEART) RETRO
Perhaps the main thing going for Sonic 4 is just how retro it all feels. Sure the graphics have been upgraded but everything else about this game seemingly came straight from the 90’s. If SEGA and Sonic Team set out to really give gamers a sense of nostalgia then they have succeeded. Even the games music, while a bit more complex, still makes me think old school. From the second you turn on the game to the familiar “SEGAAAA” until the final credits roll you will be immersed in your own nineties-fied filled universe. Good times, at least for us old timers who remember when controllers had less than 15 buttons.
- CHANGE ISN’T ALWAYS GOOD
Hey who remembers when CAPCOM took one of its classic franchises (Megaman) and created 2 sequels to the original games keeping everything from the way it looked to the way it controlled the same as it was way back when? Well I do and for my dollar CAPCOM pulled off what Sonic Team tried to and then some. Yes Sonic 4 is quite a throwback but Sonic’s HD-upgrade doesn’t manage to be as charming as Megaman’s HD-downgrade. I mean look, yes kids today will no doubt find the graphics wicked or awesome or whatever word they say but classic gamers, the same gamers that wanted this game in the first place will feel a bit jaded by the overly complex look and while I stated that I don’t think there is any problem with the graphics, I also think that if they went the Megaman 9/10 route it would have made for a greater sense of nostalgia and that’s what this game is aiming for after all.
- GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION
The controls in Sonic 4 are pretty similar to the classics. You’ve got your jump button and your spin-dash button, oh and you can also do a homing attack by double tapping jump, however something feels off in the way Sonic moves. First of all even at top speed Sonic never seems to be running as fast as he did in his Genesis classics, maybe it’s his old age. Secondly Sonic is a bit, how can I put this…ah weightless, for example in the old games if you did not have a running start then simple tasks like walking up a slope became a hassle where as in Sonic 4 he can seemingly walk up 90 degree angles quite easily. Maybe this was done to make things easier but it just seemed wrong. It just never felt like I was controlling the same Sonic I did oh so many years ago.
- 22 LIFE’S
Let me paint a picture for you, I’ve just finished the 1st act of Casino Street Zone, the 4th level of the game played through properly. No big deal right? Well by the end of the 4th level in the game I had accumulated 22 free life’s! Now I don’t know about you guys but I can’t recall ever even being in the double digits in the classic games, of course those were full games and not a portion of one (EPISODE 1) , however, it was like it just started raining cats and dogs but instead of cats it was life’s and instead of dogs…well, more life’s! Couple this with the inclusion of a homing attack, which takes all the skill out of dealing with enemies and all that remains is a game whose difficulty is far too easy. Again Sonic Team could have learned a thing or two from CAPCOM.
- NOT SO SPECIAL
Oh and the special stages are back, the ones that require you to get Sonic through a spinning maze without hitting the red circle-things BUT only this time you control the spinning of the stage itself as opposed to Sonic. Okay Sonic…I get it, you want us to love you again and you’re working really hard to pull that off but one thing that every Sonic game has is different special stages so understand that I’m slightly disappointed that the hard working men and women working on your newest game couldn’t come up with something better. Oh and if you’re going to rehash the special stages, keep the way they played the same because this rotating the level itself thing…not for me.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 gets more right than it does wrong but in the end it feels to new for its own good. It’s a solid platformer and will definitely give you the same warm and fuzzy feeling that only a classic Sonic game could. It easily eclipses most of his recent gaming missteps while coming up short of the classics it tries so hard to be like. I still look forward to playing Episode 2 whenever it is released and hope the few small problems get hammered out along the way. Until next time RoBUTTnik!
A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.