Review | Sonic 4: Episode 1
Format: Xbox 360/PS3/Wii| Genre: Platformer | Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega | Release Date: 13/10/10 | RRP: 1200 MS points (£10.20)/£9.99/1500 Wii points
Jennifer Allen speeds through SONIC 4.
IT’S BEEN a long time coming for Sonic fans. Sure, Sonic Rush on the DS was an enjoyable game but for a long time, Sonic fans were floundering, unable to rely on their dearly beloved hedgehog. While Mario made the tremendous leap to 3D without a hitch, Sonic faltered. Just look at Sonic Unleashed or Sonic the Hedgehog. Try not to shudder while you do. Face it, we all stuck with the compilations of old to fulfil our Sonic fix, yet the yearning for a ‘proper’ Sonic game was still there.
Sonic 4 is strong. It’s deserving of the franchise name. The level design is typical old school Sonic, perhaps a little too familiar in places. While there’s always a path in which to complete each stage quickly, there are also multiple paths to explore offering plenty of reason to replay stages. The levels are astonishingly familiar to veterans of the series. Splash Hill Zone bears more than a passing resemblance to Green Hill Zone of Sonic 1 and Emerald Hill Zone of Sonic 2. Influences are further noted when it comes to pretty much all of the zones such as Casino Street Zone being just like Casino Night Zone in Sonic 2 and Carnival Night Zone in Sonic 3. It doesn’t ruin the fun in any way but it does make Sonic 4 feel more like a homage to the series rather than a whole new game.
Sonic 4 does try to mix things up by offering a new homing attack which changes more than you’d initially realise. With a tap of a button while leaping, Sonic homes in on his foe. This move can be repeated a few times in a row so at various stages in the game, you can use the move in order to reach higher areas of the game through an alternate means to the humble platform. Other, more subtle physics based changes have been made such as the way Sonic falls. When he rolls off a ledge, he doesn’t stay rolled up in a ball any more, for instance. It takes some adjustment but Sonic’s speed is still there and after a few clumsy moments, it doesn’t take long to become accustomed.
One of the other surprises to be seen in Sonic 4 is that once the first stage is completed, all further stages are unlocked. In a dramatic change from other titles, you can play all the other stages in whatever order you wish, although obviously boss fights are withheld until players have completed the rest of a zone. It works from one perspective – on rare occasions when you do get stuck or infuriated by a stage, you’re always able to play a different level and return later – but it also ruins any chance of a storyline. It is Sonic so storytelling was never going to be the game’s forte, but there’s no grand build up unfolding. Bosses don’t get bigger and badder the further you travel through the game – not until the final boss.
On a similar note, disappointingly, Sonic 4 is nowhere near as challenging as its older siblings. Occasionally it might be cheap in its design – such as a ridiculously irritating section in the second stage of Casino Street Zone involving leaping across rotating cards – but it never feels anywhere near as tough as previous instalments. It really doesn’t take much effort to accrue 10s of extra lives. Even the boss fights are for the most part obvious and easy to complete. That is except for the final boss fight which is just plain annoying and is likely to leave a bitter taste in many players’ mouths.
There are a lot of negatives contained here which belies the fact that Sonic 4 is fun. It might be a little short – although the fact that this is Episode 1 explains this – but it’s fun to see Sonic back to his strength. There are no gimmicks here, no bloody Blaze the Cat or Shadow the Hedgehog. Instead it’s just Sonic doing what he does best, running fast and jumping on the heads of robotic goons. Sonic 4 isn’t quite worth the corny ‘To be this good takes ages’ strap line but it’s still solid fare. It’s within an inch of being a return to form for the genetically modified hedgehog.