After years of demand, Sega’s finally taken a listen to the fans and has brought Sonic the Hedgehog back to its roots. Rather than release a full game, however, it’s being distributed in episodes. The first episode, reviewed here, contains four zones — each with four stages — and an additional, final, one-stage zone to play.
Very little has changed in regards to classic Sonic gameplay. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 plays just like the fan favorites on Genesis — you know, platforming gameplay that has Sonic running through 2D stages, collecting rings, with a goal to reach the end, where of course, a sign of Sonic/Dr. Robotnik awaits. Classic power-ups like the bubble shield and invulnerability exist, as well. The game adds one small addition that, in my opinion, adds greater depth to the stages. Sonic’s famous homing attack, popularized in games like Sonic Adventure, has been added, allowing players to target and shoot themselves at enemies. Players are essentially required to use it at times, meaning that if you’re one of those people that stuck on classic Sonic, then you may want to stray away from this one.
Each zone is pretty unique, giving off a completely different feel from the other. The starting zone, “Splash Hills”, is reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog 1‘s “Green Hill” zone. The ending boss battle is essentially a repeat of “Green Hill” zone’s boss battle, as well, swinging ball and all. All of the zones are actually made to give players a feel of old Sonic the Hedgehog zones, which I think is pretty great for such a reboot. The “Casino Street” zone is made to look like Sonic 3‘s “Carnival Night” zone; “Lost Labyrinth” is like Sonic 2‘s “Labyrinth” zone; and the “Mad Gear” zone is made to resemble Sonic 1‘s “Aquatic Ruin” zone. If the game, going back to the classic Sonic style, wasn’t shout out to the fans enough, then perhaps the zone recreations are.
Other than looks, there are plenty of elements within each zone that make the game feel uniquely different than if you player in another zone. “Casino Street”, for example, will have players riding through the stage on playing cards, or flipping over cards on the wall to earn bonuses like rings and extra lives. The “Lost Labyrinth”, on the other hand, has players carrying a torch to light up their path and utilizing that torch in order to light fuses and blow up road blocks. The Mad Gear zone also does its own thing, having players running on gears in order to progress.
Sega’s brought back special stages with Sonic 4, too. At the end of certain stages, Sonic has the opportunity to jump into a special floating ring, where a special stage could be played giving Sonic the chance to obtain a chaos emerald. The special zone has the player rotating the stage in order to get Sonic on the right path to the chaos emerald. There are obstacles, however, and Sonic needs to collect a certain amount of rings in order to progress through certain checkpoints, making it somewhat challenging at times. It’s certainly fun, though. I actually enjoyed playing the special stages a lot.
Sonic 4 is pretty diverse, that’s for sure. It’s not all jolly and sunshine, though. There are problems that exist, some which I find very annoying. For one, that camera’s much too zoomed in. I remember starting up the game and thinking: “Why the hell is everything so big?” It feels uneasy compared the old Sonic games and frankly, I’d like to see the old camera style return.
The bigger problem, however, exists in the game’s lack of difficulty. The old Sonic games, while not extremely difficult, did pose some sort of challenge to the player. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a game you could speed through most of pretty easily because it’s not challenging… until the end that is. For some reason, Sega’s decided to make the last stage of the game extremely difficult, perhaps to compensate for the lack of difficulty offered in the preceding zones. The final stage, which is a boss zone, took me over thirty tries to beat. I was beginning to wonder whether or not Sega actually wanted me to beat the game. The difficulty spike was above average and it didn’t feel like it had place in Sonic 4. I mean I know boss stages are supposed to be hard, but this was ridiculous.
Finally: where are Sonic’s pals? I mean, I know people wanted old Sonic back, but I recall Tails being playable in Sonic 2 and even Knuckles in Sonic 3 (& Knuckles). I do agree that there was a considerably large amount of characters added to the Sonic over time, but don’t deprive us of the series’ main sidekick/friend-enemy.
Looking past its problems, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is, in its majority, an enjoyable experience. Sega’s going in the right direction, appealing to fans, however, they need to take into account the aforementioned problems brought about with this game and correct them for the second episode. If you’re an old school Sonic fan or a fan of the series in its whole, this is definitely for you. If you’re just a regular person looking to check out a cool new platformer, I’d recommend you try this, as well.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I was reviewed on PlayStation 3. The game was played to completion. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I launches for PlayStation 3 on October 12, 2010 for $14.99 and for Xbox 360 on October 13, 2010 for 1200 Microsoft Points.