Review by panargirou
"A fun yet imperfect return to Sonic's 2D, console roots"
I was looking forward to Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 for a long time. It felt good during my limited time with it at E3 with its return to 2D platforming on the home consoles. After playing through it, overall it's good, but there still are some problems.
First, I should mention that there have been some physics changes. The primary changed I noticed is that Sonic now sticks to ground better while standing than while in a ball. This means that when running up vertical slopes or going through loops, you should be standing and not in a ball. The change itself makes sense; there's a trade off between the two forms now. However, most people won't know about this and will be in the ball form, wondering why they can't get up an incline.
The homing attack from the 3D games is still present. Thinking it would make the game too easy, I was wary, but it's a welcome addition in my eyes now. The Sonic series has always been about speed, and the most useful aspect of the homing attack is being able to keep Sonic moving quickly. It detracts a bit from the bosses because you don't have to aim, but on the harder bosses, it doesn't matter anyways because it's truly about learning the patterns, not aiming. Overall, the changes are a net positive.
The graphics are very nice, but the backgrounds seem to clash with the foregrounds. The backgrounds look too realistic compared to the foregrounds that look similar to the classic games. Enemy models are based on enemies in previous games, giving Sonic 4 a familiar look that I enjoyed. The bosses are all based off previous bosses as well. They start the same, but after hitting them enough times, they'll gain a new ability. The title music was very disappointing and didn't sound like it belonged in the series, but the music in the game proper was great.
A shield is present in the game that absorbs one damaging hit; however, the various shields introduced in Sonic 3 do not make an appearance. Level design is generally adequate, but the game will put you in dead ends and pits. I don't understand this masochistic game design. Sonic is a game about speed. Properly played, you shouldn't have to stop except at bosses. Sonic Team doesn't seem to understand this. At least there are no rooms in which you must kill a certain number of enemies to proceed like in the Sonic Rush series (which was still good, mind you).
The level select is a nice touch. You don't even have to reach a zone before being able to select it, which lets you skip around if you wish. Special stages are reached by having 50 rings when you reach the end of the stage and jumping into the giant ring. The special stages are based on the ones from the original Sonic the Hedgehog but are timed and allow you to control the rotation of the level rather than Sonic. It was cool to see the classic special stage revised, and was fun enough while playing through the game. After I beat the game I had initial urge to go back in an attempt to collect all the Chaos Emeralds. Unfortunately, I found that the special stages definitely fun enough to warrant repeatedly playing. Unlocking Super Sonic just wasn't worth the time of playing through repeatedly.
All in all, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is a fun game that long time Sonic fans will enjoy. The $15 price point does seem high to me though; I feel it would be better priced between $5 and $10. Despite that, I look forward to second episode and will be playing when it releases!
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/12/11, Updated 04/13/11
Game Release: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (US, 10/11/10)
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