Review by chaotix_0
"For new and old fans alike eh SEGA?"
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Let me start this off by saying that I am indeed an "oldschool" Sonic fan and although I have been buying most (not all) of the latest games, I view them as quite inferior to the genesis titles. Of the recent 2D games I think Sonic Advance 2 and the Sonic Rush games have been the best, and many "new" Sonic fans are probably more familiar with those games than they are with say... Sonic&Knuckles. With that out of the way, you can expect me to be drawing a lot of comparisons between other games in the series, since everyone's expectation for Sonic 4 is to live up to their cherished memories of classic Sonic games; big shoes to fill. Read on to find out why I think it doesn't fill those shoes.
"Can you say spamming Homing Attacks?"
The core of a Sonic game and really, every other type of game, is the gameplay. So I bet you're expecting me to compare the level designs and such in this game with the other Sonic games I mentioned huh? Well you're RIGHT! Right out of the box the first level has pretty boring level design. Barely any slopes to speak of, and none that you can use with proper timing to increase your jump height and distance... which I might add was a staple of level design and shortcuts in the Genesis days. So move along on flatty mc flatsville, being forced to spam your Homing Attack in order to progress, and you will probably notice something else: this game is really easy. Even in the later levels the game isn't that hard, the only real threat coming from some pesky level and boss mechanics that like to crush you into hedgehog-paste. The final boss is suprisingly hard, but other than that the game maintains an easy curve throughout (as long as you keep your thumb on the jump button ready for that next Homing Attack!) The Special Stages can be difficult but once you master their unique controls you will find that even they are pretty easy to complete. Thankfully, even though the game is easy, it redeems itself with some of the later levels. The level design improves with some decent puzzles. There are actually some pretty fun gimmicks in the last two zones, and even though I love the old school no nonsense level design I am not opposed to fun gimmicks like some of the stuff seen in the Sonic Rush games. Balancing on a giant rolling ball is one of my favorites, because you can hammer the directions to make Sonic totally spazz out on the thing while he's riding it (it looks hilarious.) They're even nice enough to bring back the teleport tubes from Metropolis zone, and the endless waterfall puzzles from labyrinth Zone. The problem comes from the fact that there aren't really shortcuts so much as there are extra things you could potentially Homing Attack that will lead to an alternate path which may or may not be a shortcut... everything is centered around the Homing Attack. So while the levels are respectably sized with multiple paths, they lack the old school level design with real shortcuts that took time and experimenting to find, and that first zone is still really mediocre no matter how you slice it.
You'll recognize a lot of familiar faces in the enemy and boss roster, but they are still fun to beat up just the same. Most enemies have the same attack patterns you remember, but with minor tweaks. The bosses are the biggest departure, where they may start off how you remembered them but quickly bust out a surprising new attack. Boss fights are still pretty easy, standard fare for a Sonic game, except the Final Boss which as I already stated is jump up in difficulty (and fun) from the rest of the game. The game has a Score Attack mode where you can compete for best times on the Leaderboards, pretty standard fare. It's nice that they added this feature as it gives you a reason to continue playing after beating the game, which is fairly short. With only 4 Zones, even if you suck at the game and play through it slowly and beat all the Special Stages, the game shouldn't take more than 4-5 hours to beat. For an experienced Sonic player expect 2 hours tops. If you don't care about competing for fast times, then this game has little to no replay value other than the fun of playing through it again...
"You can still go fast, but only sometimes"
The controls are of course pretty important to a Sonic game. This is why this section has my most important criticism; The physics engine sucks, it completely clashes with the way Sonic plays in all other Sonic games. Rolling to gain speed is completely worthless, it flat out fails in many areas of the game. Sonic now has super insect feet where even if he doesn't have enough speed to clear a steep slope (even an upside-down one) he can run on it and accelerate anyways without falling off. But if you try that while rolling you will completely fail; If you find yourself in a "halfpipe" type area, you can't even roll back and forth to ascend. You'll have to run up the wall more than likely as even a well charged Spin Dash may fail you. Unbelievable that they would change such integral mechanics! Furthermore, Your air control is godawful with many things such as vertical springs and homing attacks actually ROBBING YOU OF CONTROL left and right for a short time, which is intensely frustrating and makes the game feel clunky and unresponsive. And don't even think about trying to jump back and forth on platforms... the insanely bad air control makes changing directions (even if you land and then turn around) maddengly slow. It can feel like you are playing Sonic the Turtle, but I have a workaround.
Your best bet is constantly spamming the Jump+Jump air dash to get a boost of speed in your desired direction... EVERY SINGLE JUMP! In fact that's the only way to make a lot of this game's jumps in a timely manner, which is the point of a Sonic game: to do everything fast. The air dash / Homing Attack has been changed a lot as well. The velocity of an air dash is based on how fast you were going at the time of activation... it is no longer a static value and cannot be used as way to get instant massive speed from a total standstill. However with a little backwards ingenuity you can find a way to still go fast with it. Hammer out a Spin Dash and then immediately jump and jump dash, and start chaining jump dashes as fast as you can while you are running until you run out of room to do so. The Spin Dash provides the needed start up velocity, and the first jump dash gets you out of your roll, which is absolutely necessary since as I already stated, rolling sucks in this game. If this all sounds needlessly complicated and you just want to run to the right to go fast... sorry but you can't. Just trying to run will leave you frustrated by the turtle you are controlling, and trying to roll through the levels like a pro will usually work even worse. To be able to compete in the Time Attacks, you will probably have to use my method of chain air dashing. (After unlocking Super Sonic you will find that you can play the levels at a pretty decent pace, but only while super.)
Special stage controls are perfectly fine, just very odd and may take you a bit to master. Use left and right (or motion controls for platforms that support them) to rotate the maze around Sonic and get him through it. Initially you will struggle but once you memorize Special Stage layouts you will find that the controls work just fine and you can really fly through them if you have great reflexes and planning. That is the key problem with the Special Stages... you will probably need memorization to beat most of them. It is not an issue with the controls, but rather with the difficult (cheap?) stage design itself. Bumpers placed just to send you flying into offscreen GOALs... pretty cheap.(After unlocking Super Sonic you will find that you can play the levels at a pretty decent pace, but only while super.)
Please note that the control control method is the Wiimote held sideways. While it is not a terrible controller.. I have a Classic Controller Pro and I prefer it for pretty much every game that will let me use it. Why additional controller support was not added, I will never know.
"It's okay to turn off the Music"
Right from the title theme I was unhappy... There have been good tunes in Sonic games all across the spectrum in past years; if anything it's been their saving graces. From the abysmal Sonic 06 to the bizarre Sonic and the Black Knight, and straight back to the hold your boost button down Sonic Rush, all of these games have had some major gameplay flaws but still had excellent soundtracks. I've even seen other games with their "back to the roots" style and old school music still be amazingly well composed and top notch (looking at you Mega Man 9 and 10) but this game just really failed in the soundtrack department. As I am writing this I am jumping between levels and the stage select screen to listen and see if I can pinpoint what is wrong with the songs, and they all just kinda sound the same. All level themes use pretty much the same soundset or "instruments" if that makes more sense, so they all sound very bland and similar. I don't know why they decided that guitar in the background wasn't allowed... as that could've made some of these compositions a lot stronger. The Stage Select is an especially short repetitive loop that is really bad. Even my favorite level "World of Darkness" has a very bland theme and I think it's entirely because of the soundset. If a very similar composition was played with eastern instruments and maybe a real drum line, I think it could be worth listening to. As it stands however, the entire soundtrack is weaksauce. Even the Special Stage theme is bad, it's simply a remix of the original Sonic Special Stage which was a short and easily forgettable piece of music... and the remix is worse. To be perfectly honest and totally fair, I would rate the soundtrack as the weakest area of this game. Everything else, when it's good and even when it's bad, is still better than the soundtrack we've got here.
Sound effects are a little better. The jump effect is fine and so is the roll, but the Spin Dash sounds kindof backwards with its odd charge up effect and then the standard roll effect for the release. Oddly, the jump dash you will be using constantly has no sound effect whatsoever; It only makes noise when you are locked on and it becomes a Homing Attack. Still, the sound effects are a big step up from the music.
Graphics: Overall: 5/10
"Pretty terrain, ugly Sonic"
First the good; the environments are colorful and dreamy, as if someone simply took classic Sonic sprites and turned them into textures on a pretty lego-land they built just for this game. So yeah the graphics look good but unnatural... fake if you will. I think that's how they should look, and they look pretty awesome in that regard. If you are looking to buy this game on 360 or PS3 and you wanna turn that HD on and be BLOWN AWAY BY THE REALISM... then you might be disappointed. The graphics aren't gritty and lifelike, I don't mind that it is cartoony but some people out there might. Since I have the game for Wii I cannot actually review the HD component of the graphics though. Overall they look fine but they just aren't mind blowing. Of particular note are the levels in the new version of Labyrinth Zone. Both the lighting effects and the water effects are very nice, and it would be my graphical favorite. Enemies and bosses look alright, they are easily identifiable and have no big flaws, just very basic models. If you are a newcomer and wonder why all Eggman's robots look nearly identical... that is just how the doctor rolls. It's not a flaw with the game, it's a flaw with Doctor Eggman's sense of art. Text is readable and menus are pleasant without being obnoxious (looking at you Sonic Heroes). Overall, the graphics score would be good, except...
Sonic looks like crap. If any of you have played Super Smash Bros Brawl you will note that there is already an example of excellent fluid Sonic animations in 3D on the Wii... with great running and jumping and everything you could really want. So with this said, how can an actual official Sonic game that comes out years later, use a WORSE model and animations. Seriously, the Brawl Sonic has to do like 50 times more possible animations than this Sonic does; so how can this one look worse? He moves pretty choppily, and his slow walking and running animations don't sync up to the actual rate he is traveling... it looks awful. Now I can understand if maybe this was intentional to try to make him move and act like a sprite, only with a 3D model. But why bother, they've already proven themselves capable of making solid 3D models and animations for Sonic in both the Sonic Rush games for the DS.
I really feel like SEGA dropped the ball here, with all the great Sonics out there floating around, how could their crack team come up with this pile of crap. Even at the end of a boss fight when Sonic does his victory pose, it just looks like a slowed down, dumbed down version of one of Sonic's taunts in Brawl. Just look up some videos of other games I have mentioned and do the comparisons for yourself. It really is no contest, this Sonic sucks. His redeeming quality is that the Homing Attack effects are crisp and probably the best they have ever looked, which is fortunate as you'll be spamming it most of the game. If you can ignore his looks and just focus on actually playing the game, then I think you'll be fine; but I am personally quite bothered by the fact that the hero I'm playing walks slower than I do.
"Wait... this game has a story?"
Eggman is up to no good with a plan involving Chaos Emeralds and robots, and it's up to Sonic to stop him. In a 2D Sonic game story really doesn't matter, and I don't even want to bring it up in the review. If you are looking to buy this game because of its story... then you might just need your head examined. The story is fine; it's every bit as good as the story in the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
Final (Not an Average): 4/10
"Sorry Sonic fans, keep hoping for the next one"
When everything is taken into account, this is just not that solid of a game whether you are a Sonic fan or not. As a Sonic fan its easy to rip this game to shreds with comparisons... but even if we went through a time portal and this was somehow the first Sonic game ever it would still be pretty bad game. I would not recommend this game to new Sonic fans, old Sonic fans, or even Billy-Jim Bobby Bill who has never played a Sonic game in his life. If you are a Sonic fan you will probably still get this as it is only 15 dollars and we're pretty masochistic in that we keep buying these games regardless of how good they are, but I still don't recommend it. The game plays best if you turn off the music, play some real Sonic music in the background, and don't look directly at Sonic. Don't forget to spam your Homing Attack!
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 10/13/10
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