Review by KyoKusanagi
After a decade of abuse, Sonic 4 is a true return to form!
Sonic The Hedeghog 4....what's in a name? To tell the truth, a whole lot.
Everyone has a different vision of Sonic 4, be it in 3D with Shadow the Hedgehog and Big the Cat, or in 2D with Genesis/Mega Drive graphics. As an olive branch to the Sonic fanbase, Sega decided to right what was wrong and return to the Classic Sonic era with Sonic 4. To allow time for feedback, they have split Sonic 4 into four parts so they can implement changes along the way. As usual, no Sonic game, even a good one, is without haters--even from its own fanbase. Is the hate really deserved, or is it just passionate fan overreaction? Let's find out.
The story is kept simple like the classic games; nothing over-the-top or epic occurs. The game takes place after the events of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. It rather mirrors the story of Sonic 1&2: Sonic is exploring new locations and Eggman is attempting to conquer these said locations.
The physics aren't 1:1 perfect to the originals, but this doesn't make it a bad game. Compared to the originals, the controls are tightened up. If you let go of the d-pad, Sonic immediately stops in his tracks as opposed to briefly slowing down. Speed isn't carried over if you run, jump, and then let go of the d-pad. Momentum isn't gained by rolling down a hill like in the originals. Instead of the pinball physics, it's reversed: momentum is gained when Sonic is running down a hill. The jumping is still a little bit floaty, but it's not that noticeable. Uncurling is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Uncurling is a term used to refer to Sonic going off a ramp in ball form and promptly coming out of it. You are able to use the homing attack on enemies when uncurled.
Sonic is the only character playable in Episode 1. He is also able to spindash once again! However, it still feels gimped because of the said tight controls. While homing attack can be spammed to easily build momentum, the player is punished for doing so. The homing attack can be used on enemies when a reticule appears. This can be frustrating at times, especially when the player is trying to use the homing attack on a chain of enemies to travel over a bottomless pit. Speaking of which, there is a small number of bottomless pits. . HI find that there are few aspects of level design that Sega needs to take a look at and make less annoying. Overall, the level design is just like a classic game with multiple paths. The gimmicks in each level are used very well, and balance speed sections with careful platforming.
The Special Stages are taken from Sonic 1, but with an added twist. You tilt the maze using the d-pad to move Sonic along. Rings need to be found to open doors to the next area. The beginning Special Stages are easy, but get progressively hard. Also, there is an added timer, but there are time balls that add seconds onto the clock. I applaud Sega for this, because this makes getting Super Sonic a truly rewarding experience.
The bosses are reused from Sonic 1 and 2, but they also have a pinch mode that activates when they are near death. This means they have an extra attack that activates, thus making up for the lack of originality. This also makes them increasingly difficult and not a lazy "rehash."
I'll be honest. This isn't what I expected: pre-rendered models on a 2D plane. I wanted to see a return to Genesis/Mega Drive-style graphics or redrawn HD Genesis sprites in a similar fashion to Sonic 2 HD. Others may have wanted 3D models on a 2D plane. I believe the direction they went for was to create a 2D sequel that could have been on the Sega Saturn. The level art is heavily inspired by Sonic 1&2 levels and may partially resemble them. Nevertheless, the art is beautiful and a clever twist on old favorites that cater to surrealism. I hope to see more original art in future episodes.
While Sonic looks terrible on the title card with that ugly smile of his, he looks decent in-game. Sega used the "modern' design that has been seen in every Sonic game for the past decade. This aesthetic is very controversial for a game that aspires to be a sequel to the original games. It would have been great if the classic design (seen in official Japanese art from 1991-1998) had been used, but this is minor, and doesn't distract the player from enjoying the game. However, the "wheel run" seen at full speed looks a little awkward because the animation doesn't speed up with as Sonic gains momentum.
The sound effects are taken from Sonic 1-3&K and still sound great after all these years. It feels good to hear the old jumping and spinning sound effects from Sonic 1. However, there are a few sounds that feel out of place. If you touch a flipper in Casino Street, you hear a spin dash sound effect. This gets annoying to hear after a while, because that never happened in the original games.
Jun Senoue originally wanted to reuse the old Sonic 3 sound development kit to compose the soundtrack, but he couldn't find an old NEC computer to do so. So he went for the next best thing. He used drum samples from Sonic 2 and virtual synthesizer sounds to arrange the music. It's a pseudo-retro sound that is either hit-or-miss with the player due to some questionable instrumentation sounding like a "dying cat." Perhaps Mr. Senoue ought to be told about better available software that helps him get the retro sound he desires, be it a NEC computer emulator or VOPM. At least the music is pure synth heaven without any rock guitars in the mix. There is even an old leftover tune from the Sonic 3D prototype that reappears in the game!
Replay Factor: 7/10
Given that the game has 12 levels of platforming, 5 boss levels, and 7 Special Stages, Sonic 4: Episode 1 could be easily completed within an hour or two, given the difficulty of later Special Stages. Replaying levels as Super Sonic is so much fun!
Overall Rating 8/10
Sonic 4: Episode 1 is a very enjoyable experience, all the while leaving some room for Sega to improve upon. It stands out from the old Gameboy Advance and DS games as unique in that speed is not heavily emphasized. If you are expecting 1:1 physics you might not enjoy it. Revisiting familiar tropes from Sonic 1&2 is fun. Given that this is only a prologue, I expect to see new, original level art in the next episode with all issues addressed. Regardless, this game could very well put the Sonic franchise back on the road to greatness and redeem Sega as a whole.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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