Review by mtpfreak

Reviewed: 10/18/10

This is not 16 years of progress...

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is Sega's answer to the fans' long demanded continuation of the classic Sonic the Hedgehog series, of Genesis fame. The game supposedly directly follows the events of Sonic 3 and Knuckles, but how is it? Well...

-Story & Characterisation-
Part of any games charm is its setting, unfortunately, you'll have seen all of this before. Despite claiming to continue on from Sonic and Knuckles, all of the stages present look almost exactly like old Genesis stages with a new lick of very glossy paint.

As the story goes, it practically disregards everything that was established in the previous games, going back to literally recycling everything, as is Robotnik's master plan on a low budget.... *cough*

-The Gameplay-
Without comparing it to anything, the physics engine doesn't feel too natural. Sonic's movements will stutter repeatedly as you find yourself losing all momentum when you try anything like a homing attack or a spin dash. Sonic only carries speed so long as you press forward, and letting go makes him drop it instantly. This is especially bad in that Sonic can stop mid-air. Adding to the absurdity, Sonic can stand on a wall sideways, instead of succumbing to gravity and inertia, where he should naturally be propelled back somewhat.

Outside of the weird physics, the gameplay flows naturally, navigating the stages is not hard, but it largely feels automated through the incessant number of gimmicks designed solely to push Sonic through a stage. You'd think they may use this to throw a few surprises your way, but of the 12 main acts, each one will recycle its singular gimmick all through-out, making for predictable design. What's good to say though is that the gimmicks all make sense the first time you encounter them, they won't hinder your enjoyment outside of seeing them too often.

What especially bothers me is that in an attempt to get back to their routes, they went back to square one and removed very memorable improvements like the continuing stages, added characters, powered-up shields, bonus stages, and other things. You don't even see Tails in this game, once! There's substantially less than Sonic the Hedgehog 3 to be found.

-The visuals-
On a technical level the graphics are nice, pre-rendered graphics that are easy on the eye. My problem with the visuals though is that they simply aren't inventive, everything is either an upgraded Green Hill, Casino Night, Labyrinth, Metropolis, or Death Egg Zone. The pre-rendered graphics however scream "Cheap!" at you, this isn't Sonic 3D blast, pre-rendered graphics are no longer impressive.

The character animation is sadly lacking, facial animation is non-existent whilst Robotnik will mostly just shake his arms, all the time. It's especially obvious how little character Sonic has when you see the ending play out, since it's just a carbon copy of the Sonic 1 ending.

-The Audio-
Familiar sound effects from the original games return, and sound natural and appropriate, you couldn't ask for much more. The music however, despite being composed by Jun Senoue who had worked on Sonic 3D blast, sounds repetitive and unmemorable, suffering from short-play length before you've heard it loop 20 times.

The main issues with the music is they are very short tunes, and the instruments used sound cheap and phony. For argument's sake, Jun Senoue's music from the first level of Sonic 3D Blast was remade for Sonic Adventure as a song called "The Air", which sounded simply fantastic. There have been fan arrangements of Sonic 4 music, using Genesis instruments, that sound much better than the official music.

Sadly this is a lack-luster sequel to a childhood favourite of mine, it's core issues are the physics engine that fails to improve on something mastered 16 years ago, and it's general presentation being sub-standard, along with a lack of surprises. Sega should have treated this title with some more respect, compared to previous 2D Sonics, from the Genesis, Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS alike, I would definitely rank this at the bottom, especially for it's considerably short length.

Sonic 4's flawed physics and unremarkable, unsurprising, and somewhat automated gameplay, that won't leave you wanting more. Old fans alike will probably be disappointed, and new fans will probably find more enjoyment in Sonic's previous 2D escapades, easily found on the virtual console.

My final rating for Sonic 4 Episode 1, sadly is a 4 out of 10..

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

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