Review – Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Developers: Dimps, Sonic Team
Publisher: SEGA
Platform: Wii (Wiiware), PS3 (PSN), Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: Out Now (PSN, XBLA), 15th October (Wiiware)

It’s been a long time since we were shown the original teaser for Project Needlemouse. None of us ever suspected that it would in fact be Sonic the Hedgehog 4. 16 long years and finally the main series continues! Does SEGA’s first episodic adventure deserve to wear the name of Sonic 4? Hit the jump to find out!

Sonic 4 really goes back to roots, in both story and gameplay. There’s no over exaggerated plot about the world being destroyed, no voice acting and not a gimmick in sight. Just a simple and classic tale of Sonic stopping Dr.Robotnik’s plans. Tails, Knuckles and the other characters you don’t give a damn about aren’t present, so it’s just Sonic. This may change in later episodes but hopefully nothing outside of Tails and Knuckles.

While having its own style, Sonic 4 really does feel like a Megadrive Sonic title. At first the controls will feel slow but after a short while of playing you’ll grow accustomed to them. The main difference, minus the game physics, is the inclusion of the Homing Attack from Sonic 3D and Sonic Adventure. Using a lock-on target, you can home in on badniks and objects with ease. It becomes natural very quickly. New to the Sonic series, or so I’m led to believe, is the air dash. When not locked onto anything, double tapping jump will push Sonic forward, giving him a burst of speed.

You have a grand total of 4 zones to explore this time around! While that doesn’t sound like much, each zone consists of 3 acts and a boss stage. When compared with the original trilogy, Sonic 4 is just a bit longer than Sonic 1. As if it isn’t clear enough for you, each zone is heavily influenced on levels from both Sonic 1 and 2. Splash Hill Zone is Green Hill Zone, Casino Street Zone is Casino Night Zone, Lost Labyrinth is … Labyrinth Zone and lastly, Mad Gear Zone is Metropolis Zone. It’s equally as annoying too. Fond memories of the crabs and mantis’ stealing your rings? Get ready to experience that all over again.

Taking another leaf out of Sonic 1’s book, if you finish a stage with more than 50 rings, a giant ring will appear at the goal post. Hop into one of these and you’ll be teleported away to one of the bonus stages where you can earn a Chaos Emerald. Bonus Stages are done in the same style of Sonic 1, but you’re controlling the maze instead of Sonic. Using the control stick, or sixaxis/wii remote, you rotate the maze, guiding Sonic to the Chaos Emerald as he bounces off walls and collects rings. Each stage increases in difficulty and can be very, very punishing. There’s a strict time limit too, so there’s not much room for failure. Collecting all 7 emeralds is very rewarding though. Why? Well, you’ll see for yourself.

Level progression works in two ways. You can go from one act to another in the same style as the original games, or you can freely select what level you want to play with the map screen. While it’s a rather odd decision on SEGA’s side, every act, minus boss stages, are available to play from the start. So if you want to get your ass handed to you on Mad Gear before you finish up Splash Hill then you can do so. It’s handy for after you finish the game but the decision to have all acts playable at the start confuses me. I mean, why would anyone not play it in the proper order?

Several people have been saying that Sonic 4 spikes in difficulty near the end of the game. At first I just laughed it off, but now I see why. As soon as you hit Mad Gear, the game stops holding your hand and throws everything it has at you. All those lives you built up will start disappearing one by one. While the stages aren’t too bad, it’s disappointing at how easy the earlier bosses are. It would have been nice if they were a bit more challenging. I guess ol’ Robotnik just ain’t got it in him anymore.

The initial run of the game will probably take you 2 to 3 hours, depending on skill level. After finishing, there is still plenty of things for you to go do. If you missed the Chaos Emeralds on your first run, you can go back and try your hand at them. If you want to test your skills and compare with others, you can play in a time attack mode and register your scores onto the global leaderboards. It’s amazing how addicting it is trying to beat your best times. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself returning to the same levels over and over.

One thing I found quite frustrating was the actual physics of the game. Unlike the original games, curling up into a ball slows you down, rather than speeding you up. Considering you automatically spin dash when hitting speed boosters, this can be quite annoying. It doesn’t help either that Sonic randomly stops on the walls and somehow defies gravity. While this has saved my ass a few times (Mad Gear Zone I’m looking at you), it’s no fun when you’re trying to do time trials. It’s nothing game breaking, just a bit inconvenient.

I was a bit skeptical about Sonic 4’s price tag when it was first revealed, but I can now safely say that you’re getting your money’s worth. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is a proper return to roots, and features Sonic in his best adventure since the Dreamcast era. If you lost faith in Sonic over the years, this will be the game to win you over. Welcome back Sonic, we’ve missed you buddy.

Final Score – 9/10

The Sonic game we’ve been waiting for. Fast, fun and entertaining. While zones and bosses are rehashed, they feel unique in their own way. Look beyond the game physics and you have the finest Sonic title in years.

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6 Responses to “Review – Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1”

  1. What a load of rubbish. You say that the zones/bosses are rehashed then magically ignore the short length to high price barrier. Add in that the game lacks any originality over the games priced at 400mp on the XBLA and I have ask, why on earth have you given this a 9?

    • If you re-read the review, I clearly stated that while it is rehashed from the previous games, it still feels unique. Length isn’t exactly an issue since the old Sonic games were never any longer than 2 hours. Back then we had to pay £40+ for those games. Compare it to now, and the 1200MSP price tag doesn’t seem too expensive.

      I’m sorry if you disagree with my opinion but that’s just how it goes.

      • As much as I recognise your points, I can’t help but agree with Cazza. The game does seem to lend itself more to the fans, bringing nostalgia with it, however, the levels do feel extremely fresh at the same time.
        Concerning the relatively ”short length” and ”high price”, I feel SEGA are offering a decent amount of gameplay at a reasonable price, especially with the replay value being so great.

  2. Nice review, goes in depth properly. I’ve never really been the Sonic fan, but it’s nice to go back to the classics.

    Bottom line, I might actually get this.

  3. Nice. After reading this, I may consider getting it.

  4. psp…

    […]Review – Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 « Angry Bee Gaming[…]…

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