Review: Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I

SEGA and Sonic Team return to the classics to begin an episodic digital title which is a direct sequel to Sonic & Knuckles, will they produce what surely is an impossibility: a classic Sonic title that both lives up to the legacy it is following AND please the fanbase. Or will physics and eye colouring destroy their efforts, and fan hopes?

Two staffers offer their takes on this.


Blake Draco’s View

This is a game that some fans have wanted for ages; a call back to the original Mega Drive games, Sonic 4 brings Sonic back to a 2D perspective and continuing after Sonic & Knuckles, and Episode 1 is just the start of the other episodes to come later. Episode one is what I would call an “easing”, easing new and old gamers back to a 2D way, old gamers will hit a bunch of familiarities in the levels available to them, inspired from the old games with added differences along the way.

Each Zone is comprised of three Acts and a Boss Battle, as well as that there is also seven special stages you need to go through in order to get the Chaos Emeralds needed to transform into Super Sonic.

A new feature added in the game is a homing attack which allows you to home onto springs and other objects as well as home onto enemies to kill them or to take higher routes. Especially if it’s an enemy that flies or floats, there tends to be a time when the homing attack either wears off or doesn’t actually hit the enemy but instead you take damage and lose your rings instead.

At the end of the stage if you have fifty or more rings you have the chance to go for the special stages and try and get yourself a Chaos Emerald, the giant ring at the end which if it is on its side and you under jump you’ll completely miss, hell I’ve missed it when it was turning which was quite the brow raiser for sure, as the level ends you’ll walk off screen, it’s a short time that doesn’t allow for another jump encase you mess up.

Certain Boss levels are back from the old games but feature what I would call a “tension” mode, which is after a certain number of hits, the music will speed up and a different attack and pattern will occur, surprising the first time if you’re not suspecting anything to happen.

Some other details in the game is when you are idle, Sonic will do the same thing from Sonic 1 and then look at his wrist and then back to the player while tapping his wrist, leave it for longer than that and he will lay down and tap the ground with a finger, and at the end of a stage when you get over ten thousand points you will gain an extra life and you’ll know this when a classic sprite of Sonic will popup. This sprite looks really out of place while it goes back to the original games it looks bad to me and the fact that the white border doesn’t make it look any better. It just makes it look like it was cut and pasted, maybe if it was tidied up more or a new sprite I might have not bothered.

The Special Stages return in the style of that from Sonic 1 but with an actual twist, you control which way the stage turns instead of pressing reversal stage buttons or waiting for the stage to turn itself. You need to collect rings to get through some blocked gates to reach the Chaos Emerald you desire; this is a staple in all special zones.

There are leaderboards that you can update with your score, or if you press X on the stage select you can go into Time Attack mode which will allow you to place your time on the leader boards, this adds some replay ability onto the game but not much.

Overall, Episode One in my opinion is okay – that’s it. While it was fun the first play through round and the time-attack “competition” I seem to have with a certain staffer, there’s nothing to really do after that. That being said I hope there are some new bosses and levels in the next one whenever it appears.

3.5
Some easy achievements mixed in with one or two ones that will take your time, the “Untouchable” achievement being one of those where if you mess up you need to start again.
4.0
“Thank goodness SEGA have finally seen the light and brought back 2D Sonic, however what’s this about ignoring his 3D games? This step forward is clearly a massive step back and would destroy all hope I had for the franchise were it not for my hope in the franchise that has been raised by this game I loathe and detest! Where is Tails? Where is Knuckles? How DARE you ignore them SEGA and produce an experience featuring just Sonic, admittedly thank you for producing an experience just with Sonic but not at the expense of every character that is not Sonic. WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND SEGA? WHY?! What’s with all these episodes now? Are you VALVe now or something? Why can’t I buy this digital product in store? Sonic’s model is wrong, his physics are wrong, his legs are wrong, his animations are wrong, his colour is wrong, and what is with this idea of using a hedgehog? You are DEAD to me SEGA. DEAD! And all yuor family will be as well! PS. Love and kisses.”
0.0

Urtheart’s View

This is a game that some fans have wanted for ages; a call back to the original Mega Drive games, Sonic 4 brings Sonic back to a 2D perspective and continuing after Sonic & Knuckles, and Episode 1 is just the start of the other episodes to come later. Episode one is what I would call an “easing”, easing new and old gamers back to a 2D way, old gamers will hit a bunch of familiarities in the levels available to them, inspired from the old games with added differences along the way.

First off a warning, don’t read this review if you like Sonic, this really is only for those whom hate Sonic or have a very open mind.

When Sonic 4 (or Needlemoose as we started calling it) was first announced my first thought was simply ‘why?’ I am much as everyone else would like to see a Sonic game that could be as revered and loved as the classics, but simply copying them to me seemed like a cop out cash in. Whenever I tried to voice my opinion about the game, even now, it is usually met with the screams of murder and “this is exactly what everyone wants so shut up.” So after I have actually played the game myself, finished it, achievement whored it, has my opinion changed?

Short answer no.

The Sonic series for me has always held one major respect over many of the other long standing game series, they try something new. While this doesn’t always work, no matter what the game I’ve always left feeling that there is something that has made it worth my cash investment. Even Sonic 06 which I will freely admit is a horrible game, left me with something, apart from the music, Shadow’s gameplay shone through, more refined I would have loved to see it combined with elements of his own title game as I honestly think it is something which done well would be excellent.

So what has this got to do with Sonic 4? Let’s assume I’m not a Sonic fan, what would drive me to play this game? There is certainly nothing new or inspirational that screams ‘buy me’ at first glance.

So we get down to the gameplay. Bar a few bits of sliding and odd physic glitches usually sending Sonic flying 100 meters skywards the gameplay is solid. It does feel odd that the analogue controls offer a better accuracy than the D-pad on a 2D plain but it works.

Level design is where the game starts well and sadly falls later on. Levels tend to start well having a few branching paths giving some incentive to explore different routes, but the further into the game you get, the less often this occurs and you are forced into linear paths, and in too many occasions these paths are there to put you onto a A to B gimmick. While these ideas are good, they lose the control of the player, so you no longer feel like you are participating basically making it a level padding principle.

The last niggle of the Level Design is the end of levels, which tend to add a small obstacle which needs clairvoyance to avoid or you die, and is always just before the end marker. This has been something Dimps have had a problem with for a while, but it’s not usually been as bad a problem because it had less of a consequence, with the style of special stage entry, this becomes a much greater annoyance.

Speaking of Special stages, this is for me the games highlight, something new with a nostalgic feel to it. The Special Stages have an odd difficulty curve however, getting very hard near the middle and then settling off near the end, with the 7th being rather pleasant. The ability to replay any you have completed is nice, while the effort of re-entry for a failed one is a little bit of a pain. The mechanic of moving the maze rather than controlling Sonic gives a nice break from the regular gameplay.

So what’s wrong with all this? Well the bulk of the gameplay just doesn’t have any substance to it, it is exactly as the fans wanted it, a carbon copy of the original games and nothing more. There has been no effort to actually make the game anything more than what basically the fans demanded and the, at least for me, is what stops it being a game that sticks in my mind.

The environments are pretty, but all lifted straight from previous level art with a simply HD makeover, as have every single enemy within the game. While the lovely graphics do enhance the nostalgic feeling it doesn’t cover for the sheer laziness and lack of any inspiration on the part of the games staff.

Another thing which makes this worse is the music, while the graphics have had a HD shine, the music has gone in reverse. It is a shame because the music has some beautiful melodies, and on occasions the more tolerable pieces are enjoyable such as Lost Labyrinth 2 and Mad Gear 1. But while the Mega Drive games pushed the musical capabilities of the system to the brink to create as close to an actual sounding instrument as possible, Sonic 4 has opted to go for the “retro” feel and use synths which in my opinion sound worse than those used for the original games, spoiling the music and in some pieces simply making it unbearable to listen to.

Even though Sonic 4 has a decent enough gameplay, the combination of iffy level design, rehashed artistic design and horrible music stops it from actually giving the impression of being a good game. It’s not a bad game, it’s perfectly playable and what stopped me getting any enjoyment out of it was the fact that there was little challenge in the game bar possibly the untouchable achievement, but that’ll be unique to me.

Even if they had created beautiful looking, environments and actually made the music to a high quality to match the HD graphics, it’s only there to enhance what’s important about the game, the gameplay, and there in lies the games core problem, there is nothing in the gameplay we haven’t seen before, nothing inspirational, it feels, for lack of a better word, soulless. This where Sonic 4 stands for me, a soulless cash in to shut the fans up and take their cash.

The problem for me is that this thing called Nostalgia, something which can be used very effectively to give players a reminiscing about their prior gaming experiences, for this game has been simply used to coax people in to buying and simply accepting the game is better than it is.

If you had asked me when the game was first announced if this is what the fans deserved after putting up with various games I would have said no, they deserve a hell of a lot more, there is so much more you could do with the game, why repeat what you’ve done in years gone by when you can improve it and offer the fans something truly new, but still gives them a 2D game with a starting base in the core mechanics that they keep bawling about behind rose tinted glasses.

However you ask me now, while everyone seems to think Sonic 4 is the height of what you can get out of Sonic, why bother giving them anything more? It’s a waste of money I guess to bother giving them anything more. Sonic 4 to me feels like simply something that could have been churned out in a few months, every so often to shut the fans up, so why not, it’s a money maker. Personally I am kinda glad I didn’t buy it (yeah I played Vger’s copy), I think 1200 MS points is a little expensive considering it won’t last a good gamer more than 5 hours.

So while fans hold their holy grail of everything they have worked for in Sonic 4 proudly over their heads, I’m going to sit and wait for Sonic Colours, a game based on a part of Sonic Unleashed, and then worked on as a sole gameplay mechanic and improved upon with gimmicks that actually work as part of gameplay rather than just get from point A to B with some interactivity in the middle.

Sonic 4 or the other hand will be the first Sonic game I have played that will simply be lost and forgotten because it couldn’t give me anything, good nor bad, to remember it by.

GAMEPLAY Gains points from Special Stage, solid enough but nothing new
2.5
GRAPHICS Pretty, just wish we had new environments, leave the HD remakes to the fan games.
3.5
MUSIC Lovely melodies, horrible synth instrument choices.
3.5
LIFESPAN Depends on how obsessive you are on leaderboards.
2.0
OVERALL 2.5

 

Author: Blake Draco

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