Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 – The PS3 Attitude Review
The wait is finally over. After 16 years of begging, Sonic has finally gone back to his 2D roots. This might not be the Sonic game that you were hoping for, but it’s easily one of Sonic’s greatest adventures yet. Assuming that you actually give the blue hedgehog a chance.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 takes places after the events of Sonic and Knuckles. Dr. Robotnik has gone back and refined his greatest creations and plans on eliminating Sonic once and for all. There are no ridiculous cutscenes or dialogue. This is pure Sonic gameplay, the way it should have always been.
The theme of reusing Sonic’s past is scattered all throughout Sonic 4. Despite being a direct sequel, this game feels more like an homage to the classics than anything else. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that. This is the best Sonic game in a very long time.
The homing attack introduced in Sonic Adventure has made its way into Sonic 4. It honestly works a lot better than I imagined. It’s the quickest way to gain speed, but it’s also a technique that can completely stop you in your tracks if used improperly. The responsive controls help alleviate mistimed attacks but it does take some time to get used to.
When you first play Sonic 4 it might feel like the movement is a bit too slow. This quickly changes once you adjust to the new gameplay mechanics. Many of the traditional tricks simply don’t work as they used to. For instance, if you spin dash off a ledge Sonic uncurls from his rolling animation. It doesn’t make too much sense as to why this is the case, but you could just do homing attack afterward and this leaves you less vulnerable while also giving you a speed boost.
Another oddity is the jumping. You’re actually given full control of Sonic when he’s in the air. This means that if you want to jump to the right, you actually have to hold that direction down the entire time. As soon as you let go, Sonic will no longer move in that direction. It’s weird, but it’s actually something I didn’t even notice at first. I like the fact that I have full control of Sonic when he’s in the air, since it allows for more precision. However, it’s not like this in the original games and that might raise some eyebrows. Doing a spin dash and jumping also gives you no forward momentum unless you’re holding down the direction you want to go in. This particularly doesn’t make any sense but it’s not like it’s impossible to do.
Sonic has three stages of movement – walking, running, and spinning feet. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be a walking animation at all. It simply makes Sonic feel more sluggish than he should be. You can completely bypass the walking animation by just doing an empty homing attack to gain some speed. You’ll find yourself doing this frequently as it’s the best way to travel as fast as possible. It also looks really cool.
There are four Zones in Sonic 4 with three acts each and a level dedicated to a boss battle. Each Zone is based off of previous levels in the series. Despite the numerous (and appreciated) nods to the past, these levels are actually unique and have their own personality. Act 2 of Splash Hill zone, for instance, requires Sonic to swing around vines to reach the end of the level. For the most part, there is an undeniable familiarity in each Zone. That’s not to say that each act plays out in the same way though. After you complete every level, a final battle against Robotnik is unlocked.
New to the console version of Sonic 4 is Casino Street Act 2: Road of Cards. The iPhone version had a general “achieve the score” type of level and it didn’t fit well with the rest of the game. It’s a good thing that SEGA changed this because the new version of Act 2 is easily one of the best levels in Sonic 4. There’s a constant barrage of rewards at all times and tons of visual treats, especially when Sonic is running on flying cards. There’s only one moment that might be frustrating and that’s near the very end. Still, it’s a great level that has a lot of spirit.
Another changed level is Lost Labyrinth Act 2. This is the one that replaces the infamous minecart stage that everyone hated but never actually played. It’s rather unfortunate because the original act is still playable on the iPhone version and it’s actually fun! The new Act 2, titled World of Darkness, is an odd attempt at puzzle platforming. Sonic is equipped with a torch and has to use the flames to light up pathways and destroy obstacles. There’s far too many abrupt stops and it’s just not that fun to play.
Special stages make their return in Sonic 4 and the reward for earning all seven emeralds is exactly what you’d want it to be. SEGA went back to the design set by the first Sonic game, but added a twist. Instead of the game rotating the level automatically, you have to manually rotate the stage to navigate Sonic to the emerald. You can even use the SIXAXIS controls for these levels, although it’s turned off by default. It actually works really well and it’s worth trying out at least once.
Right from the start, you’ll notice that Sonic 4 looks spectacular. SEGA did a magnificent job capturing the visuals of the classics while also modernizing them. From the environments to the character models, there isn’t much to complain about. It’s especially difficult to not appreciate Sonic’s new spinning feet animation. It really takes you back to the days when Sonic was a mascot with an attitude. This was actually one of the changes made to Sonic 4 after it was delayed. The old running animation is still intact for the iPhone version and it really does make the game less enjoyable. It’s too bad SEGA didn’t change Sonic’s standing animation though, it just lacks the determined look he once had.
The soundtrack is hit or miss. The main theme sounds great and it’s full of energy. It’s definitely one of the catchier tunes in the game but not all tracks received the same love. Mad Gear Zone, Lost Labyrinth Zone (act 3 specifically), and the Special Stages feature some of the best music the game has to offer. Unfortunately, the boss battle theme is severely lacking. It starts off wonderfully but then it sounds like a bunch of noise. It’s really a shame.
Even more disappointing is the theme played during the final battle. Not only is there nothing memorable about the song at all, unlike the battle it references to, it just loops way too soon. It nearly ruins the entire experience. Super Sonic’s music also suffers the same fate, although it’s far more tolerable. Oddly enough, the iPhone version uses a looped rendition of the main theme instead of an original track. I would have actually preferred that song for the PSN version. There is support for custom soundtracks, but it’s just not the same.
What I really liked about Sonic 4 is that it’s not all about speed. This is something that Sonic fans seem to have forgotten. The older Sonic games were actually properly paced and this game is no different. There will be moments when you need to do careful platforming and then there are times when speed is all you need. It’s a great balance and a much needed return to form. In many ways, these reinvented levels are even more exciting than the originals.
The third act of Lost Labyrinth is perhaps my favorite. It’s one of those underwater levels that everyone seems to hate. Even worse, there are times when a wall is closing in on you. I actually liked these sequences and thought they were quite exhilarating. The possibility of getting squashed as the ‘you’re going to drown’ music plays really makes the game intense.
The biggest problem I found with the game is that it’s much too rewarding. There are just way too many rings and free lives in each level. I had 64 lives the first time I beat the game. There’s definitely something wrong there. Sonic can even recover a good portion of his rings back after getting hit by an enemy (at most 32). There’s very little risk involved aside from the possibility falling down a pit and that’s rare. The cheap enemy placement can easily catch you off guard though. SEGA put the right enemies in very specific places. You’ll almost always get hit at the worst times.
The boss battles were also a bit underwhelming and much too easy. I did appreciate the fact that each boss has a second form. This changes up the gameplay a bit and keeps you guessing. I also liked the twist made to Mad Gear Zone’s boss battle, which is based on the battle in Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2. It’ll definitely catch you off guard. The final act is a mixed bag. The Mega Man styled boss fights done in succession are absolutely brilliant. However, Robotnik’s last form takes forever to figure out. The difficulty just spikes instantly and this can ruin the game for some people. I died about 40 times before I finally figured out how to beat him. Even though I enjoyed it, that’s still pretty ridiculous.
I’ve played through Sonic 4 numerous times and I loved nearly every second of it. I even purchased it for multiple systems. It’s definitely worth $15 but it’s not for everyone. While it’s easy to nitpick about some of the gameplay inconsistencies, it never once actually hindered my experience. It’s simply a fun game. Replaying each stage for the best score and time is an addiction thanks to the online leaderboards. Collecting all seven emeralds gives you even more of a reason to come back. Despite being a short game, you’ll almost always find a new path to take in each act. Even if you only have the demo, try playing it a few times. The game is far more enjoyable once you know what you’re doing.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 is a step in the right direction for the series. Now that the foundations have been set, all SEGA needs to do is make refinements and create a more original adventure. If the secret ending is any indication, there’s at least one enemy confirmed in the sequel. Hopefully SEGA can iron out some of the issues in Episode 2 that quiets even the most adamant Sonic hater. We all know that won’t happen though, people will always find something to complain about. Even if it’s about Sonic’s eyelids.
Welcome back, Sonic. We waited a long time for this game.
The boxart used in this review was found on the sonicretro website. It’s pretty awesome, no?