Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (360/PS3/Wii)

Posted: October 13, 2010 in PS3, Retro, Reviews
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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Review

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

I have waited a long time for this game. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is the first new Sonic the Hedgehog game in the classic side-scrolling style of the Genesis/Mega Drive titles to appear on a console since 1994. For those of us who grew up with the blue blur- that’s a long time. Nostalgia aside, that’s a long time between instalments if you aren’t a big fan of the 3D incarnations.

SEGA has followed in the footsteps of Konami’s ReBirth titles, presenting this  new game in the same old-school style that made the originals work so well, with some new gameplay elements for modernity’s sake. And, for the most part, they’ve pulled it off pretty well.

The game is easy to pick up and play, although it’s got plenty of challenge even for Sonic veterans. You can run, jump, duck and perform a spin-dash as in previous titles, and the game also adds a homing jump attack. The homing attack is essential in the later levels, and is initially a bit awkward for someone set in his ways, but the learning curve is pretty gradual in the initial levels. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the physics, and I guess Sonic doesn’t control exactly as he did in the Genesis titles, but I didn’t find this to be any kind of hindrance to gameplay. The spin dash is a lot less useful in this game, which again can be awkward – but again, like any new control set, you do get used to it quickly.

Retro

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 for Xbox 360The levels are along similar lines of the stages you have in earlier Sonic games – there’s a lush, verdant hill zone to start in, as well as ancient ruins, a casino, and a machine-city, as well as a very cool final stage I won’t spoil for you. Most of them have a pretty even difficulty curve and often have mechanics unique to the level- i.e. the torch puzzles and rolling boulders in the ruins, which give each individual level a lot of diversity. Occasionally the level gimmicks are annoying, though – as a couple of levels spring advancing-walls-of-doom on you, which keeps tension up but can lead to a lot of lost lives very quickly. The momentum of the game is great, although it lacks a lot of open space to just run- you need to stay on guard or you’ll run into an inconveniently placed enemy. You can also choose the order you take your levels in after you complete the first stage, although you must complete all three to reach the boss level. The game isn’t terribly long, but what’s there is very good.

The bosses themselves are a bit uninspired – all of them are versions of Dr. Robotnik’s machines from previous games, with maybe one or two added twists. They’re also pitifully easy, especially if you’ve played the previous games. The nostalgia factor sort of works against the game in this department – I submit that Mega Man 9 and 10 would not have gone over well if Dr. Wily had just brought back the Robot Masters from the first game. It would have been nice to have some more creative bosses to fight, but I think (hope, anyway) Episode 1 will get the nostalgia-bosses out of the way and pave the way for some newer and more interesting fare.

The graphics are suitably sharp and well-defined. I played it on the Wii, so I didn’t get to see the HD version that PS3 and 360 owners will get, but since the Wii edition looked great, I can only imagine it will look even better. The backgrounds and foregrounds are particularly nice, with some great water and transparency effects, a psychedelic background to the special stage, and some nice lighting when alarm sirens are going. Also, be sure to check out some of Sonic’s idle animations- there’s some new ones beyond his classic toe-tapping.

The sound effects are familiar, and most of the sounds from the original games survive (right down to a high quality sample of the SEGA jingle when you start up the game). It all sounds perfectly crisp, and feels ‘right’. The music is pretty good – although in places it feels too laid back and not as funky as I like the Sonic series’ music to be. This is mostly in the Splash Hill Zone and Casino stages – the Labyrinth and Mad Gear stages have excellent and catchy music. This may simply be my nostalgic expectations acting up, though, and your mileage may vary. I do like the fact that you get different music for each act rather than zone- they’re all based on a single theme, but each stage features different variations, so you get a nice variety.

The Final Verdict

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is a pretty good game that has a lot of room for improvement in its next episode. Sega put this episode back in development and took fans’ criticisms to heart, and I imagine the next episode will be more polished and streamlined. If you’re going to nitpick about how it’s not exactly like the originals (as opposed to me, who nitpicks about things that are the same), you probably won’t enjoy it much. I would say it’s a must-play for any Sonic fan, but Sonic has a notoriously broken fanbase, so I just say: I enjoyed it, and I think most of you will, too. It’s a solid, though not perfect, game. It looks like a sign of even better things to come.

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Comments
  1. Adam Ducker says:

    I’m still really unsure about this game…I just think I will stick to playing my megadrive!

  2. Totally not Luke g says:

    Omg the poster of this review is so hot I wanna do his man hole!

  3. Um…What? I think a simple “good post” is appropriate. Zoinks.

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