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Review: Sonic 4: Episode 1, Sega brings Sonic back to his roots. Is that a good thing?
After playing through Sonic 4: Episode 1 on my iPad, I’m going to have to say no. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of fun playing Sonic 4, but Sega seems to have rung in a new level of fan service. Is this really what we, the fans, wanted? I’m sure I can speak for the gaming community when saying that we wanted a good game in the traditional style and Sega has delivered. However, there is nothing original in Sonic 4. What we get here is HD reworks of previous stages, enemies, and bosses. Some more blatant than other (Mad Gear Zone = Metropolis Zone). Actually, let me stay on that example. Mad Gear Zone, the game’s “fourth” series of stages, is a complete rendition of Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2. How complete? Grasshoppers with boomerang scythes? Check. Steam tubes used for fast transport? Check. Starfish that shoot out their tips? Check. Moving gears? Check. Boss that uses small rotating eggs that turn into mini-Eggmen? Check. I honestly feel like Sonic 4 is Sonic’s Great Hits HD. Some would question me as to why I believe that’s a negative aspect when, hey, its still fun right?!
Sonic 4 was a great chance for Sega to turn this franchise around and bring back the magic. New zones, new enemies, new mechanics, maybe even a new boss character. Instead, Sega took Green Hill Zone, Labyrinth Zone, Casino Night Zone, Metropolis Zone, and a mix of Mystic Cave and Hidden Palace and redid them in HD. Add in the homing attack, Sonic 1’s special stages, some tilt mechanics, and you got Sonic 4. As a fan of the series, you’ll enjoy yourself immensely but you may also think like me and wonder where’s the new. Sega focused on what the fans loved the most about 2D Sonic and reworking that content instead of making Sonic 4 the next step and ultimately reviving the franchise.
To continue on with what Sega has delivered, let’s delve into what Sonic 4 has and doesn’t have.
First off, let me say again that is the iOS version of the game and not the console release. The iOS version features two extra levels that are designed to work with the device(s), and also a control style that focuses on tilting and tapping. That said, the standard control style works great. The buttons are a stick-style pad on the left and a singular button on the right that allows Sonic to perform abilities. They do exactly as advertised though I’d trade in the stick for a d-pad like which was featured in the iOS version of Sonic 2. As I’ve read in previews across various sites, Sonic indeed does feel “heavy”. As soon as you let go of the control stick, Sonic stops dead in his tracks. There is no momentum or slow paced stop. This can make platforming across the levels a bit awkward as you’ll either overshoot or just miss a platform. Getting Sonic to crouch down to begin a Spin Dash is a bit weird as well. I found myself most of the time bringing the stick down only to move forward or backward. It takes some fiddling around to get Sonic to actually duck. Again, another reason why I would have chosen a D-Pad mock-up instead.
The sounds that come from the game are standard fair for the series, which has never gotten old so I can’t complain here. Sonic’s jump sound effect is pretty much iconic to the series as are many others featured in Sonic 4. My issue here lies with the music. It can be catchy and the menu theme has gotten stuck in my head, but the overall tone of the music leaves much to be desired. Most of this time is forgettable, whereas in past Sonic games there has always been a few tunes (or most) that you can pick out. After playing the game for hours on end, I don’t have a beat in my head to pick out which track belongs to Mad Gear or not. Don’t get me started on the Boss Stage music, whoo boy.
Game play is where the game really shines. Once Sonic gets moving, the action is great. Notice that I said once you get Sonic moving. Getting Sonic to be… well… fast, you have to move a few yards first. During this start-up, Sonic is slow and cumbersome. This really slows down the game play during some of the more challenging sections of the game and can lead to the loss of many lives. That being said, Sonic 4 isn’t hard at all. Sure, there are plenty of challenging parts to zones where you’ll have to be very good at timing, but thats it is. Timing. Raking up lives in Sonic 4 is very easy to do. After three hours of play time, I had 26 lives. After finally beating the final boss, I had 12. Plenty of lives to spare compared to old Sega Genesis games. For those looking for a challenge, I point you to the Special Stages. I did say earlier that they are from Sonic 1, and for the most part they are. However, there are some changes which make them new experiences but the overall design and game play is the same as Sonic 1. Some of the Special Stages are very difficult to complete thanks to the timer and ring goals needed to continue on towards an Emerald. I did not collect all 7 Chaos Emerald in my first play through. I actually stopped trying at a point so I could finally finish the game to review it. I will edit the review later to see if there are any changes to the game if you collect all 7.
Level design is another shortcoming from Sonic 4 as the stages are very linear. The action is fast and once you complete a section which featured long jumps, several loops, homing attacks on multiple targets just to reach the next continue pole is great. However, you never really feel in control. In past Sonic games, there were hidden items, passageways, shortcuts, etc. Sonic 4 does not have that. This game propels you through a series of cool sequences until you hit the sign post at the end of the Zone. Another design flaw I was surprised to see is the level select the game offers you after beating the first zone. This allows you to complete Zones in any order as you wish. I was saying in the beginning how I was hoping for more ‘new’ than ‘old’ but this may me feel as I wasn’t progressing in the game. I had seen the option to visit the Final Boss and thought that was quick. There was no real sense of completion to the game. It was almost like experiencing the game through an emulator with save states.
Boss battles end very quickly as they are rehashes of previous boss encounters from Sonic 1-3. If you’ve played those games, you’ll know how to win. Sega mentioned they added new mechanics to the boss fights but they aren’t something to run home about. I died once during a boss fight and several during the final encounter.
Overall, if your a fan of Sonic or even if your not, I do recommend the game. It was fun, I will be playing through it again, and I enjoyed myself. My issues with Sonic 4 really lay with the decisions Sega made in the development of the game rather than with the game itself. Do understand how linear the game is, the impact of the level select, and how easy it can be. The game took me roughly 5 hours to complete. It can be done shorter. Don’t go into Sonic 4 looking for a brand new game. You won’t find it here. Welcome to Sonic’s Greatest Hits HD, enjoy the ride.
- Fast Action
- Enjoyable Experience
- Return to 2D
- Heavy Sonic
- Some-what Clunky Controls
- Level Design
- Sonic’s Greatest Hits HD
Review by Cennus