Sonic 4: Episode 1
Publisher & Developer: SEGA
Platform: XBLA (Reviewed), PSN
Release Date: 10/13/2010
Price: 1200 MSP ($15) – Buy Now!!!!
Sixteen years is a long wait for any game. It’s longer than the wait that people had to deal with for the infamous Duke Nukem Forever to see the light of day. But Sonic fans have been patient and the sequel to the 2D scrolling Sonic games of old has arrived. With the last classic game releasing so long ago and all those adventures into 3D gaming, has Sonic kept his charms?
In the amount of time that has passed, graphics have made such an improvement that anything graphically similar to previous 2D Sonic games would have simply been lazy. Thankfully Sonic has received a complete revamp in the graphics department. The backgrounds as you zip through levels are have been beautifully rendered. Parts of the Casino street even have parts of the background that move as you run through them. Dice and cards attached to poles turn as you zip past, giving a nice feeling that Sonic is running so fast he is creating a, pun intended, sonic boom. Sonic himself has aged extremely well, looking better than ever. Running across High Def levels requires a High Def character and Sonic delivers.
The areas you run through are quite varied and also throwbacks to previous Sonic stages of games gone by. They have all received a revamp and though they bare unmistakable similarities to previous Sonic game stages, it also brings about the nostalgia factor as you zip through them. There is also a decent amount of variety in these levels, including a few water levels, a level where Sonic only can see with a torch, and more that you will have to find out yourself. The special stage itself where you can get chaos emeralds is mystifying with its kaleidoscope feel is a throwback to the very first Sonic’s special stage
A small set back though is that the camera is very restricting. Of course you have the classic press up to look a little bit above yourself but that does not help very much when you are flying across a level only to plummet into oblivion that you did not see, or crash into a badnik that was just out of view. Ironically though these random deaths do not hurt the game much, and you will find out why later.
Unfortunately though the graphics are beautiful, the soundtrack becomes less than nostalgic and more annoying. Especially when there are levels you will have to play through multiple times to finish the time attack mode and even get the special stages to unlock. None of the music is memorable, but it does contain a shadow of the old Sonic’s lovable themes, if only they were more likable.
There really isn’t any story to go along with Sonic beyond the fact that he is trying to stop Robotnik from taking over the world etc etc. Therefore Sonic must adventure through four different zones and destroy his creations and finally put a stop to him at his E.G.G. Station. All of this may seem very familiar, because it is.
Sonic 4 brings everything to the table that classic 2D Sonic games have such as bosses and level designs. The good thing is that they also threw in a few additions that bring Sonic 4 more into a game of its own as opposed to a rehashing of old ideas.
The most noticeable add on is the fact that there is now a world map to choose from. This is unlocked after your very first completion of Act 1 in Splash Hill. The map allows players to choose from the first three Acts in any zone and play them in any order they wish to. It even allows players to go back and revisit special zones if they happened to miss the Chaos Emerald that was at the end. The map definitely is a great new addition to brand new fans, but may make some older fans a bit upset that it has been made easy to collect the Emeralds and finish the game.
Finishing the game is unfortunately quite easy thanks to not only the stage selecting map, but also the overall length of the game and the fact that Sonic receives extra lives nearly as much as he does rings. Being only four stages long it is possible to beat the game in a single sit down, much less an entire day. This used to be a standard in older Sonic games as they never were really long but the challenge there was that if you died and ran out of lives you had to start from the beginning.
This is no longer the case as Sonic gets so many lives that the game is practically throwing them at you. I mentioned before that there will be many cheap deaths during your time running through levels into pits of death or unseen enemies but thanks to the large amount of lives you will get there is no reason to fret. In the casino level for example, spinning hands of cards and receiving three of a kind of Sonic’s face will deliver an extra life. As one may expect there are perhaps a hundred or more cards in this level to be flipped and can easily pad your extra life amount. There is even an achievement for receiving over 99 extra lives at a time though the counter goes over a hundred.
Another addition added to the classic Sonic feel is the ability to perform a lock on air dash to enemies and assist Sonic in moving form place to place faster. This move which was transferred from Sonic Adventure into Sonic 4 actually makes the transition quite well into the 2D universe as it can be used to lock onto enemies and allow them to be defeated easier, though the air dash does have a down side as enemies with spikes are more likely to cause Sonic to lose all of his rings. It also is great for the platforming that Sonic is also famous for, allowing Sonic to chain attacks onto floating enemies and allow him to reach certain areas he could not otherwise.
If there is anything that the changes to the game have made worse, it is the fact that Sonic 4 lacks the momentum that other classic Sonic games have had. Literally. There is barely any momentum when you travel along the map. Sure Sonic is fast, but the way that he controls has changed completely. For example if you are moving at top speed down a hill, jump into the air and stop pressing forward in any direction, Sonic stops completely. This is true in practically every moment. There is no momentum or feel of uncontrollable movement. Sonic stops his advance instantly as soon as the controller isn’t being touched which some may find helpful, but others would find as a loss of what made Sonic great. The ability to tear through levels at unbreakable speeds and actually feel like you were an uncontrollable blue blur.
In the end Sonic 4: Episode 1 is a great addition to the franchise as it returns back to Sonic’s golden years of 2D platforming. There are more than enough homages to old stages that everything feels familiar, but new twists create that spice that gives the game its own life. Unfortunately the game is able to be beaten in one sitting, and the physics change could have old fans upset. This though doesn’t take away from the feeling that Sonic 4 does deliver on the promise of bringing classic Sonic back into the limelight.