“The game fans have been waiting 16 years for is finally here!” Sonic the Hedgehog is back in full 2D glory, with the exception of Sonic himself being 3D and in High Definition in 2010.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 begins where we left Sonic in 1994 before he ventured into the world of 3D on the Saturn and Dreamcast, and the non-Sega system realms of the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, PS3, 360, and Wii. After enjoying little success of being in 3D, fans of Sonic cried out for something new. With the death of 16-bit, there was no going back to the original 2D world to stop the evil plans of the villain formerly known as Dr. Robotnik, Eggman. But Sega listened: Episode 1 of Sonic 4 is the beginning of a new Sonic the Hedgehog for the next generation of gamers.
Upon starting Sonic 4 for the first time, you are greeted by the famous “Seeeeeee-gaaaaaaaa~” jingle from the Genesis/Mega Drive days that takes you back to when gaming didn’t have lengthly cutscenes. Sonic pops out of his logo, and a “Press Start” message appears. Instead of starting the game right away in Sonic 1, but like in Sonic 3, you can start a “New Game”, “Continue”… or view the World Leaderboards and a Help area on how to control the game. But if you’re a Sonic fan, you don’t need to know all that… for now… and the fact you just need 2 buttons to control Sonic.
Selecting “New Game”, the game does start right away… on Splash Hill Zone: Act 1. The level is reminiscent of both Green Hill Zone in the first Sonic game, and Palmtree Panic from Sonic CD, but it’s a close recreation of Palmtree Panic, in my opinion. ^_^
In Sonic 1, there were 7 zones, with 3 acts and a boss waiting at the end of the 3rd stage. The future Sonic releases would have a set of zones with just 1 or 2 acts. But in Sonic 4, there are 4 zones with each containing 4 acts: three main acts and the fourth a boss stage. That’s a bit short, but just perfect for a game that’s trying to win back fans after straying away from the original.
At this point, it seems that Sonic Team is running out of ideas for stages, but for Episode 1, the stages are updates of some sort, especially the boss stages, including one which is indeed from the first Sonic (not to be mentioned due to spoilers). Then there is the Special Stages, in which all 7 stages are updates from Sonic 1 (the annoying stages with a kaleidoscope-like background), for collecting Chaos Emeralds for Super Saiya — err, Sonic.
Compared to the old Sonic games, he moves a lot faster than before, but it depends on how you think about it: like if the stage was the older stages and it would be finished in 40 seconds. It’s all thanks to the Homing ability, [which is frowned upon], but it helps when you get from Point A to Point B and gets rid of enemies in the way.
(And as for the fans who like glitching their games on purpose to discover levels that were unfinished due to time constraints with Debug Mode, you’re out of luck. You won’t find that in Sonic 4.)
Pushing Sonic through the stage is a bit tiring as he is not as loose as he was 16 years ago. If there is a problem that comes from the thoughts of other game reviewers, it’s the physics. Originally, Sonic begins running as soon as the button is pressed, but he takes a while to get moving. In today’s world of analog sticks, you can control Sonic using them, but hardcore players may feel comfortable using the directional pad. Though I am too attached with the analog stick myself, I eventually switched to the D-pad towards finishing the game. With the physics the way they are, the stick made moving Sonic a little “drunk”.
While we’re on the subject of Sonic showing signs of aging: he may need a pair of (High Definition) glasses as the camera angles suffer a bit on a Standard (Definition) prescription (S: Yes, I’m a bit behind on the times). It appears that the screen fits perfectly on SDTVs with the ring counter, timer, and lives counter nicely centered, but it’s actually A LOT wider on HDTVs. If you plan on blazing through the stages (on a SDTV) and you are already prepared for the enemy awaiting at the other end of the jump for your rings, be very careful…
Other than the screen limitations, the character designs are an improvement from the Adventure series. Sonic and Eggman are modernized… again: Sonic is being himself instead of having a late 1990s/early 2000s “I don’t care! I can do what I want!” mentality, and Eggman is naturally sinister than forced to be evil. The zone designs are nicely rendered and they stay true to the original zone designs from the Genesis. Some stage elements are taken from the Sonic Advance games, although not much has changed. The bad thing about the graphics is that it’s simply not the same as it was 20 years ago in 16-bit.
It’s not a Sonic game without the sound effects! All the sound effects, from grabbing rings, losing rings, checkpoint posts, popping open boxes, and 1 UPs are still there, and they do not sound different one bit… other than the fact it’s was cleaned up for stereo sound. The music, despite the lack of a true 16-bit audio processor, it’s is still worthy of being played over, and over, and over again in a playlist with other Sonic music. The music is composed by Jun Senoue, who is known for composing the Sonic Adventure series soundtrack, and his band, Crush 40.
Remember the vocal track, “Escape from the City”, from Sonic Adventure 2? That’s Crush 40, with Ted Poley on the vocals. Rock is not just Senoue’s specialty, in fact, he did a few tracks in Sonic 3, despite rumors (?) of Michael Jackson doing the soundtrack.
Episode 1 of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is the first step of what’s to come in the 21st Century 2D Sonic project. There are a few changes from Sonic 3 for the Genesis, for one: the lack of his friends, like Miles “Tails” Prower and his rival, Knuckles the Echidna. It’s just Sonic and Eggman. Secondly, there is no fat Sonic of the early 1990s.
Despite the hate for Sonic the Hedgehog 4, there is one fan who appreciates the true return of Sonic more than the rest. The problem with Sonic 4 with some is that it’s too short. That is true… but I think it’s due to the fact that modern games now a days are too long, whereas the old Sonic games were short to begin with, so to speak. And the price of $14.99 is “too high” just for 4 zones, which is not bad at all, really: although, if it were $20, then I wouldn’t be writing this review so soon.
The game is just as addicting if it were on a Sega console (Oh, Sega, why did you have to leave the console business so soon?), or any Sega game for that matter. With Achievements and Trophies, it’s an excuse to play the game a lot longer, especially if you find yourself having trouble on a boss and you rake up just enough lives replaying the previous stages until Episode 2 arrives… if it does.
Score: 5 out of 5