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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3 DEVELOPER: Dimps/Sonic Team PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 12, 2010 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Episode I is never as good as the ones before it.

Well, someone thought this was a good idea.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 tries its darndest to bubble up nostalgia among classic gamers from the Sega Genesis days while still reeling in a new audience. Levels are in 2D and are as gargantuan as in the 16-bit era, perhaps even larger. Meanwhile, the environments and characters are rendered using 3D models, although many of them are still seen only in profile view. They even brought in Jun Senoue, composer for most of the Sonic games since Sonic the Hedgehog 3, to compose a soundtrack featuring retro sounds, including the same drum tracks that featured in early Sonic games. The presentation is fresh overall, though Sonic has a really big head.

Sonic 4 adds one new element to the already-established formula: he now has a homing dash. If you're in the air and you see a red cursor appear over something, you can simply hit your jump button and smash right into it. Some elements of level design actually require you to home in on enemies and bounce off them to reach platforms... or else you will DIE! Having this ability also makes boss battles a bit easier because you can just leap and slam right into them when the reticle appears.

Chaos emeralds also make a return. If you possess 50 rings and arrive at the end of the stage, you'll be given the opportunity to enter a special stage and earn a Chaos Emerald. Modeled similarly to Sonic the Hedgehog, you have to maneuver through a fully-rotating maze, past breakable jewels and irritating bumpers. The only ways out are to grab the emerald, touch a red exclamation point block (in which case you earn nothing), or simply run out of time. The only difference here is that you don't control Sonic himself this time; you are the one rotating the maze, so it plays like that old wooden Labyrinth game with the little metal ball. They are annoying as heck and will require many, MANY tries (and a few slipped expletives) to complete all seven. Doing so will unlock Super Sonic mode, achievable when you acquire 50 rings in any stage, making you turn yellow and invincible. That IS handy, admittedly, but it's a lot of work to get it when you could just, you know, finish the game.

Earning all seven emeralds also adds a little bit to the game's ending. Nothing spectacular, mind you... but a little something for the fans.

It is required that one must move with expedient exuberance.

Sonic does not feel the same as he did in his fine trilogy on the Sega Genesis. (No, Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast, you are two different beasts altogether.) He feels heavier, as if he had taken a long vacation filled with sloth and a wheelbarrow filled with enchiladas. As a result, he has less momentum and requires a slightly longer start to get moving; this is definitely noticeable if you've played the older titles. Even when he is chuffing along at a solid pace, he still is lacking that blast processing to get him going at top speed. Gotta go fast? Gotta go...sometime, when the mood strikes.

You'll also be revisiting locations of old games. Oh, they could've tried to come up with new ideas for environments, oh yes, but instead they went with four we've definitely seen before: Green Hill ZoneSplash Hill Zone, Casino Night ZoneCasino Street Zone, Labyrinth ZoneLost Labyrinth Zone, and Metropolis ZoneMad Gear Zone. I've been here before! Did they run out of ideas before they started? Admittedly, Sonic 4 also adds a few puzzle elements to the mix, but they often feel like more of a hindrance than a welcome addition. In particular, the torch-lighting and cannon-blasting puzzles don't so much qualify as "fun" as they do "time munchers". I have a time limit for each level; I can't waste eight minutes on a silly puzzle that slows Sonic to a crawl, the antithesis of what Sonic stands for!

Beyond this, the game is short and not that difficult. Upon arrival at the final stage, I had 125 lives in my bank. This can be attributed to having a world hub where you can enter and re-enter stages at your leisure, as well as retry any stage (including the special stages) from scratch by simply selecting Retry from the pause menu. Coupled with an autosave feature and the fact that there are only four zones in the game plus one final stage, it shouldn't take long to finish this game. Only the final boss provided a significant challenge.

My only other issue is that Episode I hardly feels episodic. If there was an actual story in it, that would be different, but no, it's just Sonic chasing after Dr. Eggman again while rescuing animals trapped inside robots. The Eggman is just revisiting old territory (though he changed his name from Dr. Robotnik just to fool the taxman), emphasizing that, if at first you don't succeed, try the same thing again hoping for different results.

I don't know whether to like the game or not. The final boss didn't make me love it, especially given his cheap, cheap final move. The title says "Sonic the Hedgehog 4", but it feels like when you think you're buying a brand new album by your favourite band, only to arrive home and realize it's mostly a Greatest Hits collection with just a few new songs. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination — in fact, there are plenty of fun moments to be found within. But it's missing something... inspiration, daring to do something different or special. It's a pretty standard Sonic platformer, made easier by a homing attack and, conversely, more difficult by having weights in his pockets. It's a decent game, but not one I'd recommend over the Genesis trilogy.

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