Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Developer: Dimps, Sonic Team
Platform: PSN, XBLA, WiiWare
As with pretty much every Sonic game nowadays, the main thought that crosses everyone’s mind when thinking about Sonic 4 is „does it suck?” Well, does it?
In short, no. Sonic 4 is actually not bad. But to elaborate further, it’s not exactly a masterpiece either. In fact, far from it. It’s a very odd situation, for one thing, Sonic 4 has a lot of what made the Genesis/MegaDrive Sonic games good, plus some new things. However, on the other hand, it still suffers from the same flaws those games did and a couple of new problems that arise with the new homing attack.
The basics are simple, as usual for a 2D Sonic game. You run from left to right through the stages, avoiding obstacles and have the usual 10 minute time limit to do so. You still collect rings, you still have lives and you still have the classic special stages if you reach the end of the level with at least 50 rings and jump into a giant ring. Nothing special at all, but that’s how we like it. The only exceptions are some timed jumping puzzles, which honestly not do much good, they just slow down the fast pace of the game. Other than that, we got the homing attack from the 3D Sonic games, and it adds something new and fresh to the formula. The only problem, is that when there are no enemies, it works as a rebound-like move, used to gain a little bit of extra distance for your jump. Sonic does this while in the air, and if the game detects your not standing on anything, Sonic uses this move. This can be very annoying, when you try to jump off a platform right at its edge, but the game detects it as you already being in the air and uses the rebound. This causes many frustrations throughout platforming.
Going back to form was a nice thing for Sonic 4, but honestly it’s just not that impressive. We get some nice new features, like the Mega Man-esque stage selection and the homing attack, but not much else. It’s basically just Sonic again, and what’s more it doesn’t even have some of the nice features that even Sonic 2 had, like the competitive two player mode. Also, no other characters make an appearance either. I understand that the fans don’t want to see a lot of new characters, but what Sonic Team doesn’t realize, is that the characters are not what made games such as Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 bad – it was the gameplay. Heck, Shadow is one of the most hated characters among the fans, and even he was considered cool by many until Shadow the Hedgehog came out. In other words, as much as I dislike some characters as well because of their bad characterization in said awful Sonic games, I really wouldn’t mind playing as other Sonic characters from the series. It could even add extra dimensions to the gameplay: remember how Knuckles could climb walls and glide? Playing as Knuckles in Sonic 3 & Knuckles really added a whole new level of exploration.
Anyone playing should be prepared for some frustration along the way. Although the game is generally easy, in the sense that gathering lives and rings is really not as difficult as in previous games, the levels themselves still have a lot of „artificial difficulty” as we like to call it. There are a lot of trial-and-error parts with unpredictable bottomless pits to watch out for, most of which you’ll probably fall victim to at least once. Also, some bosses are just plain unfair. Eggman in the Lost Labyrinth zone is one of those, he just uses instant kill attacks over and over again, and you need to be incredible careful and precise to defeat him. I never thought I’d ever see the day when a Sonic game would go as far as to design a boss that just smashes the walls on you repeatedly and instantly kills you, but it’s here.
The Final Word
In the end, Sonic 4 is what it promises to be. It is the standard, fun 2D Sonic that we’ve come to expect from the series. If you like Sonic, you can safely give this game a try, but if you’re expecting something new, you’ll be disappointed. Newcomers can give it a go as well, although to be honest, you won’t be missing much if you don’t play this. Also be prepared to be frustrated quite a bit, though older gamers who grew up on the Genesis/MegaDrive games will probably feel right at home with the difficulty.
– MonsterVine Rating: 3 out of 5 – Average