Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode One Review

Posted on October 17, 2010 by

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Here we have a character, once a mighty company mascot rivalling Mario himself, brought low by disgrace after disgrace. A once-famous, respected and loved character, nearly destroyed by poor design choices, inane sequels, annoying supporting characters and a supposed reboot that nearly caused the universe to implode. I am of course, talking about the dude with the ‘tude, Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic’s career, and epic fall from grace, could be best summed up by comparing him to a world-record breaking athlete, who got too old, and tried, and started experimenting with things he shouldn’t have. The people shunned him for his behaviour, and while he made some small successes here and there, it took him nearly a decade to get back on track, returning to his basic roots. And now we have to wonder, with all these exciting young, new athletes on the block, is there really a place for this tired old star in our hearts?

Okay, enough with the metaphors, however appropriate they may be what with the commonwealth games going on in India at the moment. So, the big news is this: Sonic is back on your home console, and for once, he hasn’t brought his obnoxious friends, he hasn’t brought a stupid 3D interface with finicky camera controls, boring foes and, best of all, he hasn’t brought a bizarre, convoluted story along, either. This is Sonic, pure and simple. This is what we should have been playing for the last ten years. Sonic wasn’t broken, but Sega tried to fix him anyway, and then he was broken. So very, very broken.

But, let’s forget about how awful every Sonic game since Sonic CD has been, we’re here to talk about episode 1 of Sonic The Hedgehog 4. Has this pathetic, fettered creature done enough to earn back our love? We’ll see.

Sonic 4 picks up where Sonic 3 (& Knuckles) left off, Robotnik (Still, annoyingly referred to as Eggman, why the hell did they do that? Seriously? What’s the chuffing point?) survived Sonic’s destruction of the Death Egg, and is understandably pissed off. All he wants is a little world domination, and this annoying blue Hedgehog keeps blowing his stuff up and foiling his plans. Maybe he’s trying to enslave everyone for a reason? Has anyone ever asked Robotnik why he wants world domination so much? Maybe Daddy never loved him, maybe he got bullied at school. The man’s clearly a genius, wouldn’t it make more sense for a supposedly good person like Sonic to try making friends instead of just kicking his ass every time he shows up?

Eggman (Ugh) decides enough is enough, and sends everything he’s got after our valiant hero, who has decided to run off from his new friends Tails and Knuckles to be on his own for a bit, because there’s nothing more heroic than abandoning your friends to go for a jog while they clean up the mess of Eggman’s last attempt to kill everything fluffy. That’s basically the story of the game. See? Nice and simple, just like the old days. Eggman bad, Sonic good.

With that out of the way, lets take a look at the gameplay, and OH MY GOD, IT’S BACK TO NORMAL! Yes, after a decade of 3D, Reboots, Werehogs and, ugh, RPG’s, Sonic is finally in another Sonic game. For the better part of the last ten years, the only good sonic games were on handheld consoles, entirely because they retained the 2D side-scrolling perspective, well, at least until Sonic Rush Adventure, that was just weird. In Sonic 4, we’re back to the good old fashioned 2D side-on perspective, rendered in 3D, like in Sonic Rush or Sonic Rivals. All the old moves are there, spin dash, jump, roll… there were really only three moves back in the day, but now there’s a fourth one, and, as impossible as it may seem, it’s a welcome addition from the 3D games, the homing attack.

Playing Sonic 4, you can see that the homing attack is really all the series ever needed adding to it, and while it can be incensing that it took Sonic Team 10 years to work it out, almost all can be forgiven. It adds a level of depth and skill to the gameplay that always felt missing in the old games, because, for all their greatness, Sonic games have always basically consisted of holding down ‘left’ and occasionally hitting ‘jump’, while set pieces like loop-de-loops and spring-boards did all the real work. The homing attack changes all that, once you’re in the air, you can chain attacks, tricks and keep your momentum going even when attacking a mass of foes.

Momentum is one complaint I have about the game, though. A technical desicion in the Handheld Sonic games meant that, for whatever reason, when Sonic changed direction on the screen without stopping, you didn’t have to suddenly change the direction you were pressing to keep him going. In Sonic 4 when he changes direction without stopping, if you keep holding down the left button and he’s going right, he’ll screech to a halt. Which can be annoying when you’re running along a ceiling over a bottomless pit.

Graphically, it looks great, it’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s fast,  it’s everything Current-Gen (STOP. CALLING IT. NEXT. GEN.) isn’t, much like Scott Pilgrim, it’s brings some welcome colour back to our screens in a time where most video games prefer to stick to the ‘real=brown’ rule. The music is retro too, none of that Nickleback knock-off (imagine how bad you have to be to knock off bloody Nickleback ,too) Pop-Rock, here we’re back to the good old fashioned arcade music. With the lights off, it’s possible to imagine you’re back there in the arcade, and you get this wonderful warm feeling.

This game is all about Sonic, a return to what made him great, and I’m glad to see that, but I wonder where the developers will go from here. Will they now leave things more or less as they are, making minor tweaks to refine gameplay as more episodes come, or will they once again get cocky? Time will tell. What I would like to see, over the coming episodes, is a few other characters. I know the fans wanted Sonic and Sonic only, and Sega would have to be careful who they introduce, but I think Tails, Knuckles and and Metal Sonic as playable characters would add a lot to the gameplay, as well as allowing the multiplayer we had way back in 1995.

Sonic 4 proves that Sonic doesn’t need some stupid gimmick to be great, that sometimes playing things simple is the best way forward.

All in all, this is a great game, and for downloadable content, it’s pretty lengthy, in some ways it reminds of Scott Pilgrims back to basics retro feel, reminding me that just because games can be big and flashy, they don’t have to be in order to just be fun. And that’s what Sonic 4 is. Pure, undiluted fun. I implore you, if you’ve never played an old-school Sonic game before, to get this and give it a blast. You’ll see what you’ve been missing out on. And if you have played an old-school Sonic game? Get this anyway, it’ll be a welcome addition to your collection.

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Posted in: Games, Review