Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Following years of questionable outings in the 3D realm and having made something of a return to form in the Sonic Rush titles, the spiked spinner seems to have realised where his greatest strength lies. It’s in the 2D world of blast processing that our plucky hero made a name for himself all those years ago – most memorably in the fantastic Sonic 3 and Knuckles – and it is here that he seeks to reclaim his glory, courtesy of Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and WiiWare. Initially referred to as ‘Project Needlemouse’, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 looks to do away with those pesky sidekicks and return to a simpler time, but has the game been worth the wait or will it leave you feeling blue?
Right from the beginning things will seem familiar, largely due to the direction the development team Dimps has taken. The game has been unashamedly infused with a nostalgic feel, blatantly ripping from what came before; it might help cement the title as the authentic next instalment, but it also won’t win over the fans who feel the hasty hedgehog has stagnated over the years. You need only play the brief demo to know that Green Hill/Emerald Hill Zone is present and accounted for, albeit with a sparkling HD coating for added spectacle. It’s certainly impressive to look at, and yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that this first episode could have been so much more had it simply learned from the past then pushed forward.
Sonic 4 features four full stages – none of them especially original – each with three acts and then a boss fight. You can tackle them in any order but the difficulty ramps up greatly once you reach the fourth world. None of the acts are particularly harrowing, but then none of them are especially memorable either, occasionally featuring finicky moments (casino cannons and gear crushers, we’re looking at you!) and later on a few instant-death scenarios which are seemingly unavoidable on your first attempt. In many cases, Sonic 4 is all about timing and learning the route, pushing for a faster time and a higher completion score. With only four proper worlds, the game can be breezed through in a couple of hours, so it’s imperative that you’re into replaying for simple thrills should you be contemplating a purchase.
The homing attack has been added to Sonic’s repertoire and he’s even more capable for it. Rather than a needless addition, this attack has become a key aspect of the gameplay and is now the most efficient method with which to dispatch your robotic foes. It also makes for a speedier run, locking on to springs and zip-lines without fuss thanks to the extra precision. We applaud Dimps and Sonic Team for incorporating it so well; making it feel more natural than in previous attempts. There has been some criticism of the game’s physics system, with some players noting that the blue wonder tends to hang in the air for too long before dropping like a brick. This really didn’t seem an issue and it’s something that can easily be ignored. Sonic 4 is far from perfect, but let’s not nitpick here.
However, there is one criticism that the game has rightfully earned; the final boss is an utter slap in the face thanks to an instant-death move thrown in at the moment of your victory. It can take a long time and many attempts to learn the pattern and survive to the end of the fight anyway, plus you may well not survive Eggman’s last-ditch attack even when you know it’s coming thanks to Sonic’s position on the battlefield. We’re used to tough bosses in our games, but if it’s downright cheap like the exploding armadillo in Ninja Gaiden 2 (before you knew what to do) then it becomes a serious problem.
As always, Sonic’s complete inability to keep possession of the seven chaos emeralds means that each one will have to be reclaimed through a challenging special stage. In this case, you have homage to Sonic 1, only this time you’re controlling the level itself to guide the rolling hedgehog between bumpers while collecting rings to open the route as the timer counts down. Tokens are on hand to add some extra time, but there’s one trick everyone should be made aware of to alleviate the frustration; pressing Start – Replay before the timer hits zero will allow unlimited continues without penalty, unless you hit an exit bumper, which will hurl Sonic out and force you to replay an act to unlock the bonus stage all over again.
With a toe-tapping soundtrack, glitzy presentation and obvious accessibility, Sonic 4 Episode 1 has much to be proud of. Gamers who recall the early nineties and yearn for a simpler time when true 3d was restricted to bad sci-fi movies should lap this title up, but there’s definitely a sense that it could, or indeed should have been more. We don’t often reference the overall score here at D+PAD, but in this case Sonic misses out on a fourth star by a single blue hair, largely down to the lack of imagination applied to the worlds and that terrible end boss. We hope to see these issues remedied in Episode 2, however, in which case we’ll be happy to offer the speedy hedgehog our full support. Sega, it’s over to you…
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