Title: Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1
System: *Wii, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, iPhone, iPod Touch
Release Date: October 13, 2010
Publisher (Developer): Sega (Sonic Team)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone” for comic mischief.
Pros: Fantastic platform gaming, great graphics, nostalgic fun doesn’t feel dated.
Cons: Short, needlessly difficult sections kill momentum, some sections seem to force you through them.
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb sideways; 86/100; B; ***1/2 out of 5
Here’s my Sonic story. In the early ’90s, a friend and I moved from Ohio to New York City. We rented an apartment we couldn’t afford, surviving on $2.00 suppers ($1.00 hot dog, $0.25 banana, $0.75 Sprite from the corner vendor). We had no furniture. We had no beds. But the moment we could afford it, we bought a TV and a Sega Genesis, because that’s what you did when you were young, poor and misguided.
And so, in the “city that never sleeps,” we spent our nights awake in front the TV that was propped up on a milk crate, developing future back problems as we tried to beat Dr. Robotnik or Eggman or whatever and collect all those Chaos Emeralds.
Now, here we are again. The food’s better, the furniture’s better, the company’s better (sorry, Bryan) but is the game? Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1 is pretty much just a modern spin on the original but, by going back to the basics, Sega has delivered the best Sonic game of this generation of consoles.
Giving It Another Spin
The story’s the same. Briefly, this Dr. Eggman fellow has captured all the cute, furry animals and turned them into dangerous, robotic creatures that want to steal your rings. As you chase Eggman through four zones, you’ll free the animals and battle the doctor at the end of each. The levels aren’t full recreations from the original; they’re close enough to feel familiar, but the old strategies and moves don’t apply.
For instance, there’s now a lock-on targeting system. With this, you can hit the action button to automatically pop over to the nearest target, be it a bumper, enemy, etc. This makes some of the more frantic moments easier to navigate, as you don’t need to be as precise when airborne. There are also certain points where you have to use it to progress, so practice early.
Beyond that, gameplay is largely the same, with Sonic spinning, jumping and running through the zones at an often ridiculous speed. In fact, in certain instances, the speed is too ridiculous. My memories of those New York gaming sessions have become vague, but I don’t recall moments in the original Sonic the Hedgehog where I felt I was being forced through the game. Here, it often seems I was. Did I miss a secret or four? Possibly, but the game was moving much to fast to even guess, and I couldn’t always find a way back to check.
I also think it was a weird decision to remove gravity in some instances. It used to be that Sonic couldn’t run up a hill if he didn’t have enough speed behind him. Here, he usually can. It kind of defeats the purpose of all those hills and ramps but it’s not a big deal. If anything, it makes the game a bit easier.
Familiar in an Unfamiliar Way
Visually, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is exactly what it should be. It’s a little dingier than the bright, clean Sega Genesis graphics, but it has much more texture and detail. So, although the gameplay and graphics throw back to styles that are nearly 20 years old, neither feel dated.
And that’s a simple tribute to Sega itself. When Sonic is done right, the games are simply a lot of fun to play. Finding the secret areas, pulling off amazing jumps and aerobatics (although you’re kind of helped along with that here), and collecting all those rings is a total blast and quite rewarding when you finally get it down, and there are plenty of those moments in Sonic 4.
However, there are also some frustrating moments. A couple sections throughout the zones are needlessly difficult, killing the game’s momentum. Also, the final boss battle is the kind of frustrating that makes you want to just give up and watch the ending video on YouTube so you can pack up the game and move on.
Also, with only four zones, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1 is too short to justify the $15 price tag. Oh, and there’s this really cool feature on the iPhone version in which the entire screen spins when Sonic is running through a loop. Here, Sonic just runs through the loop, and I missed that effect every time he did it.
Newstalgia (See What I Did There?)
Gamers new to Sonic may try this out and wonder what all the fuss is about. I’m not sure this is for them, even though it’s more enjoyable than the other recent Sonic incarnations we’ve seen. I can’t tell younger gamers whether they should start here or just go with the original Sonic games on the Virtual Console. But fans of the series won’t want to miss this. It’s both nostalgic and fresh, and will likely have you fondly recalling your own Sonic stories as you play.
Hopefully, they involve comfortable seating and a decent meal.