Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 review
At least Sonic's getting back on his feet
Retro revivals are a dime a dozen - from New Super Mario Brothers, to Contra 4, to Mega Man 9 and even to Rocket Knight, if a series was on the NES, SNES or Sega Genesis, it's bound to be brought back to life. While I wait for Square-Enix to butcher the hell out of Actraiser, I decided to give Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 a shot. I'm not a big Sonic fan, having only gotten some real enjoyment out of his sidescrolling games (basically, if there's a Z-axis in a Sonic game, I probably didn't enjoy it), but what the hell, why not just give this a shot? It had many things that I liked in a Sonic game... so what the hell is going on here? After finishing, all I thought was "meh". Want to know why? Well, keep reading...
Story: After the destruction of the Death Egg, Sonic is taking a vacation, but - what's this, Eggman survived their last encounter? And he's going to bring on his old machines to stop the lovable hedgehog? That bastard! For the most part however, there isn't much else. Sadly, this is the best Sonic story I've experienced in years (up until Colors, anyway). It's very simple, but at least it doesn't fall into the same traps that other Sonic games tend to (which usually consists of every terrible writing cliche in the book, and I don't know where to start, so... look them up yourself). Meh.
Gameplay: If you haven't played a Sonic game, then you're either a little kid, or you've been living under a rock for the past 20 years. Basically, what you have to do is go from left to right. That might sound like a typical platformer, but here's the catch - Sonic is faster than your typical platforming hero (ie. Mario). Instead of mushrooms and coins, Sonic collects rings to both keep himself alive (somehow, having even one ring keeps him alive, but if he has zero and gets hit by an enemy, he's dead) and as something to get a hundred of to get a free life. Just about everything from the 16-bit days are here - the only things that are missing are the different shields from Sonic 3, but that's no huge deal, and I suppose to make up for it, Dimps inserted the homing attack (fun fact - this was originally going to be in Sonic 3, but Sonic Team ditched it somewhere along the line), which can help with platforming, provided that you know that there's some land up ahead, and/or there are targetable enemies that you can use as stepping stones.
The first two zones - Splash Hill and Casino, to be exact - are actually fun. If you've played through the Genesis Sonic games, you'll feel right at home with these stages. With some exceptions where jumping and pinballing will be necessary, you can blaze through these stages without too much stopping you. Sure, there's the occasional Badnik and chasm, but then there are loop-de-loops to go through, and Eggman's machines are fun to dispose of. Oh sure, they fight mostly like their classic counterparts, but somehow, it feels refreshing, destroying these machines all over again. I guess it could be due to the addition of the homing attack, or maybe it's just that they're in 3D instead of 2D - whatever the case, it's always fun to foil the bad guy time and time again.
Unfortunately, that's all that could be considered fun or good. Sonic 4 is actually pretty frustrating to play through. You won't see it at first because the game has a solid start, but then you hit the third zone, which is set in the caves. Here, Dimps decided to sneak in some puzzles, and rather than being a barrel of laughs, the puzzles - especially the torch puzzle in the second act - suck. They wreck the pacing and require a lot of trial and error before you can proceed. Thankfully, there aren't a whole lot of them, but the fact that there's even a handful that are set out the way they are just pisses me off. Oh, and this same zone has a *bleep*ing underwater stage, which slows Sonic down to the speed of a snail, and forces him to find air bubbles to keep himself alive. All I know is that it wasn't all that great in the Genesis games, and it sure as hell isn't here. It just wrecks the pacing even more by slowing you down and, overall, just frustrate the hell out of you if you're not able to find air bubbles - not that it's hard to find them, but seriously... you're telling me he still can't swim? Come on man, swimming can't be that hard!
Then you have the special stages. Get fifty rings, and you'll be given access to something that's been ripped right out of the first Sonic game... already, I'm not liking this because it was the most frustrating special stage to get through - seriously, why not model them after Sonic CD's 'kill the flying robots' stages, Sonic 2's 'run through a long tube' stages or Sonic 3's 'collect blue balls that turn into rings after a few seconds' stages? No, let's model this after the first and crappiest concept, which is basically Sonic going through a maze while curled up. To make things more "fun", you don't actually control Sonic himself - you control the MAZE! Yeah, it's as fun as it sounds, especially as you're about to collect the last couple of Chaos Emeralds... I'd like to speak for everyone when I say that I was relieved when I finally got that last Chaos Emerald...
Finally, this game felt too short. I don't know why an episodic format was chosen... oh wait, to make a lot of money out of every episode, of course - anyway, as you know, there are three acts in each zone, and we have a grand total of... four zones, meaning you'll be going through twelve stages. Now, let's consider the difficulty - up until the last zone (which just has a couple of challenging parts including the multi-phased boss), this is a pretty easy game to get through. The second zone practically handed you enough free lives to make you wonder why there are lives in the first place, because "game over" isn't something you'll be seeing unless you die on purpose. What sucks hardcore is when the game ends, giving you a feeling of "that's it? Seriously? I've been waiting 15+ years for this?". I suppose if they wanted you wanting more, they did a fantastic job - oh no, not because of quality, but more because it just felt half finished, that's all. It's as if they rushed this out just to make a quick few bucks, which is what they probably achieved within the first week... dicks.
Controls: The controls are laid out finely, with the stick or d-pad moving you, and the A button jumping and doing the homing attack. Simple and easy to implant into your mind. The only problem is Sonic's momentum - it's not that it takes him a while to get to top speed, but it's that you'll need to stop and start a fair few times throughout the game, and after a while, it just starts to get *bleep*ing annoying, and by the end of the game, you'll start wishing that you were playing one of the 16-bit games - Genesis or GBA, who cares, as long as it feels right, am I right?
Graphics: If there's something that remains consistent, it's the production value. For instance, the game always manages to look awesome. Each of the backgrounds, foreground objects and characters are crispy in detail and are fairly colorful, almost cartoon-like, which goes well with the fact that Sonic is a bipedal hedgehog who can run really fast (which isn't the case in real life). It definitely captures the charm of the original games without making it seem dated.. The only complaint I have here is that the camera is zoomed in a little too closely. I suppose SOMETHING has to get you killed, doesn't it...?
Audio: Although the soundtrack is also consistent, it's not that good. The tracks are inspired by the Genesis games, but.. I don't know, it never really sticks. There's something that each track is missing to keep it in your mind, like maybe a catchy beat, or a nice hook, or anything. It's definitely got the ambience down, making you feel like a fast hedgehog and whatnot, and it also sounds pretty good, but at the same time, it never sticks in your head, making it feel disappointing. On a lighter note, the sound effects will definitely take you back to the past, as they're ripped right out of the Genesis games...
Replay Value: Unfortunately, not much keeps you coming back. I guess you could get some of the achievements that you missed or get the Chaos Emeralds you didn't get so you can transform into Super Sonic, but that's about it. "oh oh what about leaderboards" - yeah, right, like you could be "00.00.00" - come on, I dare you!
Overall: Sheesh, I was complaining more than I thought I would, but at the end of the day, Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 just isn't that good. Detractors of reviews like this would say "oh give it a rest it was fun", but I can't have fun when the game is either frustrating to play through for the wrong reasons, or it's just plain letting me win. Add on some sluggish controls and an abrupt ending, and you know you're getting screwed. To be fair, the gameplay is competent enough, and the first two zones are fun to play through. On top of that, the graphics are colorful and the audio sounds nice, but when you take the negative aspects into account, what you got for fifteen bucks is a mediocre game. Dimps, I've seen you do much better - look at the Sonic games on the GBA and DS. Then again, it could've been worse... it could've been like Sonic 06, and we all know how bad that game was...
Replay Value: 3/10
About the author