Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

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Time and time again, Sega has tried to make the Blue Dude with ‘Tude a star in 3D, and time and time again the results have been disappointing, to say the least. Which brings us to Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, the first phase in Sega’s downloadable 2D franchise reboot akin to what Capcom did with Mega Man 9 and 10.

Everything about Sonic 4 screams vintage 2D Sonic. Sonic spin dashes across the screen with the same gusto as always, pinging off of springs, vaulting into the air, twisting around spiral and curlicue ramps, avoiding spikes and other traps, and, of course, collecting rings and rescuing captured animal friends from the clutches of that dastardly Dr. Eggman. Borrowing from his 3D adventures, Sonic also has his homing attack available to him for two-dimensional aerial chain attacks, which is a welcomed modern touch to an otherwise true-to-its-roots game.

The HD-ified 2D graphics really pop too. Sonic 4 is bursting with crisp, vibrant colors and detailed foregrounds and backgrounds, and the art direction, although nothing particularly new or exciting, maintains the classical integrity of its forebears. Sega also repurposed retro musical themes and sounds to great effect, packing a wallop of nostalgia with a delightfully retro score and familiar ring chimes, dash revs, and spring “boings.”

Yet something about the game just feels…off. Sonic’s physics are a tad too floaty, the camera position seems to have zoomed in a tad too close, and the blistering sense of Sonic speed just isn’t there. To compare, I pulled out my PS3 copy of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection to play the original Genesis trilogy, and sure enough I could immediately notice a difference. There is something about those classic titles that just feels tighter and faster than Sonic 4.

The level designs and boss battles leave a lot to be desired as well. Stylistically, there are no surprises to be seen. There’s a casino level, an underground labyrinth level, an industrial factory level filled with gears and conveyor belts, and the usual ode to the original Green Hill Zone (this time called Splash Hill). Each of the four zones consists of three stages and a boss finale (plus secret stages with Chaos Emeralds to find), and these bouts against Eggman are basically rehashes from encounters in previous games. Worse than that, the levels really aren’t designed to accentuate Sonic’s brand of speed platforming. Too often obstacles and puzzles force you to stop and take the slow-and-steady approach — and that’s when Sonic is at his worst.

What’s most disappointing about Sonic 4 is that, despite the return to 2D, it really doesn’t distinguish itself enough from past titles to deserve the title Sonic 4. To me, the game felt like nothing more than a hedgehog hodgepodge, pulling bits and pieces of old adventures and reassembling them in the guise of a “new” game with HD graphics…running on a gameplay engine that’s not as fast or exciting as the 2D Sonic classics it is attempting to emulate and extend.

Sonic 4 is a decent enough platformer overall, but I’m sorry, “decent enough” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Sadly, this is NOT the 2D Sonic revival we’ve been waiting for.

And so the wait for Sonic’s return to glory carries on…

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Pros:
+ Sharp, colorful graphics
+ Nostalgic tunes and sound effects
+ Sonic in 2D is still better than Sonic in 3D

Cons:
– Controls and camera feel slightly off
– Lacks speed
– Dull, recycled levels and bosses

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN, also available on iPhone, WiiWare and XBLA
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Dimps
Release Date: iPhone: 10/7/2010; WiiWare: 10/11/2010; PSN: 10/12/2010; XBLA: 10/13/2010
Genre: 2D Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1 (w/ online leaderboards)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!