It's been 16 years since the Sonic's last 2D adventure on the Sega Genesis. Many games have followed starring our favorite blue hedgehog, but after the jump to 3D there were fans who missed the gameplay of the original series. Fans wanted a return to Sonic's roots, and apparently the Sonic Advance and Rush series weren't enough. Now we have Sonic 4: Episode 1, an episodic game that claims to be the successor to one of the most cherished franchises the Genesis had to offer.
Does it live up to it's predecessors?
Once you get control of Sonic and start running through the first zone, you're bound to notice the blend of new and old. You still have features like the spin dash, rolling into a ball, and jumping on enemies, but now there's a new addition to Sonic's arsenal. He has the homing attack, which locks-on to enemies while you're in mid-air and, with another press of the jump button, homes in on them. At first I wasn't too thrilled about this, but as I played the game, I could see that Dimps and Sonic Team tried hard to make the homing attack feel right in a 2D Sonic game. But even though it feels like a natural gameplay mechanic, it definitely could use some polish. Also, I worry they tried a little too hard incorporate the homing attack into the game.
Let me explain. When Sonic runs up a slope and into the air, he always goes into what I like to call the "whoa!" state (just because of the pose he makes). That would be perfectly fine if it wasn't for the fact that this also happens if he spin dashes up the slope. Yes, he actually uncurls. So if you happen to bump into an enemy on the way down, unless you homing attack it, you're going to get hit hard. My other gripe is that if you run and jump with Sonic, and for whatever reason let go of the direction you're moving, he will come to a complete halt and drop. This definitely feels weird and will take some getting used to if you grew up on the Sonic games of old. It also was the cause of my death quite a few times.
And speaking of dangerous, the game is actually fairly challenging the first time through. There are plenty of traps and deaths you won't see coming, and while there were a few times I got mad, it wasn't that I felt the game was unfair, it was more like when a friend gets you with a clever trick.
Now I have to admit, as much as I love 2D sprite based graphics, Sonic 4 does a very good job at impressing with the visuals. While there have been quite a few games that take on the 2.5D approach and fail to deliver in the graphics department, I think Sonic 4 managed to get it right. And if you've played the old games I'm sure you'll recognize quite a few things as you take in the scenery. This game pays plenty of homage to the previous games, mostly to Sonic 1 & 2. A lot of acts use many of the themes, gimmicks, and enemies from those games. Splash Hill is going to remind you of Green Hill Zone, Casino Street has plenty of Casino Night references...basically every stage has a little something from the previous games.
And that includes bosses. Every boss is from either Sonic 1 or 2, with a few extra moves and surprises for each. Even the special stages are a tribute to Sonic 1 but with a twist (literally). It's great to give us some nostalgia, but at the same time you can't solely rely on it to carry a whole game. Thankfully, even though the game is nostalgia heavy, it does plenty of things to keep it fresh. And while I'm sure there will be some new things people may feel are a little too different (I'm looking at you Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 2!) I think that all Zones were done quite well. I've actually played through each stage at least 2 times, and actually a few almost ten. The levels have plenty of different paths and short cuts to find, which makes replaying them and trying to beat your previous time pretty fun.
We also have an entirely new soundtrack on our hands. There are plenty of mixed views on the music, but I have to say, there are some really catchy songs in this game. Not every song is great mind you, some like the Casino Street Zone's are quite forgettable, but there's still some good stuff in store. Some of my favorites are Splash Hill Zone Act 3, Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 1 and Mad Gear Zone Act 2. You might not like all of it at first, but strangely enough you may eventually find yourself humming the theme of several tracks.
Overall, I have to say Sonic 4 was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. It doesn't feel exactly like the old games, and I'm okay with that. For Sonic Team's and Dimp's first try it was close enough. The game was challenging and actually felt like Sonic finally did go back to his roots, focusing on both speed and platforming. And the mixture of old and new elements made for a very well rounded experience. With 4 Zones containing 3 Acts and a boss each, as well as seven special stages, the game has a good amount to offer. To be honest, I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming in future episodes (the teaser after beating the game with all emeralds does show you one thing). Despite it's flaws, I had a lot of fun playing it, and it's been awhile since I've been able to say that with a Sonic game.
- 8.0 read