Sonic fans are in 4 a treat.
The gaming world first learned of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 back in September of 2009, under the code name “Project Needlemouse”. Sega declared a return to the franchise’s 2D roots, promising the Sonic game old-school fans have been anxiously awaiting for years. Well, there’s no doubt that if you spent the better part of your Saturday mornings as a child dashing through shuttle loops, this is definitely the Sonic game for you.
Sonic 4 picks up where the blue blur left off 16 years ago in Sonic & Knuckles, for the Sega Genesis. Dr. Eggman (or Robotnik, if you prefer) is up to his old tricks, and it’s up to none other than the fastest thing alive, Sonic the Hedgehog, to stop him; chasing the evil scientist through 4 zones (3 acts each, plus a boss battle) before a final showdown against the doctor’s ultimate creation…
The gameplay will feel instantly familiar to anybody who’s picked up a 2D Sonic game before. There are some noticeable differences though, but none that take very long to get used to. For one thing, after performing a Spin Dash and jumping, Sonic will just sort of stop in mid-air–you’ll have to hold ’forward’ to maintain his momentum. It’s weird, but gives you more control, ultimately. There are other subtle differences but I’ll leave it for you to discover. It’s nothing game-breaking anyway, it just feels different, you know? To help our spikey blue friend along, players will utilize such signature Sonic abilities as the aforementioned Spin Dash, as well as the Homing Attack from the Adventure titles–which can be used to target enemies, monitors, springs, and other objects. It might seem like a strange addition, but it adds for some great platforming throughout the game, such as allowing you to navigate hidden ”paths” through the air by homing in on multiple enemies in a row. And using it while not targeting something gives you an instant speed boost, making it an essential tool for clearing acts as fast as possible.
Sonic will encounter familiar Badniks during his adventure. Zones are direct inspirations of those found in the first two Sonic titles, with enough added elements to keep the game feeling fresh throughout. For example, in one act of the Lost Labyrinth Zone, Sonic, carrying a torch, must navigate his way through the dark, lighting dynamite to destroy multiple obstructions. In one act of Casino Street Zone, speeding past giant playing cards and matching three of the same symbol will give the player extra rings or lives. Levels are designed incredibly well, containing lots of detail, bright colours, multiple paths, and, most importantly, speed. Players will make use of many recognizable items in each act, including the Speed Shoes, shield, and invincibility. At the end of each zone, Sonic will face a boss. Inspired by past creations, Eggman’s “new” machines will behave differently than previous models after taking enough damage (and you thought that disco ball couldn’t get any deadlier).
Also making a return are the seven Chaos Emeralds, which, as you can imagine, are earned by completing a corresponding special stage. Players gain access to these special stages by jumping into a giant ring at the end of an act, which will only be present if they successfully maintain a minimum of 50 rings by the time they reach the goal. The special stages are reminiscent of those found in the original Sonic the Hedgehog. This time however, instead of guiding Sonic through a rotating maze in search of a Chaos Emerald, it’s up to the player to rotate the stage themselves as Sonic free-falls throughout. Players who successfully collect every emerald and beat the final boss will be treated to the game’s true ending. You won’t have to do this all in one sitting by the way, as the game features a save file much like that of Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
If it wasn’t clear already, this game oozes nostalgia. You only need to listen to the game to be transported back to the good ol’ days of ring collecting. The sound effects are taken directly from the original games, and the music, though new, retains that familiar, old-school Sonic the Hedgehog feel. The game even opens with the famous “SEGAAA!” as Sonic whizzes back and forth across the screen, revealing the company’s logo. You know right from the start that you’re about to get a major blast from the past.
Short but sweet, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is definitely worthy of that number. It’s an absolute blast to play and even a little challenging in some respects–particularly the bonus stages. It’s nothing you’ll be stuck on for very long, mind you, but the level of challenge is appreciable, for sure. Really, the true challenge is in completing a level as fast as you can, and Sonic 4 encourages players to try via online leaderboards where you can pit your fastest times against players from around the world. Just switch the game to Time Attack mode and give it all you’ve got. Minor issues aside (like, where was the sound test mode, for example? Those rocked!), it doesn’t get much better than this. I already can’t wait for Episode 2–and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.
Welcome back, Sonic.