Once a mascot leading the ship of SEGA into the port of (somewhat) success, the blue blur certainly has seen better days. But the most recent success Sonic has had relied on his old rival Mario in order to get anywhere, and time and time again fans have gotten excited only to be let down by games that have diluted what Sonic games were meant to be.
At this point, I think it is fair to say many gamers have given up on Sonic ever returning to his glory days. And I, too, had all but thrown in the towel after the grotesque and hideous abomination that was “Sonic Unleashed.” And then came “Sonic 4.”
Like the big success that was “New Super Mario Brothers Wii,” SEGA decided to return to what made Sonic awesome and give fans a sequel that brings back all the greatest aspects of Sonic from the days when SEGA still made consoles.
But does “Sonic 4” manage to recapture or reinvent the spinning and spiky blur of a wheel that is Sonic the Hedgehog?
Well, somewhat. At the very least, it is the most promising positive step in the series since the Chao Gardens and introduction of Shadow in “Sonic Adventure 2.”
The good thing — and the hardest to nail with throwback games — is both the style and the atmosphere. From the opening SEGA jingle upon starting the game, I felt like I was 10 years old again, and all the jagged memories of bad Sonic games were swept from my mind as I remembered the glory days of the cool (and not turning into a werewolf) Sonic.
Even the graphic design manages to look both dated and good at the same time, giving that old-school Genesis look some modern-looking flash and style.
Level wise, there’s a lot of good platforming here. SEGA played to Sonic’s strengths, with levels that blaze by while still providing moments for the player to act. Sonic games have really always been about speed, and there is no lack of that here.
Most interesting is the inclusion of several levels that manage to go a little outside of Sonic’s comfort zone, including my personal favorite level that has Sonic riding around on magic cards, and an Indiana Jones-esque level where Sonic must carry a torch to light his way the whole time.
However, while a few of the levels do stretch Sonic, most of the game’s levels are just standard fare. True, bad things happen when SEGA changes Sonic too much, but there just wasn’t the abundance of ideas here that it would have been nice to see.
Of course, it is important to remember that this is only “Episode 1.” But SEGA needs to remember that even in making an episodic game, “Episode 1” still cost me $15. Cheap by retail standards, but still the most I’ve ever spent on a downloadable game.
And if it goes on to several episodes, I hope at least one of them ends up being more than a few hours long.
One of the main things lacking is co-op play, which is something that previous Sonic titles had, and is a glaring hole of an opportunity that SEGA missed. Maybe they are planning on it in a future episode, but if they do they should have it allow you to go back and play “Episode 1” levels in co-op as well.
Online leader boards are present, but frankly I don’t care. That and the score attack mode were both good options to include, but neither were a necessity or something I would miss. I’d trade either of them out for more levels and a longer game.
The other thing that I found frustrating was, ironically, how fast Sonic seemed to move. Apparently he has gotten a little slower in his old age. He has always been the “fastest thing alive,” yet both his character animations and, ultimately, his running speed, seem just a few clips shy of the Mach10 speed I would have expected.
Some new additions, such as the homing attacks, which have become later staples of the 3-D Sonic games, are implemented pretty well. Other more “modern” inventions, such as trying to tack on limited shaking motion controls on the Wii version I played on, just felt unnecessary.
The game also stays on the easier side of things, save for a last boss that was just downright punishing. Secret stages and Chaos Emeralds are also around for a little bit of added replay value, but as of press time the main game was all I was able to run through.
Overall, “Sonic 4: Episode 1” was an appetizer that has shown that all hope of a good Sonic game isn’t dead, but also leaves room for improvement for the remaining episodes.
And at least Sonic made it a whole game without a stupid sword or turning into a werewolf.
Clark is a member of the class of 2012.