Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 review

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1[originally posted at Total PlayStation]

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 attempts to return to the classic roots that made the original series so successful. Over the years, Sonic has picked up many new friends, gimmicks and gameplay additions, which Sonic 4 eschews in the name of fanservice. However, for every step in the right direction that Sonic 4 takes, it takes another three steps backward, losing the essence that made the Genesis games fun and in the end, feeling more alien and foreign than nostalgic and familiar.

The biggest problem with the game is the physics, which are consummately broken on a fundamental level. Sonic accelerates very slowly, making him feel like he’s moving through water all the time. The concept of horizontal momentum apparently doesn’t exist in Sonic 4‘s world, as Sonic decelerates to a dead stop almost immediately once you’ve stopped pressing right, even if he’s in the air. This also results in Sonic losing speed whenever you hold down to roll, even when going down inclines.

Springs and boosters, of which an epidemical quantity plague the levels, also behave with utter disregard for momentum, meaning they will launch Sonic the same predetermined distance whether you press in the opposing direction or none at all. Small things like this add up to the odd feel of the game, which doesn’t really feel like a Sonic game in the end.

The homing attack is a lame inclusion that serves to lazily grant access to alternate paths and various obstacles. You lose direct control of Sonic for a short bit after you use the homing attack and there’s a move cooldown so you can’t mash it too quickly, which just compounds the clunky feeling of the controls in general.

Level design is simultaneously ripped wholesale from the Genesis games (mainly Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2) and completely forgettable. There are no interesting major alternate paths and a dearth of fun secrets to discover, but there are plenty of annoying gimmicks in their place. Sure, the original games had their own level gimmicks, but never to the extent that Sonic 4 abuses them. One of the stages, featuring an endless series of cannons, feels more like a Donkey Kong Country barrel level than a Sonic level. There are also a couple of infuriatingly inane puzzles that kill the flow of the levels they appear in.

Tilt controls, which were supposedly removed from the console versions after Sonic fans cried foul, still managed to leave their fingerprints all over the game. Various level obstacles require you to press left or right instead of tilting the controller to manipulate them, making the motion control’s late removal very apparent. These tilt gimmicks are very obvious and feel out of place, even without the actual tilting.

One of the oddest design choices was to make the zones and even the acts within them playable in whatever order you choose. Someone claimed this is to allow players to decide their own difficulty curve, but I suspect it was due to the level designers’ inability (or simple lack of desire) to create a reasonable one themselves.

Sonic 4‘s most grievous crime might be that it regresses too much while not improving anything. There is not a single original boss in the game; each of Robotnik’s hovering contraptions is rehashed from a previous game, with a slight twist as it nears destruction. This becomes even lamer when you’re forced to fight them all again in a final zone boss rush that reeks of blatant time-stretching laziness. The final final boss itself is another rehash, except requiring a lot more hits, making the fight feel more tedious than suspenseful toward the end.

Altogether, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 just feels incomplete, even accounting for its smaller episodic size. The animations are bad, the music is terrible, the graphics are passable at best, the level design is annoying and there is not a single good original idea in the entire game. This is a joyless cash-in on nostalgia that only the blindest and most delusional of Sonic and Sega fanboys will defend. There are no more excuses to be made; after 10 years of missteps and mistakes, Sonic 4 is definitive proof that the current creators behind the franchise have absolutely no understanding of what made Sonic so good in the first place.