...But I don’t mean the good fuss. The very first thing I thought when Splash Hill Zone 1 loaded was “hell, Sonic looks ugly.” The second was “why is he so sloooow,” shortly followed by “this music is horrid.” The rest of my time with the game didn’t improve much from that point.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1 is not a terrible game. It’s just not a good Sonic game because it gets the most important elements of what makes up a good Sonic game wrong while doing everything else rather well. Before I go any further with this review, however, I should note that some of the faults I mention may not be as obvious on portable devices. As I said at the top of this article, I don’t have an iAnything. While I do have an Android phone and tablet, I don’t often use them for gaming. So, the experience of Sonic 4, particularly concerning issues of speed, or the lack there of, may be different on a portable device. So this is very much a PC review.
My biggest issue with Sonic 4 is Sonic’s speed. He has none. Sonic’s top speed here feels like his jogging speed in Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive. Even when you have the Speed Shoes power-up you never get that thrill of flying across the screen that you do in other Sonic games. Controlling the hedgehog feels like trying to move a tank. As has been well-documented the lack of momentum-based physics really does hurt the game, stealing away that ‘Sonic feel.’
For a game that was boasting its HD graphics upon release, the hero looks ghastly. Sonic’s proportions are all out of whack; huge head and ridiculously long, spindly legs. However, something amazing happens when Sonic hits top speed – he morphs into a head on a spinning red and white oval. Yes, the ‘top-speed’ animation is one of the ugliest, most badly drawn graphics I’ve seen. The blue blur looks more like the blue blob. It’s horrible. To make matters worse, Sonic never looks to be actually in the environment of a level, rather it’s as if he’s be stuck down on a piece of paper that has the level’s graphics on it. It’s like in 80s movies when the blue screen effect doesn’t quite come off, but without any of the old school charm. However, the enemies, particularly the bosses, do look a lot nicer.
Where the graphics really shine, however, are the environments. The worlds Sonic explores are truly beautiful. From the lush greenery of Splash Hill Zone to the dark caverns of Lost Labyrinth, all of the environments have been built with love and devotion. It’s such a shame the characters populating them aren’t as well done.
The music for Sonic 4 has to be the worst of any Sonic title. It’s all high pitched and piercing. None of the brilliance of Chemical Plant Zone or the funky J-Pop tracks of Sonic Rush are evident here. It’s all just computer generated, soulless rubbish.
Bring On Generations
Upon release the game was touted as a return to what made the Sonic series great in the days of the mighty Mega Drive. While this is an admirable pursuit, some elements feel much too similar. All of the bosses are – for the most part – exact recreations of boss fights from games of yester year. As such, the game suffers from a level of cheapness; it even feels lazy at times. The ‘classic’ boss battles in Sonic Generations are much better, using previous, well known bosses with enough twist from their original incarnations that they feel new. Unfortunately that is not the case here.
Actually, one big positive that can be taken from Sonic 4, Episode 1 is that it, along with Sonic Colours, helped pave the way to Sonic Generations. You can see a lot of ideas floating around in Sonic 4 that really came into their own in Sonic Generations, such as the aforementioned classic boss fights.
I’ve said a lot of negative things in this review, but I do feel they are warranted. However, Sonic 4 isn’t a bad game in itself. The actual platforming of the game is still solid, and is at times rather fun. Some levels have rather nice touches such as the mine cart ride in Lost Labyrinth. It’s just that when taken within the context of Sonic’s history and the games that have come before, this really is not a good Sonic game. As such there really isn’t any reason to recommend it unless you’re a Sonic fan who wants to experience every Sonic game you can. Most fans who visit RetroCollect will most likely be disappointed as they will have had played much better Sonic games in the past. Newer Sonic fans will be put off as Sonic 4 is so much less then Sonic Colours or Sonic Generations.
Perhaps at the time of its original release on iOS Sonic 4 was a refreshing break for the lacklustre to horrid 3D games fans had had to endure. At this point in time, with Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations out there, as well as Sonic CD also on Steam, this (re) release isn’t going to set the world on fire. Or even cause a fizzle.
Sega have said that Sonic 4, Episode 2 is going to be a big improvement over Episode 1. I truly hope it is, or Sonic 4 might go down as yet another failed experiment in the history of Sonic the Hedgehog.
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