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  • TSS REVIEW: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I

     
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    Sonic 4, then. Hyped as the true return to 2D form for the blue blur, unleashed at last upon the fanbase after a year-long wait that was riddled with delays and controversy. Does it live up to its promise? Is it worth your hard-earned Sonic wonga? Read on and find out, in TSS’ Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 review.

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    Premise

    There’s really nothing to say when it comes to the game’s premise – it follows the formula of the classic games to the letter, seeing Sonic race through levels to rescue his animal friends from Dr. Eggman’s capture. As it continues on from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, there’s something of a bare bones plot – the evil doc, still smarting after the chaos that ensued on the Death Egg, is trying once more to bury the planet with his league of robot badniks. Of course, with the recession and everything, he’s on the back foot, forced to recycle only the best of the baddies from past games. Obviously, Sonic’s having none of it.

    With no cutscenes or any other guff to endure in-between levels, Sonic 4 does a great job of keeping the focus on what really matters – 2D platforming and fast-paced action. There’s a lot to be said about games that just let you get on with the game and just play – and Sonic the Hedgehog is such an accessible game that jumping in is a total cinch.

    JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up

    FAVOURITE SCENE: As it should be – the ending sequence.

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    Presentation

    Sonic 4 is simply gorgeous. SEGA has brought the 2D games bang-up to present-day, and although the 16-bit sprites had a bit more charm to them, you’ll still be able to appreciate the detailed locales and intricate designs implemented here. With 3D models, special effects such as card-based paths looping in and out of the screen, and traditional items such as pinball bumpers and loop-de-loops covered in foliage, Sonic 4 does what the original Sonic the Hedgehog did in 1991 – create a graphical presentation that can truly wow kids.

    All that being said, there’s something of an obvious pattern when it comes to the design of Sonic 4 – it’s not entirely original. In fact, it could be argued that it’s not original at all. Each of the four major zones (and the concept of the Special Stages) are re-imaginations of levels already seen in the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The multi-tiered and engaging level design helps break the argument that this is but a mere rehash, but it is fair to say that this initial episode does feel more like an homage rather than a true sequel. Maybe some fresh ideas for the next episode, SEGA?

    JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up

    FAVOURITE BIT: The all-too familiar looking Splash Hill going from daylight to sunset.

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    Sound

    When you think of the music behind classic Mega Drive Sonic games, one of the most distinctive elements you would pick out would be Masato Nakamura’s deft use of percussion. Jun Senoue, a veteran who has been involved with the series’ soundtrack ever since Sonic 3, has tried to replicate that to mixed success. Oftentimes the background music sounds like there’s a 16-bit woodpecker knocking against your head. At other times, tunes are barely memorable – try humming a Sonic 4 song two hours after playing it.

    There are some blinding gems that show Senoue’s skill, like the pumping theme to Mad Gear or the absolutely delightful Act 3 music to Splash Hill Zone. But we all know what the man’s capable of when given a Mega Drive – 1996’s Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island is testament to that. Ultimately, I can see exactly what Senoue was going for here – it’s just a shame that the overall result is a bit hit-and-miss.

    JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down

    FAVOURITE TRACKS: Splash Hill Zone Act 3, Mad Gear Zone Act 1

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    Gameplay

    This really is the heart of the debate – whether you rate Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 as a good or bad game depends entirely on what you perceive the game to be (ignoring SEGA’s constant marketing natter about ‘back to the classics, fo’ real homes’). Do you focus more on what the game should be, or what it really is? Here’s my take – Sonic 4 is a lot of fun. With some caveats.

    When you start playing the game, a lot of the hangups in the physics department appear glaringly obvious – and if they don’t, then you’ll be blitzing through the first few stages thinking subconsciously that something isn’t right with this picture. As it turns out, Sonic Team (for whatever reason) did not decide to build on the Mega Drive codebase but instead created as close enough a replication as it could. For some, the bits it got wrong are a deal-breaker.

    Jump to the side and let go of the analogue stick/D-pad, and rather than letting momentum take its course, Sonic stops moving and drops in a vertical line. Closer inspection shows that the same is true for other midair activities, such as being shot out of a cannon. Elsewhere, the game doesn’t seem to encourage the use of the spin attack because every time you use it, you slow to a crawl. Even on the Casino Street half-pipes – where in classic Sonic games, spin-attacking would actually make you go faster than running, the opposite is true in Sonic 4. For those used to the physics of the originals, it’s baffling.

    But if you stick with the game, you’ll get used to those setbacks and enjoy the game for the short, enjoyable ride it otherwise provides. Running around curves and bouncing off of badniks really takes you back to those halcyon days sitting in front of a Mega Drive as a kid. The level design – multiple tiers and with several routes for time-attacking – is a triumph compared to those found in recent 2D Sonics.

    And the sole addition to the blue blur’s attack roster, the homing attack, is far from a cheap get-out-of-jail-free card, but instead offers access to alternate paths and feels just as natural as a classic power-up should. Sonic 4 is a game that divides opinion like no other – just as I feel there is a lot of fun and gameplay worth to the game despite its setbacks, others may feel that the physics is enough to fail the game entirely. The strange thing is, both opinions are correct.

    JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up (Your Mileage May Vary)

    FAVOURITE PART: Running like a madman to escape the chaos in Mad Gear Act 3.

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    Longevity

    You won’t really get a lot of bang for your buck here – you’re buying entirely into the nostalgia trip that you may (or may not) receive when Sonic 4: Episode 1 first loads up. To compare the number of zones to past Mega Drive games is silly – Sonic the Hedgehog came out in 1991 with six zones for around £40. When you consider you’re only losing two for a tenner that’s not so bad.

    What can’t be argued is that you can easily beat Sonic 4: Episode 1 in the space of an hour or so (minus chaos emeralds – it will take you an extra couple of hours to grab them). When there are other premium games on downloadable services commanding at least four times that for about £2 less, you start to ask a question or two as to whether the longevity is value for money. It will be interesting to see how that might change if it has the ability to ‘lock on’ with future episodes, however.

    JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down

    FAVOURITE TIME-WASTER: Time-attacking – the homing attack has some nice uses in speed running.

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    Final Words

    YOU’LL LOVE

    + The sublime level design.
    + All of the beautiful backdrops.
    + A fresh challenge, wrapped in a familiar setting.
    + That you can still have fun despite its drawbacks.
    + The homing attack. Yeah, I said it.

    YOU’LL HATE

    – The rather naff jump and spin physics.
    – A rather forgettable soundtrack.
    – That it’s over far too quickly for your money.
    – It’s more of an homage than a fully-blown sequel.
    – One or two gimmick-specific stages.


    NOTE: A score was not given at time of original publication. To align with our 5-star rating system (introduced in 2022), we have given it a posthumous grade that best represents the original intent and sentiment of the overall article. This is not a re-scoring of this review.



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    Recommended Comments

    Posted By: sonicemerald

    I think this review is great. Exactly how I feel. I think that if this game was released instead of Sonic 1, it wouldn’t have captured many hearts.

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    Posted By: Dakota Jones

    The momentum just needs to be a little less tight. Other than that, the game is perfect in my opinion.

    I gave it an 8.8/10 on my little review thing.

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    Posted By: Miles Per-Hour

    I know that this may get me assassinated, but in the week that I’ve had Sonic 4, I have logged into it a full 19 hours. So don’t tell me that the fun goes by in one hour, sure that may be how long it takes to beat the game itself, but the replay value is incredible. I love the Special Stages, the Zones, and always challenge myself when I come home from school and see if I can get back in my top ten spot in the leader boards. In my opinion, the physics make the game a whole lot nicer and sturdier too, and I think that although it may be short, the final boss makes it very fun and, when compared to a full fledged 50 bucks Sonic Game like Black Knight, this game if beyond a great deal and is fantastic to play and is so much fun. The amount of lives is extremely forgiving and the fact that the spin-dash is slower than the running is good because it will make Sonic more vulnerable to enemy’s attacks rather than him just always be invincible all the time. This is one of my favorite Sonic Games to date, and by the time it’s finished with all of the episodes, it may replace the Adventure Series in my heart.

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    Posted By: Misk

    A fair review. If I may, I’ll add a few bits.

    As far as the homing attack is concerned, I too feel that it is a nice addition. However, exposure to fangames and the Adventure series has me often trying to air dash to get instant speed and am instead punished for that action.

    As far as physics and longevity goes, perhaps SEGA will revamp the engine for Episode II, and when everything’s released it might go back and release a full Sonic 4 with all the updates given to Episode 1.

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    Posted By: Inferno the Fox

    I really like the game, but it’s too short, and the chaos emeralds are hard to get (darn you, special stage 6!!!!). I still haven’t gotten them all. The homing attack isn’t as bad as people think, but it’s used way too much in the game and the levels require that you do it at a certain time. As far as physics go, they aren’t so bad, but some people could complain. Dimps aren’t the best people suited for the task of creating a true sequel to the famed trilogy (Sonic & Knux was really Sonic 3 part 2). As far as this goes to be Sonic 4, it needs a lot more levels, more characters, and hyper sonic for this to be as good as Sonic 3 & Knux. Only time will tell if SEGA agrees.

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    Posted By: The_Soul_Gauge

    I agree with the music (specifically DK’s personal favourites, but I’d probably throw in Lost Labyrinth Act 1 for my money… probably).

    Pretty good review.

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    Posted By: SonicSilverSS

    Yeah, I agree with the review, loved the game too! One thing I will disagree with, is that I loved most of the music in the game, so…yeah, ha.

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    Posted By: ChaoticFox

    “To compare the number of zones to past Mega Drive titles is silly – so now I am going to do just that”

    …wait, what?

    @ Tentor - I’m only gonna say this once:

    The majority of this game’s “haters” aren’t hating it because it isn’t JUST like the originals. As stated by this same review that you JUST referred to as “pretty tight on”:

    “For some, the bits it got wrong are a deal-breaker… just as I feel there is a lot of fun and gameplay worth to the game despite its setbacks, others may feel that the physics are enough to fail the game entirely. The strange thing is, both opinions are correct.”

    Some of us don’t find simply running around hitting dashpads and springboards to be a great time worthy of 19 hours of replay. Some of us think those missing pinball physics are the primary REASON the old games were good in the first place. Taking them away from us leaves us with a generic quick-paced platformer that feels stiff and fickle, and ultimately (to us): not fun.

    We don’t think this game is a “gem”, and we wouldn’t think our beloved classics were either, if they played this rigidly. We’re not wrong, and we’re not tight-assed “haters” just because we have a very different idea of what makes a Sonic game FUN.

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    Posted By: ChaoticFox

    @Dreadknux

    I am impressed by this review’s bold move in not giving it a numbered score. It showcases points for both sides, and doesn’t assign the game an asinine number for the fanboys to fight over. While I may not agree with everything said, I very much liked your approach. Rock on.

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    Posted By: sonictoast

    What he says about the music is so true. I mean, I have a friend who has only played Sonic 1 once and that was in 1991… And yes, he can still hum you the Green Hill Zone theme from memory.

    I do enjoy Sonic 4. I kind of think that if I give it enough of a chance I will like it as much as Sonic 2 or Sonic & Knuckles. But having played those games for over 15 years, it is easy to get too comfortable and always know what’s coming. The new surprises of Sonic 4 are quite refreshing. Like that ending, toast, who saw that final attack coming? I sure didn’t. I died and had to do the whole thing again. I was frustrated at the time, but can look back on it and laugh. If only Tikal were there to say “look out, he’s up to something.” …sorry for the rant.

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    Posted By: Tiny *CombustionMan!*

    Game is good. The speed momentum needs to be looser. You only feel it when you're at a super state. Other than that it's awesome. Right here, I’m ranking top 3 on my favourite stage, Lost Labyrinth Zone 1, for PSN leaderboards!

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    Great review. I’ve spent plenty of hours on this game (Wii version) even after getting all the emeralds. Lost Labyrinth Act 1 is my fav :). I just want some episode 2 info now so I can stop worrying about whether the episodes will lock on or not. It would be really stupid not to have them lock on.

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    Posted By: Eggman123

    Let’s see how Sega will handle Ep. 2.
    The physics really threw me off the first time, but you can get used to it.
    Great Sonic game, but not quite the level of the classics.

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    Solid review. The only thing I think needs mention that wasn’t brought up is that having a Time Attack and Score Attack mode is stupid. Virtually every Sonic game not made by Dimps that keeps a record of your best time and score for each level only has one gameplay mode. The lack of variation between Time Attack and Score Attack makes having both modes just that much more absurd. Why make Time Attack with no checkpoints or extra lives? In Score Attack, the only way to get the highest possible score is to play through the level without dying anyway, so both modes are essentially identical for anyone making serious efforts to get a get score or time.

    Of course, what really ruins having separate Time Attack and Score Attack modes is that you quite possibly won’t have your best time recorded, because, go figure, you were playing through Score Attack mode when you got that awesome 1:30 result, so it won’t overwrite your previous score of 1:35. Same goes for high scores. Sure, Time Attack doesn’t keep track of your score, but I’m sure that if some of my Time Attack runs had been scored like in Score Attack, the score would’ve topped whatever my Score Attack record is.

    Another annoyance with records regards Sonic and Super Sonic scores and times. Sure, you can go through the leaderboards and toggle between the cumbersome leaderboard menus and wait for the stats to load and toggle between your Sonic and Super Sonic scores, but the stage select screen only shows your highest score and best time. It would’ve been nice if they’d made an extra row where your best records as Super Sonic could be recorded. It doesn’t really affect the gameplay or anything, but it would’ve made checking your stats as both versions of Sonic a lot easier.

    To me, the things I just mentioned are a HUGE deal. They severely hamper the replayability. What’s the point of trying to best my scores and times when my true best hasn’t even been recorded? But these problems are trivial when the physics are so busted. I had fun with the game, but it’s nothing above a 6/10 for me. Blah.

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    Let's say I give all the classics a 10/10. I give this an 8.

    The only major complaint I have for Episode 1 is the physics, it feels stiff. Also, Sonic's walking animation doesn't look right… He didn't even have a walking animation in the earlier games, he looked like he was at least jogging at all times.

    The main difference in the physics is in the old games if you even moved a bit and then took your finger off the button sonic would move just a tad longer depending on how fast you're going.

    Thats why it feels stiff, in this you stop like a rock.

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    On 10/19/2010 at 4:20 AM, TSS Classic Comment Bot said:

    Posted By: ChaoticFox

    “To compare the number of zones to past Mega Drive titles is silly – so now I am going to do just that”

    …wait, what?

    I wasn’t being contradictory in the slightest – I was simply explaining why comparing past Mega Drive titles is a silly affair.

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    Posted By: Silent Dragonfly

    One of a couple of negatives I found were the lack of acceleration from a standstill. You can get past that by jumping at the start of your run but it’s still a pain. The other is rolling off of a ledge. Instead of continuing to roll in a ball you’ll uncurl and drop vertically, often to find your rings scattered everywhere. X_x Oh and E.G.G. Station’s “music” track is ear-achingly awful.

    Some of the highlights for me included transforming into Super Sonic on Lost Labyrinth Act 2 and filling the entire stage with a blinding light, negating all of that ominous darkness. Another was the twists and new elements added to recycled Eggmobiles (although he tends not to use them on Splash Hill and Casino Street until it’s too late). And wait! What is this? As much as I love the 3D games it’s frustrating for me to see Eggman reduced to a sub-villain and have Super Sonic face off against something else (except Metal Overlord, ’cause Metal Sonic is awesome). Dr. Eggman is the actual final boss in Sonic 4:Ep 1, not a lucky dip from the box of assorted monsters!

    On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the game, looking forward to Episode 2 (and beyond?)!

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    Posted By: Ravi

    “As it turns out, Sonic Team (for whatever reason) did not decide to build on the Mega Drive codebase but instead created as close enough a replication as it could.”

    I have to disagree with you there. Call me an optimist, but I think Sonic Team and/or Dimps could have made it much closer of a replication than we got. Some of Dimps’ previous portable titles have better physics than Sonic 4. The reality is that somebody (SEGA? Sonic Team? Dimps?) either got lazy or just didn’t give a shit. You’re right though, many people do ignore this and have fun. I’m not going to argue over our differences in opinion regarding how much of a deal breaker this is, but I strongly feel that they could have made near-identical physics and didn’t really make it as close as they could have.

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    Posted By: Hypersonic55

    I think this review is right on the money, besides the thoughts on the music though. When I first played the game it took a few tries to get used the way sonic moved, but once i got over the Sonic’s odd acceleration I was blasting through this game with joy in my soul. The soundtrack for me is pretty decent and the best songs are Splash Hill Zone Act 3, Casino Street Zone Act 2 & 3 and I personally also like the Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 1 & 2.

    I think the physics in the game are a bit off in the sense that Sonic’s running animation gets to top speed before he does and the slow acceleration of sonic is troublesome. I also agree with Silent Dragonfly about Sonic uncurling during the use of the spin dash, that’s bogus. Also with the the spin dash, why does it stop and uncurl Sonic after he comes off of a ledge? The difficulty of this game is harsh in some areas: Lost Labyrinth Zone Boss, nuff said. Mad Gear Zone Act 3, monstrous. Egg Station Zone, death on many occasions.

    But hell now I’m just nagging, overall I loved the game and I LOVE using Super Sonic I'm just having a hell of a time blasting through levels with him and being invincible in the Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear Zone. Can’t wait for Episode 2! For the next game we need Tails, more zones, more modes and faster Sonic acceleration!

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    Posted By: Crackers

    Fantastic And spot-on review, gentleman! 🙂

    I bought the iPhone version of the game yesterday, and I’d give it a 7.5/10. Just for those physics. I admit I was baffled for about 2 minutes trying to spin my way up a halfpipe in Casino Street. 😛

    Sonic Advance had some good physics, I don’t understand why Sega couldn’t get it right here…

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    Posted By: EngiNerd

    What, no love for Lost Labyrinth 1? 😛 Enough other people have mentioned it in the comments though  As for the music in general, the only reason I don’t remember parts of it offhand are that I have the iPod version and half the time I can’t play with sound. And, while I’m a big fan of the genesis games, there are still a few tracks I don’t remember straight off… like, right now, I’m blanking on Spring Yard, Starlight, AND Scrap Brain. Primary reason I remember, say, all the S3K music by heart is the Project Chaos album… and this is from someone who listens to SSR CONSTANTLY.

    I didn’t have much of a problem with the spindash … because I didn’t use it *that* often. I have trouble doing a proper spindash with these touch controls, so that’s a slight problem, but that only became a real issue in LL3 and MG3, and then it just took practice. The bosses are AMAZING, particularly Lost Labyrinth, it’s not easy to make something that’s difficult yet enjoyable at the same time. The physics, well, I have no complaints with them … the game flows wonderfully, it feels very fluid and smooth. I would give this at least 9/10, possibly higher. My biggest complaint of the game? Casino Street 2. That was just lazy…

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