It has been tough times for Sonic The Hedgehog as he can never catch a break being in a good game these days. In the past decade, Sega and Sonic Team have struggled to make Sonic feel relevant by putting out disappointment after disappointment with the 3D games from the Adventure titles to recently, Unleashed with the Werehog gimmick. While they continue to figure out what it takes to Sonic feel like his true self in 3D, Sega finally decided to go back to his 2D roots with a proper sequel to Sonic The Hedgehog 3, which is why there is now a fourth game in this long franchise. Instead of giving us a full proper game however, they split it up in episodic format meaning you're not getting much 2D Sonic action as you hoped out of the gate. With that in mind, the fifteen dollar price point is asking too much per episode considering the amount of content in the game. Even with that worry, it is a shaky return to form for the blue hedgehog.
Dr. Eggman is once again up to no good as it is up to Sonic and yes, only Sonic this time around to stop him in this first episode. Right off the bat, you can tell that Sega wants you to remember the glory days of Sonic The Hedgehog now in HD by rehashing similar concepts that are in the first two games. By rehashing is having the same exact concept in this new game, so it makes Sonic veterans question why this is called Sonic The Hedgehog 4 if they are not throwing anything new other than a twist to that familiar concept. All four zones in this episode are indeed reminiscent of their previous counterparts with Splash Hill Zone being a new version of Sonic 1's Green Hill Zone, the obligatory casino zone with Casino Street, the Lost Labyrinth Zone borrowing elements from Sonic 1's Labyrinth Zone, and the Mad Gear Zone also being a rehash of Sonic 2's Metropolis Zone along with borrowing elements from Sonic 1's Scrap Brain Zone. The same thing goes for the Eggman boss fights being too familiar, but with a twist thrown in that might surprise you at first. Despite all that familiarity with the level design, Sonic 4 does throw some new stuff to the table like the path of cards in the Casino Street Zone, but the rest of them feel gimmicky especially in the Lost Labyrinth Zone with mine carts and torch puzzles that break apart from what 2D Sonic is about as if they are finding ways to slow down Sonic for a bit. At least you can play any act in any order after beating the first act in the game and again if you want to farm for lives, go for certain trophies, and put up fast times on leaderboards .
Since it is a 2D Sonic game, the developers nailed the core aspects of Sonic blazing through stages with its speed and it is all about having that momentum of continuing to go fast, but it is too easy to make a mistake and slow down in the process. Having that momentum of barreling through the various acts still feels very satisfying, but the physics can get in a way lots of times and end up in frustration being stuck in hills for a second in order to spin dash out of trouble and even deaths on bottomless pits. All of this goes along with the two playstyles of 2D Sonic games with the guns blazing style of going fast with no fear or being more careful of the possible dangers, which is the case sometimes when I play. Of course, you still collect rings to stay alive, gain, extra lives, and access the special stages in the end, which again are reminiscent of Sonic 1's special stages, but with time thrown in to get the chaos emeralds. Sonic's homing attack from the 3D games is another new addition to Sonic 4 and it works well for the most part taking out enemies in succession in order to proceed along with hopping on springs more easily. They made the homing attack such a necessity to the point it becomes your primary offensive attack against enemies even though you can jump on enemies at certain angles to defeat them. Another thing to note is that the game hands out extra lives like no other especially in the Casino Street Zone, so it does make the game more easier even though most of it is a cakewalk and can be beaten in an afternoon.
The HD visuals for Sonic 4: Episode I look sharp with rare instances of slowdown as it does run at a consistent 60 frames per second, which is pretty much mandatory for a 2D Sonic game to be as fast as it is. Sonic himself looks fine even through his running animation takes a while to get going with the walking. The backgrounds look mostly identical to their previous counterparts that I was mentioning earlier keeping the nostalgia factor in mind. As for the music, it is pretty much hit and miss with the soundtrack as with all Sonic games. It does not feel as memorable as soundtracks in the Genesis games and ends up as another disappointing aspect of the game. The Genesis sounds are still intact when Sonic jumps, dashes, collects rings, and gets hit, which is a redeeming factor.
As crazy as it is waiting nearly sixteen years for a game called Sonic The Hedgehog 4, it just does not feel like it lives up the title in this first episode. Other than the homing attack, it does not offer anything new in the gameplay and specifically the level design with rehashed concepts from the first two games. It is also not that difficult of a game until the end as players can breeze this in an afternoon, but there is some replay value with the time attack mode for leaderboards, collecting the chaos emeralds in the special stages, and getting achievements/trophies. The frustration that the 2D games had are still present here as well especially having the momentum of blazing through the game and things come to a halt by just one mistake slowing things down. Despite all those faults, the game is still functional as a 2D Sonic game and fun to play when get things are going your way despite the fifteen dollar price point for the amount of content being offered especially this is only the first episode. In addition, who knows when Sega will release the next episode, but I hope to see some new ideas in the level design. Then again, I do have a feeling it will be just more rehashes of familiar levels and this whole thing will feel like more of the same. It is a shaky return to form for Sonic, but it is still worth playing for fans of the franchise and the genre.
Score = 6.5/10
- 2D Sonic gameplay still works at its core and fun when get things go your way.
- Sonic's homing attack from the 3D games is a worthwhile addition and not as disappointing as people feared.
- The sense of satisfaction is still there when barreling through these stages with no fear.
- At times, you have to fight the game's physics and that's where the frustration kicks in.
- Soundtrack is hit and miss
- Can be beaten in an afternoon since it is not that difficult and you will get lots of extra lives, so you won't see that game over screen.
- Weird design decisions Sonic Team made with this game, specifically the gimmicks that derail from what Sonic is all about.
- Fifteen bucks is asking too much for the content being offered in this first episode since there are only four zones.
- As a game called Sonic The Hedgehog 4, it is does not live to that title especially with all the rehashed elements and level design from the Genesis games.