Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Sonic 4 - Episode I

Isn't it just perfect that I happen to have bought, played and finished it in perfect time to review it the very day before its sequel might be announced at E3. When Sonic 4 was released last year it received praise from some and quite the hard backslash from others. But to hell with that, let's see what I think, because this is my review and I won't hold any punches back if needed. Let's juice!

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 - Reviewed by: Tobbii Karlsson
Developed by Dimps
Published by Sega-Sammy
Played on Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare

Sonic 4 has it hard. It wants to be a direct sequel to Sonic 3 and Knuckles, a game considered by many to be the finest 2D Sonic game ever released. At the same time, it wants to add modern elements like Homing Attack and the redesigned characters from Sonic Adventure. While I personally don't mind this, it's like Sega was begging to divide the fanbase.

Sonic 4 plays like the original Mega Drive trilogy, get from point A to point B as fast as you can while grabbing rings, smashing robots and finding various paths throughout colourful stages. However, unlike Sonic 3 you can only play as Sonic himself, no Tails or Knuckles anywhere to be seen. This is quite a shame, as I liked the concept of Sonic & Tails co-op from the old games. There's also a whole lot of speedboosters in the stages, something that was not very common in the old ones with stages like Chemical Plant and Hydrocity pretty much holding exclusive rights to them.

But what everyone wants to know is my thoughts on the physics engine. The physics engine in Sonic 4 is largely the same as the one in Sonic Rush, another game by Dimps. This is a problem for many, a problem I can sympathize with and understand. There's no proper momentum and it seems that gravity are often thrown out the window. This has come to be considered Sonic 4's big issue, and I can not deny it's presence how much I'd ever want to. I've played through the game twice, and the physics never bothered me while running through the stages, it was first when I started exploring the stages for fun that I started notice it. So for me it wasn't a big deal.

However, more important that physics or homing attacks is of course the stages themselves. Sonic 4 Episode I comes with four Zones, with three Acts and one Boss each along with one extra Final Zone. So act-wise it's about as big as Sonic 3 and zone wise it's about half of Sonic 2. A good number of stages for a 1200 MS point XBLA game in my opinion. The four main zones are Splash Hill, Casino Street, Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear. The stages are based on Green Hill, Casino Night; Labyrinth and Metropolis from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, and for the first three it shines through way too much. It basically feels like I'm playing remakes of the stages, and in the case of Splash Hill and Casino Street they're inferior to the original in every way.

As for Mad Gear, it manages well to set itself apart and is probably the most fun zone of the four, which is good since it has the worst boss of the bunch. All of the bosses are improved versions of Robotnik's old robots and traps, which doesn't help the feeling of deja-vu. But let me explain myself as people might consider this deja-vu a good thing where as I don't. Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 all evolved on their own and brought new things to the franchise, Sonic 4 is simply Sonic 2 with prettier graphics, and because of that the name just doesn't feel justified.

Speaking of graphics, this game is gorgeous. Apart from Splash Hill all the stages feel very much alive and interesting, even Casino Street which I thought was the worst part of the entire game due to its horrible level design. It's colourful, shiny and just the right amount of classic injected into the high-def era graphics to keep you nostalgic in a good way. However, some 3D models feel out of place. Sonic looks fine, as do Robotnik most of the time, but the badniks tend to look as if they don't belong, which is bit of an issue since it ruins the visual flow of the game.

The music in the game is composed by long-time Sonic composer Jun Senoue, and I absolutely love the soundtrack. This is in contrast to every other fan I talk to, who seemingly hate the soundtrack for all its worth. I'm still humming tunes from Splash Hill, Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear. Even the very strange Robotnik theme sits right with me, I guess I'm just in luck. The sound effects are pretty standard though, most of them are lifted from the old game and I would personally have liked at least something like Mike Pollock laughing as Robotnik before the boss fights, but we get no voices at all.

There are, as always, seven chaos emeralds to collect and you do so by playing optional special stages. This, along with time-attack, stage select and leaderboards, really helps to enhance the games replay value. There are also a few tricky achievements, one that's outright ridiculous, for the achievement hunters out there. However, due to its episodic nature we can probably rule out any future DLC apart from a whole new game.

In the end, Sonic 4 tries a bit to hard to be classic when it delivers it's very fun however. And in the end, what's the most important in my review is just how much fun I had while playing. I did have fun, a lot of fun, about seven hours of fun so far and I intend to have more fun. Here's my final verdict.

Gameplay: 6/10        Controls: 7/10        Replay Value: 8/10        Visuals: 8/10        Audio: 8/10
Total Score 7.5/10.0 - Truly Great
Recommendation: Buy This Game

Play Info: Tobbii played Sonic 4 on Nintendo Wii for about 4 hours total and on Xbox 360 for about 7 hours total. He gathered all the Chaos Emeralds and finished all the stages in Score Attack and is almost done with Time Attack. The game costs 1200MS Points or 1500 Nintendo Points. Screenshots are from the WiiWare version, both versions play the same.

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