Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I Review

by

Date Released: 7 October, 2010
Date Reviewed: 5 November, 2010
Players: 1 Player Only
Length: 1 – 3 Hours
Replayability: Moderate

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Introduction

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is the latest game in the original Sonic the Hedgehog series, taking place directly after the happenings of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. It was developed by Sonic Team Japan in cooperation with DIMPS and was released on XBox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Wiiware, and the iTunes’ gaming service. It stars SEGA’s famous mascot Sonic the Hedgehog and attempts to resume the classic series of platformers that once brought SEGA to the top of the video game market.

Concept

The game follows the same basic formula of the Genesis series, taking gameplay elements from all three main instalments, while also taking elements from the modern 3D games. Like the original games, the main premise is to complete stages for high scores with a significant focus on speed, forcing the player to gamble with exploring and gathering points as they must determine which routes and methods will result in the best possible score. Although Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is not strictly presented as a score attack game, meaning players can still explore for additional power ups to enhance their gameplay experience at their own leisure. The game can be played without worrying about completing the levels within a time limit associated to ranks like some other modern Sonic the Hedgehog titles.

The game takes place in a total of four main zones and each one contains three acts, just as the first title. An additional zone can be unlocked – which includes one act – once all four main zones are completed; and a special zone exists containing 7 acts, each of which must be accessed in normal zones by collecting 50 rings and jumping into a giant ring at the end of the act. The special acts may only be completed once per normal act and completion of each results in a Chaos Emerald, of which 7 collected will unlock an alternative ending to the game along with Sonic’s famous Super Sonic ability. Each zone besides the special zone also has a fourth boss act at the end, which can be accessed once all other acts are completed in the associated zone. All zones and acts can be either selected through a map screen or played in sequence through the press of a button at the end of each act, making the map screen optional for players who wish to progress in a traditional manner.

Story

The story in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is very light, much like the first game, but lacks continuity with the series. It simply states that after the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Sonic has decided to go on a vacation, but little to his knowledge the infuriated Doctor Eggman has recreated some of his most famous inventions in order to put an end to Sonic’s troublesome ways. As usual, it is up to Sonic to stop Doctor Eggman, free animals encased in machinery, and collect all of the Chaos Emeralds along the way.

[iPhone version]

The story, however, has many concerns that should be addressed. While seemingly a new adventure, each zone in the game is actually based upon previous zones, with none of them particularly new in concept. The same applies to both enemies and bosses, which further deteriorates the concept of this title being a sequel and not simply a ‘best of’ collection. Story progression from the original four games is also poor, as the game seems to not follow the events of the previous game very well, resulting in a game that does not feel like a sequel but rather a new story line based on nothing in particular. In addition characters lack sense, with Doctor Eggman having his name retroactively changed from the previous and more widely known Doctor Robotnik, along with Sonic’s sidekick Tails being entirely absent for no logical reason, taking all forms of multiplayer away with him.

Gameplay

Gameplay offers a mixture of styles and qualities that result in a strange assortment of new and old. Sonic retains all of his moves from the original game, along with his spindash move from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Whilst all of these moves function in concept, their execution is utterly lacking due to the substandard physics present. Momentum is broken with rolling not functioning properly – requiring the player to hold forward to continue speed. Sometimes rolling will even make Sonic move slower than when he is running, in utter contrast to the series’ previous physics and reality in general. To further cement this problem, both jumping and spindash also lack any form of proper physics, with jumping being too heavy and without arc, and spindash lacking sufficient power. But despite these drawbacks, the game still remains controllable and fun at times, that is until the player discovers Sonic’s new move: the homing attack.

The homing attack is adopted from the 3D game series where it was included to assist in targeting in a 3D space, in addition to allowing for chain attacks on enemies and objects. Now present in 2D, it serves as nothing but a retardant to Sonic and as an excuse for flow in poor level design. Needlessly it must be used to destroy rocks and to press buttons when one would expect a simple jump to be sufficient. Upon performing the attack, Sonic will also lose his spinning state, making him immediately vulnerable to enemies and hazards that may have been avoidable otherwise. Working in a flawed manner, this move will also result in accidental air dashes, progression in the wrong direction, the propelling of Sonic off of small platforms, and a glitch that blasts Sonic wildly through a series of enemies – all of which often leads to tedium, loss of rings and power ups, and death.

Other new features are equally as disappointing. Optional motion controls for some segments of the game are dysfunctional and pointless due to poor precision. Special stages and certain parts of acts require the player to ‘tilt the level’ in order to move Sonic, which results in border-line unplayable gameplay and serves as nothing but a cause for frustration. An uncurling motion has been implemented upon Sonic’s ascent from ramps, which not only looks bad but also places the player in a vulnerable position without spin. The new map screen is also detrimental to the game’s progress, as acts can be played in any order the player wishes, meaning Sonic can go straight from Act 1 of Splash Hill Zone to Act 3 of Mad Gear Zone (supposedly ‘Eggman`s Secret Base’, in addition to being the final normal zone). As a result none of cutscenes in the style of the previous title are present, along with no sense of flow.

Many bugs or oversights also exist. Items such as springs no longer work correctly with barriers on their sides; and shields no longer have the special attack bonuses such as fire, bubble, and electricity that appeared in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and numerous other titles since. Gravity has become chaotic, with Sonic able to walk straight up walls at times. Feedback physics, such as bouncing off an enemy, does not work as expected, giving Sonic little air or sense of direction. Random chains of enemies placed in the air is also a frequent sight, leading to boring level design and needless damage caused to Sonic due to his increased vulnerability resulting from uncurling, as well as a screen that is slightly too zoomed in for the player to react properly to a design that requires a long view of the level. Booster pads exist in abundance, making backtracking tedious, as well as removing a sense of control and ruining gimmicks such as bursting through walls. Problems similar to these are simply far too vast to describe and weigh on the game heavily, making it very similar to 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog released for XBox 360 and PlayStation 3.

On a final positive note, there do exist some new stage gimmicks that add to the series, such as the card bonus system in Casino Street Zone, or the torch-light gimmicks from Lost Labyrinth that allow for new types of switches and light-control gameplay, giving this level a wholly unique feel. But when buried in such a large mess of problems, it is hard for fun innovations like these to be appreciated.

Sound

The soundtrack has been composed by series veteran Jun Senoue and it attempts to mimic the Genesis’ sound chip. Unfortunately it fails entirely, as Sonic Team has decided not to actually use a sound style that actually sounds like the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive, making the soundtrack not authentic to its source material or even of an acceptable audio quality. The compositions themselves are also mixed, with a few good tracks, a few horrendous tracks (such as the boss themes), and overall just bland tracks. It does not approach the quality of the original series’ music.

For sound effects, generally they have been done well, in contrast to the music. Familiar and appropriate sounds exist for nearly every action, which deserves some praise for the attention to detail given. A glaring mistake exists, however, with the spindash and rolling sounds having been swapped, resulting in an overly loud and awkward rolling sound.

Visuals

Graphically the game plays it safe. Styles are adapted from the previous games, with large attention to detail (such as flowers spinning as Sonic runs past), and a strong use of colour that help take advantage of newer consoles’ graphical capabilities for 2D games. Where it falters is in its lack of attention to animation. Many objects simply do not move and seem entirely still, and some objects seem ‘cut and paste’ – such as the palm trees in Splash Hill Zone. While not bad, it lacks the creativity and liveliness expressed in the previous titles.

A mention should also be given to the game’s character portrayals. Gone is Sonic’s look from the Genesis titles, with it instead being replaced with an odd mixture of the new Sonic combined with the style of the older games. The end result is again not bad, but now bizarre. Doctor Eggman also suffers, but unlike Sonic he is not as lucky with the result, instead looking terrible. The game would have benefited greatly from sticking to its traditional character designs, as the new ones do absolutely nothing but detract from the game.

Special Notes

Upon completing various parts of the game, the player is awarded clothing in both the XBox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network versions of the title. This clothing allows the player to dress their Avatar or PlayStation Home Person as Sonic the Hedgehog, wearing a mascot costume based upon the game’s star.

Also included are a series of achievements/trophies and leaderboards, giving players additional incentives to play beyond the standard game, as well as the option to compete online with friends and strangers on who can gather the most points or beat a level with the best speed in each act present.

Conclusion

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I can be described in a single word: disappointing. While it does bring some new content to the series that is genuinely well done, a grotesque excess of poor design choices and shoddy programming makes it pointless to consider. Every core characteristic of the classic series is either missing, broken, or done incorrectly – making the game feel more like an insult to long-time fans rather than a treat. Not only is this title unworthy of its above-average price, but it also is not worth the time investment in playing it. Fun is seldom found and when it is the game quickly finds a way to frustrate the player in unthinkable ways.

[Wii Version]

For nearly two decades the original series of Sonic the Hedgehog games were considered by many to be among the highest quality video games available, but now this respectable legacy has been ruined, dragging the series’ last merits into a gutter of filth. Even if the following episodes address every problem present, there is no way to clean off the stain that is Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I.

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Format(s): XBox 360, PlayStation 3, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Nintendo Wii.

Differences exist between the console and handheld versions. New levels, gameplay styles, a 3D model of Sonic the Hedgehog, a new music track, and alternative camera angels are all present, offering a significant amount of different content. The game also plays differently and is enhanced to cater more ideally to handheld play. Originalreviews

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2 Responses to “Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I Review”

  1. GameSquire Says:

    Despite hearing about some bad kinks like bad physics and poor storyline/characters in Sonic the Hedgehog 4, I still hear alot of players recommending this game. And what I’ve seen in the gameplay clips and images from here and only places across the web, It doesn’t look to bad. What really made it appealing to me is that the console and handheld versions are different from one another, making both of them worth getting. Although I didn’t try 4th Sonic yet, I like to play it very soon.

    • Sega Uranus Says:

      Almost everyone here shares the same opinion on the game, the design is sloppy and should be a lot better in almost every way. Just wait for Sonic Generations instead, as that seems to get the classic Sonic gameplay and fundamentals down much better.

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