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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (XBLA)

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, to give it its full title, is the first "EpiSonic Adventure" (I coined that, there's a SEGA blog somewhere which references it). How many more there are after this one, only SEGA knows, but in this first one, Dr. Eggman's after the Chaos Emeralds. Again. He's also a bit miffed that Sonic keeps beating him, so he revisits his best creations and makes them better. Well, "best" and "better", but more on that later.

 

GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS

 

Being a 2D Sonic platformer, Sonic 4 controls just as you'd expect it to. Move left or right using the D-Pad or Analog stick (on the 360, analog's the way to go), and use A or B to jump. It does feel weird having specific jump buttons, but it's nice to see that SEGA didn't give the other buttons commands "just because".

Sonic's homing attack, his new addition for this game, actually works quite well. I promised myself I wouldn't use it, that I'd try and play the game without it, but you just can't help it. Seeing as it's actually needed in certain sections, you'd either need to be a very good aim with manual jumping, or you'd hit an invisible wall imposed on you by the controls. All in all, a nice addition to the game. His spin dash works as you'd expect it to, though you don't need to charge it. One button press and he's at full speed. You can still rev it, but it just wastes time.

For the most part, the controls work, but Sonic 4 seems to have forgotten the basic functions of forward momentum. You see, if you jump straight up, you're fine. Jump left or right, however, and you need to keep that direction held down until Sonic hits the ground. Whilst this solves the problem of what to do if you'd overcooked a jump in previous games, it creates another one if you're not actually expecting Sonic to just stop when you let go of the direction. In other words, stop playing Sonic as if it's 1994, because initially it won't get you anywhere. Nowhere useful anyway.

As you'd expect in a Sonic game, you have to get from the start of the level to the Goal post, whilst collecting rings, bopping Badniks on the head, and avoiding spikes and bottomless pits. In a rare twist, the Boss levels are actually seperate to the Acts themselves. The Bosses on display here can hardly be called Eggman's best. You only need to look at the levels and you can pretty much guess what you'll be fighting. The slight variations in each boss only make themselves apparent after you've fought the original boss, and again they're hardly improvements. When the best boss in the game is the final boss, you know there might be something wrong. And again, it's from a classic Sonic game.

Speaking of the levels...


LEVELS

 

Each of the five levels in Sonic 4 are variations of classic levels, and whilst they're nice variations, they are also fairly obvious. Splash Hill is obviously Green Hill with a smattering of Sunset Hill from Advance 3, Casino Street is Casino Night Zone, Lost Labyrinth is..well, do I really need to spell it out? Last of all, Mad Gear is Metropolis, and the final boss stage, E.G.G. Station, might as well have been called Death Egg, were it not for the fact that it was destroyed. Twice. Even the Special Stages are a variation of the first game's special stages. It's at times both refreshing and irritating, but you'll grow to ignore it.

On the topic of the special stages: they aren't actually that bad. Yes, they're timed, which is aggrevating. And yes, they try their damndest to stop you from getting the Emerald, but cast your mind back to Sonic 1 - the special stages were equally as hard. I don't think I've EVER got all 6 Emeralds on Sonic 1, the stages were that hard.

Anyway, I digress. This time around you control the stage, and despite initial reports saying that you had to use the triggers, let me assure you that you don't. You can use either the D-Pad or Analog stick again (and again, on 360, analog's the way to go). Sonic stays in the middle, and you have to direct him to the Emerald, avoiding the ! blocks, and the bumpers which usually knock you INTO the ! blocks. If you've got good reflexes, the stages can vary in difficulty. For example, I found the third stage difficult, but the seventh was a doddle. It's all down to how good you are as a player. Protip however - if the timer's running low, pause and restart. It's cheating, for sure, but depending on what Act you gained the 50 rings on, it saves restarting the Act.

Moving back to the levels themselves, they're an absolute blast. Casino Street Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 2 stand out as being overly long the first time you play them (LL2 took me the best part of nearly 9 minutes), but you can soon cut that down with repeated plays.

LL2 is, in my opinion, the worst level in the game, purely because of its pacing. The second replacement level for the console versions (replacing that well known mine cart level on the iOS version), it instead hands Sonic a torch and turns all the lights out. You basically have to fumble around in the dark, lighting torches to brighten the screen and solving a couple of puzzles, all whilst collecting rings and bopping Badniks as per usual. The two don't combine at all, and severly harms the speedy gameplay you've experienced up until that point. A real shame.

The other new level, Casino Street Act 2, is fun to play, with you running through decks of cards trying to match three up for bonuses. These bonuses are either: 10 rings, or an extra life. Oh boy, extra lives. If you want to stock up on them for future boss encounters, this is the place to do it. It's a shame that getting three Eggmans doesn't dock you anything like it does on the pinball table, but then this is deck of cards and not a pinball table.


SOUND


Being RadioSEGA, we probably should have covered this first, but nevermind. I have a feeling I'm going to be controversial here - I'm not a massive fan.

Sure, some of the melodies are good...if you can hear them. See, Jun Senoue has decided to use some of the original Mega Drive drum samples in his tracks, which would be fine were it not for the fact that most of the time they're the loudest instrument. I get that you want to put across the idea that this is the sequel to Sonic & Knuckles, but the drums really feel like the point's going to be rammed home until it hurts.ram

Presuming the music was remastered with the drums at the back of the track (where they should be, really), there's some good stuff around. Personal favourites include Lost Labyrinth Act 2, the first Boss theme (Boss Pinch just isn't that great), and for a bit of relaxation, the Special Stage theme (also - NO DRUMS). You can pretty much forget all about Casino Street. It's meant to sound jazzy, but any swing is lost in the mess. Splash Hill and Mad Gear sound as you'd expect.

The only major disappointments are E.G.G. Station (what does E.G.G. stand for, anyway?) and the Super Sonic jingle, the former because it reuses the Boss Pinch theme instead of having it's own track, and the latter because it's about 30 seconds long. I don't get why Super Sonic jingles have to be so short, especially when you could be using Super Sonic for a period of 4-5 minutes. Either way, whilst this particular jingle is good, it is far too short.


OVERALL


Sonic 4: Episode 1 sets its stall out very early - it's a throwback to the 90s games. From the similar levels to the familiar Badniks and bosses (and those blasted drums), everything smacks of Been There, Done That. Here's the thing though - you won't overly care.

Sonic's 2D gameplay has held up really well over the last 16 years. There's still a couple of improvements that could be made on the physics side of things, but they won't harm the second Episode should they remain. A bit more originality wouldn't go amiss, however. Oh, and tone those drums down please. They're REALLY annoying.

One last point of note - the price. Whilst it's a quite respectable £6 on iOS devices, the 360 version costs 1200 MSPoints, or £10 in real money. Whether this game is worth that is down to you. I think it could do with being a bit cheaper, but this is really down to personal opinion.

--
Graphics - 4/5
A rather bizarre cel-shaded look on Sonic makes him stick out from the rest of the game, which is very colourful and very much in line with SEGA's palette.

Gameplay - 4/5
Physics aside, this is Sonic circa 1994, loops, ramps et al. Nothing more to say really.

Sound - 2/5
Some good music is drowned out by the supposed need to put the drum track ahead of the other instruments. The addition of Sonic Adventure-era sound effects distract from what's meant to be an experience inspired by the mid-90s.

Length - Variable
I can't really give a score out of 5 on this one. How long Sonic 4 lasts is down to the player. If you want to see and do everything and move on, it'll last a couple of hours tops. If you want to get your name in non-glitched lights on the leaderboards, you could be playing for weeks. Ultimately though, you'll move on and start wanting Episode II.

Final Score - 3/5
If you're a casual Sonic fan, feel free to add one to that score. If you're a diehard, it's about right. Sonic has indeed gone back to his roots with Sonic 4, only he brought the rest of the tree with him. Sonic 4 is a good game while it lasts, and is a great start to the series, but it's not to the high standards it aspires to. Yet.

18th March, 2012 - 19:41 GMT Gavvie Article viewed 628 times 0 Comments

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