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Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I for iOS

The rise of the iPhone as a gaming device was certainly solidified when SEGA decided to not only release Sonic 4: Episode I for iOS, but to release it first before it's more established platforms. But is the transfer to the mobile platform a success and how well does a game developed for a joypad translate to a touchscreen device? Keep reading for this review I originally wrote back in October 2010, a few days after release.

Developed by: Sonic Team/Dimps
Published by: SEGA
Released: 7 October 2010
Price: £5.99 (UK)/$9.99 (US/Canada)/€7.99 (Eurozone)/$12.99 (Australia)
Tested On: iPod touch 3rd generation running iOS 4.0.0

“Fruits come a long way baby….”

It shows how far the Apple mobile platform has come on that a company like SEGA chooses Apple’s iDevices as the first platform to get the first sequel in the original Sonic series of games in 16 years. The big question is whether the iOS platform is a good fit for Sonic. After all, this is not a type of game that is generally built for touch screen controls. Historically, it’s always needed buttons. And a d-pad. So can the humble iDevice's handle a game that runs at such a high speed and, at times, requires precision controls? And how, and more importantly how successfully, have SEGA taken advantage of the platforms unique features to set this version apart from its console counterparts? Let’s jump in shall we!

Let’s get this out of the way

Now first of all, let’s make one thing clear. I don’t think anyone is going to love this game without fault. There is very much a feeling that SEGA have tried to play it safe with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. And, to a point, I sympathise with them. After all, the Sonic fan base are very passionate about what they want and aren’t afraid to shout out when there is something they really don’t like. Because of this, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I isn’t exactly a revolutionary Sonic game. In fact, one of my main problems with the game during its development was the fact that it looked like the game wasn’t just paying homage to the previous games in the series – it was using certain elements of the previous games as a starting point. And, personally, I’m sad to say that this is exactly how the game feels to play at times. Splash Hill Zone is like a mash-up of Green Hill Zone and Emerald Hill Zone. Casino Street is a massive rip off of Casino Night Zone (the music even starts the same!). Lost Labyrinth is set in the style of Labyrinth from the original Sonic game, and Mad Gear Zone not only plays a lot like Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2 – it’s even got most of the badniks from it too!

For me, this is the biggest disappointment of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I. The game is new, but a lot of the time, you feel like you’ve played the game before. By playing it safe, the game doesn’t jump out at you in the same way as playing the previous 4 games. However, there are some small touches to the familiar that, in certain areas, do make you sit up and take note. A classic example of this is the boss stages. These are separated from the three acts in each zone, and are made up of two parts. The first part is exclusively a familiar boss battle from the past. In Splash Hill, it’s the same boss as in Green Hill Zone. In Casino Street, the Casino Night boss battle is re-enacted. In Lost Labyrinth, it’s the Labyrinth boss chase. And, in Mad Gear, it’s the boss from Metropolis Zone. These are pretty run of the mill to complete and won’t cause you too much of a challenge. However, after a certain number of hits, Eggman learns some new tricks and forces you to rethink your strategy. For example, in the Splash Hill boss, he goes from slowly swinging the wrecking ball below him to swing it at high speed round and round. The safe comfort of the initial boss battle is replaced by panic, and you need to think fast to dodge the ball and finish Eggman off completely. The second part of the Casino Street boss was a definite wow moment for me, but I’ll let you experience that for yourself….

Sonic – meet iPhone

Now, we’ve all played 2D Sonic games on a controller before. We’re used to controlling Sonic with a d-pad (or analog stick if you’re into that sort of thing) and buttons. Of course, all Apple’s iDevice's have none of those things. Like many games in this genre, the primary method of control is using a virtual controller and jump button at the bottom of the screen (you can also control the game completely by tilting the device, but you definitely don’t want to be playing it this way). So let’s get this out of the way – it’ll be no surprise for you to read this, but the controls don’t work as well as a proper controller. With that obvious precursor out the way, it’s worth mentioning though how well the virtual controller works. It’ll take a while to get used to and you will move your finger off it many times without realising and wonder why Sonic isn’t going anywhere, but generally it works pretty well. However, the thing that is a massive help on this version is one of the things that the fan base have complained about most since the first gameplay footage was released – the homing attack. The jury may be out on how necessary this is on the console versions, but it’s an absolute must in the mobile version. The homing attack helps to make up for some of the inaccuracies in the control method, and helps keep the game fluid and fast while you’re playing it.

Oh, and speaking of fast – wow. This game can MOVE. And it’s a great reflection on the platform that the hardware handles it without a sweat. The game is fast, fluid and smooth throughout. The graphics look great too on the iPhone’s screen (though users with the latest devices will be disappointed at the lack of Retina display resolution graphics). While the 3D renderings of Sonic, Eggman et al take a little getting used to, the renders are very well done and show off the graphical ability of the portable platform.

The other thing to mention is that this version of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I has a few platform exclusives. They are in the way of two exclusive levels – the infamous mine cart level (which was removed from the console versions, but is here in all its glory) and a pinball based score attack level in Casino Street Zone. The mine cart level is controlled by tilting your device which in turn ‘tilts’ the game environment to set the speed and direction of the cart’s movement. Oddly, however, the pinball table in Casino Street uses no unique features of the iDevice's, so it is confusing as to why this level is exclusive to the platform. Console players however aren’t missing much. The table is small, and the points total is so low that this act will not take long to complete. Also, the console version of Casino Street Zone Act 2 is fantastic, so mobile players will be disappointed by this replacement.

Somewhere else that SEGA have taken advantage of the tilt controls is the special stages. The basis for this (like most other things in the game) is from the past, specifically the special stages in the original game. You access the special stage using a giant ring at the end of an act, which, of course, only appears if you have 50 rings or more. You are then greeted with a rotating maze that looks suspiciously like the special stages from the original, but don’t be fooled – they are actually quite a different beast. While the goal is the same (to collect the chaos emerald at the end) the gameplay mechanic is very different. Firstly, you control the tilt of the maze. There’s no set speed or rotation direction. No reverse switches. No fast, slow switches. You’re in complete control. Secondly, you’re against the clock. Each stage has a set time limit in which you need to complete the stage, though there are time boosters that can be collected to help you out if you’re in need. The special stages also have rings too, nothing new there, but at a least one defined section in the stage, there’ll be a barrier that can only be passed through if you have collected at least a certain number of rings. If not, the way will be blocked and you’ll need to back track.

These added features make the special stages a very different challenge – one which I think improves these stages over the ones in the original. Unfortunately, because this is the iPhone and the maze rotates, of course you control this by tilting the device. As anyone who’s used tilt controls will attest too, it’s very difficult to get real intricate accuracy using this control method, which is a serious issue when you’re trying to access an awkwardly positioned route at high speed because the timer is ticking down. This makes some of the stages quite a bit more difficult that they would be using more traditional controls, which can frustrate when the only reason the time run out is because you couldn’t get Sonic to go in the direction you wanted him too.

The pure Sonic experience

Despite the feeling of déjà vu that Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I gives you, it’s worth mentioning how good this game actually is. It’s great fun to play, the level design is fantastic, and there is something different to see and do in every act of every zone. That fact that you feel so at home playing it is not only a reference to the familiarity of the setting, but is also an indication of how good a job the developers have done in creating the game. It feels and plays like a real Sonic game.

As we are RadioSEGA, I couldn’t let this review go by without mentioning the music. The game graphically has a classic style, high resolution approach, and the music follows a similar line. The music, from sound director and Sonic music legend Jun Senoue, has a definite 16-bit style sound to it, keeping the retro feel alive. The soundtrack has some definite high points (Splash Hill Zone Act 3 and Mad Gear Zone Act 1 for me), where other tracks do feel distinctly average. Not a high point in the series musically, but definitely a respectable effort.

Conclusions

So, what of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and its venture onto the App Store? Firstly, I have to make it absolutely clear. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is a pretty solid game. The levels look great and are fun to play. They offer the same features you’d expect to see in a Sonic game (though a little too samey at times) and the twists on the boss battles keep you guessing right till the end. The changes to the special stage system are mostly positive, and are challenging enough that you probably won’t get the 7 Chaos Emeralds first time around. But Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is not a revolutionary Sonic game. The original Sonic the Hedgehog, along with its three sequels all added great new features to the Sonic series, which not only made an impression at the time, but still leave that same impression even now. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I doesn’t live up to the originals in this regard. If you’re a fan of good, fun to play platform games, you won’t give a monkeys. However, if you’re an old school Sonic fan, you'll probably be disappointed by this. The game has a lot going for it and you’ll keep coming back to get all the emeralds and the fastest times you can in each act, but it may not have a special place in your heart in the same way as the originals did.

So should you buy it? If you’re a massive Sonic fan, you bought it the minute it hit the App Store like I did, so enjoy it. If you enjoy Sonic games, and don’t have one of the three consoles the game is being released on as well, it’s a must buy. However, if you’ve got an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii, one or more of those versions should be your first port of call. Your first choice of control method for this type of game should always be a control pad.

The iOS version of the game is, in my opinion, pretty decently priced. It should be remembered that this isn’t a slimmed down, semi-skimmed version of the game. This is pasteurised, full fat Sonic 4. Priced at £5.99 in the UK (compared to circa-£10 for the console versions) I think the game is actually pretty good value. But, for someone who is looking to buy a console version, I don’t think the unique features of this version make it a must buy. A good buy, but not a must buy in this circumstance.

While this version of the game is not the ultimate way to play Sonic 4, Sonic Team and Dimps should be commended for porting a faithful version of a full console release onto Apple’s portable platform. It’s the full Sonic 4 experience, iPhone style. It shows the versatility of a platform that is home to a wide range of game style and shows that whatever SEGA decide to do with Episode II, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 has an exciting future ahead for iPhone gamers.

Score: 3.5/5 if you’re a hard-core Sonic fan – 4/5 if you’re not

20th March, 2012 - 23:41 GMT ResidentSD Article viewed 1474 times 0 Comments

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