Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
WiiWare | SEGA / Sonic Team | 1 Player | Out Now | 1,500 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (sideways)
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30th October 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
Gameplay is setup in a progressive fashion where players will visit three acts in each of the main worlds before coming up against a boss. When you leave after your first play session and return to the game, you'll see that all worlds are represented on a Level Select hub. Players will start off in the Green Hill-esque Splash Hill Zone and make their way to Dr. Eggman's factory in Mad Gear Zone. In between, there's also a casino-inspired stage and a mysterious temple labyrinth. All of the stages in the game feel connected to the Genesis games in the sense that you won't find yourself visiting outlandish environments or stages that otherwise don't feel like they were made with the other three main Sonic games in mind.
played by holding the Wii Remote on its side, where the +Control Pad is used to control Sonic's movement and the 2 Button is used to jump. Now, in keeping with the trend of 3D Sonic games, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 incorporates the use of Sonic's trademark Homing Attack. When approaching enemies, springs or other items that he can use his ability on, a red target will appear at which point you press 2 to dash towards it. Otherwise, if you try it with no lock-on's active, this will simply serve as a minor dash of speed. By holding Down on the +Control Pad and pressing 2 repeatedly, you can initiate Sonic's second trademark ability: the Spindash. This normally would allow you to increase speed significantly, but in this game it's more of a marginal increase (more on that in a bit).
From the very beginning, the Sonic games stood out with their great level design, and so it's only natural that you would expect that to ring true here as well. The introductory Splash Hill Zone presents some pretty basic obstacles and stage elements, with the most noteworthy attribute being the ability to travel along zip lines -- something that was clearly inspired by the Sonic games that have come forth over the last few years. It does a good job as the first world in the entire game, especially with there being multiple paths to explore.
Out of the four worlds in this game, the next one -- Casino Night Zone -- probably had the most memorable stages (which isn't to say they were superb). I really liked the way Act 2 in particular differentiated itself from the other levels. This level was filled with card "decorations" that would initiate a mini Poker-like event on the bottom of the screen whenever Sonic would touch them. Cards also acted as temporary platforms that would flip, causing you to fall through if you didn't act fast enough. There was even a deck of cards you had to use a Homing Attack on to create a long trail of cards that Sonic would automatically run on at a fast speed.
Not to be overlooked, too, is Act 3 where you fire Sonic out of rotating cannons to move on. Neither one of these Acts had an over-reliance on the whole slot machine motif which showed some creativity and thoughtfulness on the part of the team -- something I was grateful for in the long run. Honestly, this Zone was probably the most fun I had with the game, which makes you wonder why the later worlds didn't perform as well.
Lost Labyrinth presents a more puzzle-oriented style of platforming that behaves almost like the way Marble Zone and other classics stages operated back in the day. Venturing deeper into passageways with a mine cart, using torches to light the way in a dark cavern, and using tilts and gravity to escape water-filled rooms are just some of the things you'll be dealing with in this world. It's with good reason that I used that particular set of words since I found this world's level design to be quite irritating in places. And then there's the fourth world: Mad Gear Zone. I kind of liked it for what it was, but aside from one or two interesting segments, I didn't find the design to be that memorable. Proof of that is the fact that I don't have much to say about the world at all. So as odd as it is, the last world was my least favourite.
Throughout the game, players will notice homages to not only Sonic the Hedgehog 1-3, but even Sonic CD. One obvious example is when Sonic's feet take a rubberband-like shape once he reaches top speed. Others include the badniks, bosses, and even some elements found in the level design -- like the pipes in Mad Gear Zone. So Sonic 4 doesn't forget its roots. Overall, Sonic 4's level design is pretty good. Even within the same environments, most of the Acts felt different in the elements players had to consider or exploit. Most of the worlds do have that distinct Sonic flair to them, but they're not superior to what's been presented in games prior to this.
What Sonic game would be complete without Chaos Emeralds? Actually, allow me to correct myself: What mainstream Sonic game would be complete without Chaos Emeralds? If you manage to collect 50 Rings in a given stage, a large ring will appear just after the goal sign. Jumping through it will transport you to the Special Stage where you'll have a chance at acquiring one of these elusive Emeralds. These stages resemble what was seen in the original Sonic the Hedgehog where tilt mechanics are employed to maneuver Sonic through a slow-moving, gravity-based maze. When you first visit these stages, you'll be advised to use tilt controls, but I soon discovered this didn't feel right. Thankfully, you can opt to use the +Control Pad instead. While the puzzle element is definitely still there with a nice helping of challenge to go with it, I didn't find them to be that fun but that's probably because I've always preferred the format in Sonic 2 & Sonic 3.
Despite being labelled as a continuation of the three premiere titles, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 does things that distance itself from the earlier counterparts it takes inspiration from. First and foremost, the physics aren't accurate. At times what happens is instead of having the momentum continue when travelling upwards in a loop, the speed slows down and brings you back to the flat plane. There are other instances as well where the speed doesn't match the same level of, let's say, velocity that we have come to expect with the franchise's continual expansion on the speed element. It's not difficult to see that this aspect of the game also does not meet expectations.
Contrasting that of the other classic titles of the blue hedgehog, the pace feels slower here, which I might not have as big of an issue with if the game weren't trying so hard to serve as a follow-up to Sonic's core releases. As a result of all this, the fun factor in this game, I feel, is limited. Just having the name "Sonic 4" doesn't seem correct since the other three games had a more unified pace whereas this seems ... not totally left field, but it doesn't feel consistent either. There's something about the entire game that feels off, and once you come to this realization, it becomes hard to trudge through what appears to be sand-like terrain. It bears repeating that the level of enjoyment is really not that high here; all things considered, Sonic 4 doesn't have as much "magic" as Sonic 2 and Sonic 3.
What really demonstrates just how little I could get out of the game is the fact that not even the Time Attack option was enough to keep me going. Considering I regularly return to Sonic games for speed run purposes, that says a lot. I don't really get a kick out of returning to levels I've already visited and it's not like there are lots of secrets to discover in the individual levels either. Although the game does feature online leaderboards, some of them have been hacked, limiting the level of motivation you might otherwise feel in aiming for a better time. Even without taking that into consideration, the fact remains that the game only provides a decent amount of fun.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 presents its fair share of challenge, not only with the boss fights, but also within the normal stages as well. At times, it feels like this level of challenge is unbalanced, especially with the latter two worlds. In considering the entire progression of the game, the challenge factor amps up significantly as you reach the closing minutes of the game. I found the final boss in particular asked a lot out of you when you compare the difficulty that's seen up to that point. I went through so many lives trying to beat this boss which seemed more like a taunt than a rewarding fight. But I digress.
So how about the game's presentation? Sonic 4 is a good-looking game, with bright visuals, great character models and nice animations. Even the backdrops look well done -- Lost Labyrinth's background in particular comes to mind. So the game definitely earns praise there.
As for the musical component, while there are a few good tracks here and there, I definitely wouldn't say the music is up to the quality seen in other Sonic games (both past and present). In fact, I'm surprised the soundtrack has been received praise, because in my honest opinion, it's a bit dull. The best song in the entire game is found in the first world, while the music in all the other worlds struggle to keep your attention. I wasn't even a fan of the boss or Special Stage themes, which sounded like a circus and a lullaby that didn't fit. Plus, there are some jingles taken from past games which didn't necessarily bring the music aspect down, but they do feel like lazy inclusions.
This game will run you 1,500 Wii Points, which, to me, is a lot to ask. And it's hard for buyers not to feel like their attachment to the old-school Sonic games isn't being taken advantage of at least a little bit. Given that this game presents a number of correctable flaws, paying that much for the game appears even more offensive once you've seen nearly everything of what it has to offer.
I'm not going to dissuade people from trying this game since, for all intents and purposes, the game is mostly worth playing through. However, I don't feel Sonic 4 is as special as SEGA or even other Sonic fans think it is. The game errs in places it shouldn't, damaging its ties to the games it tries to fit in with. I'm glad to see SEGA has been taking their time with Episode 2, because unless they fix the stumbling blocks, this continuation will continue to remain unimpressive.
20/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 6/10 - Good level design, inaccurate physics, overall slower pace compared to classic Sonic titles, bosses, Special Stages aren't enjoyable
Presentation 7/10 - Great visuals, soundtrack is disappointing with only a small number of good tracks, jingles have been re-used from other games
Enjoyment 3/5 - Fun factor is limited, gameplay flaws take away from the experience, homages to other Sonic games, becomes frustrating at the end
Extra Content 4/5 - Online leaderboards, multiple levels but not many are worth revisiting, Time Attack & Score Attack modes, price is off-putting
Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System