Developer: Dimps, Sonic Team
Platform: PlayStation 3
Completed: July 10, 2017
Sonic Mania debuts in North America tomorrow, and I see many YouTubers and websites touting it as the true Sonic 4. Of course, about 7 years ago, we already received Sonic the Hedgehog 4 in an episodic format, and reaction to it was… less than stellar. Since my wife has been playing a fair share of Sonic lately, the advent of Sonic Mania being hyped considerably, and my own nostalgia, I decided to go back and give Sonic 4 another try this past summer.
The story is that Robotnik is evil and using the power of mustache to turn critters into machines. The opposite of mustaches is super speeds, meaning only Sonic can stop him! That’s about as deep as the story gets. It takes a page from the original Sonic and ditches the complex storylines to focus completely on creating a fun experience for the player. This is fantastic, since most good Sonic games (like the Genesis titles and Colors) are better since they don’t have this need to create an epic story which feels like a movie trying too hard. I just want to run fast and not have to hear how to get to the computer room!
One of the common complaints I heard about the first episode is the control. Admittedly, they are quite different from the classic Genesis titles, but that’s fine. Super Mario handles very differently between titles, and no one complains (try playing Super Mario Maker’s version of Super Mario World, and then go back to the original. Yeah, exactly). Different doesn’t always mean better, and in my opinion, different in this case means… different. Once you are used to the controls, it feels just fine. Sonic does not keep his momentum when traveling through the air, but this leads to more precise platforming. Playing Sonic Generations as classic Sonic, I remembered how awful it could be staying on a platform that is moving. Sonic also does not keep his speed when curled up, though I view this as a greater risk-reward mechanic: You want Sonic to keep moving fast, but if you are virtually invincible while in the ball, you are a spectator. Staying upright while running means the thrill of speed while being actively engaged the entire time.
I have mixed feelings about the homing attack, though. I’ll give them that. They certainly designed the game around it, so it has a use, but they could have kept it out and it would have felt more challenging. The nice thing is you can use the attack as a way to quickly gain speed, so yeah.
The music is another one of the games strong suits. I used real money in the form of iTunes fun-bucks cards to purchase this album! That means something since I could have easily ripped the music from YouTube, slapped it on a CD, and called it pirate-y goodness, but I didn’t. You’re welcome, SEGA. I paid money. All of the non-Casino Nights music fit well with the atmosphere of the stage, and there is a different song for each Act (normally, Sonic has the same music for every Act in a Zone). My favorites are the Mad Gear Zone songs, which are catchy and Act 2 gets stuck in my head until that’s all I think about keep humming it singing it until I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE WHY WON’T IT STOP!!!! The Special Zones sounds like a lullaby. What’s up with that?
Each Zone is a carbon copy of one done in the Genesis games. The first Zone is Splash Hill Zone, the obligatory foresty zone. The second Act can be annoying since it relies on a vine-swinging mechanic that is never revisited. It’s pretty straightforward and does a good job of getting the player used to the new physics engine. I should also mention that each Zone has 3 Acts and a fourth Boss Act, which is (surprise surprise) Dr. Robotnik.
The second Zone is Casino Street Zone. Gambling is fun! Pinball is fun! Pinball gambling is amaaaazing!! Too bad that’s only in one Act. The second Act is a great place to rack up 1-ups, though you get unlimited continues and can select and Zone and Act you desire, which is actually less aggravating than any of the previous Sonic games when you just want to take a break. Anyway, music sucks here.
Next is the Lost Labyrinth Zone. Yes, it takes place underwater for one of the Acts. It also has an Act with dark rooms where Sonic must light torches and use them to solve puzzles. That Act was surprisingly fun. I do know that the mobile version of that Act includes a mine cart stage in which the player must tilt the device to move Sonic. It looks dumb. Also, music is awesome again! Unfortunately, the Robotnik fight sucks. If you played the Labyrinth Zone boss in the first Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis, it’s that, only less frustrating.
Finally, we get Mad Gear Zone. It’s… pretty much every other penultimate Zone from every other game.
I’m not doing the spoiler warning for the last section. If you don’t get that Robotnik is the bad guy, I’m not sure what I can do for you.
E.G.G. Station Zone is a boss rush of the four Robotnik bosses from the previous Zones, plus the final boss from Sonic 1. This costs Sonic 4 points in the originality department, though it tries to add a Desperation Mode to the final boss. The thing I ABSOLUTELY HATED was the beginner’s trap they included. Once the Death EGG Robot is defeated, it throws a huge hissy fit all over the Death Star EGG and slams into the ground. You have a scant three seconds to recognize you must hit him once more to avoid the ground from crumbling, resulting in an instant death. Not cool, SEGA.
Yes, I died to this.
No, I’m not mad.
No, I’m not repressing.
In the end, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is a great game, and worth an afternoon of playing. Some parts can be frustrating and takes getting used to, but that was true of Sonic 1. The game was reviewed favorably, even if it isn’t remembered fondly, and did well enough to warrant a second episode with Tails. If you haven’t, give it a play before losing yourself in Sonic Mania. It’s on the short side, but that only means you can get to Sonic Mania faster.
Play it, and download the soundtrack.
My arbitrary score based on nothing is 8 out of 11.