Game Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (Xbox LIVE, WiiWare, PS3 Network)

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most popular and iconic video game characters. And yet, the blue blur has had a bit of a bumpy ride in the past few years with his 3-D endeavors. So now he’s gone back to basics with a new 2-D classic-styled adventure you can download on Xbox LIVE, WiiWare, and PSN (Xbox version reviewed here). So does Sonic 4 live up to its series’ original greatness? Most definitely yes! If only for a short while…

If you’ve ever played a 2-D Sonic game on the Sega Genesis, you know what to expect here. Sonic spins, jumps, and of course, runs though loops and other obstacles as he tries to save little critters from Dr. Robotnik’s (Eggman) evil mechanizations. Sonic has all his old moves, like the spin dash, as well as some new tricks, too. He can do the homing dash found in the 3-D Sonic games, and it works nicely and feels right at home here in 2-D land. And it’s implemented in the gameplay very well, too. Visuals have received a HD overhaul with detailed backgrounds and well-animated sprites.

There are a few minor quibbles with Sonic 4, though. One, the levels aren’t too terribly original. There’s a green checkerboard loop-filled area, a casino, a labyrinth cave, and Eggman’s mechanical fortress. Nothing new, just stuff that’s all been done before. Although there are some neat new ideas in these stages. Like how Sonic carries a torch to illuminate the darkness and ignite fuses in one labyrinth stage, and surfs on a deck of cards in a casino area.

Also, Sonic 4 feels a little short and on the easy side. It’s going to be in episodic chunks, and while this style of gaming works in other places such as TellTale’s point and click adventures; here it just feels like half a Sonic game. Granted, there is a bit of replayability in trying to collect all the Chaos Emeralds. Speaking of which, the bonus stages in which you get the Chaos Emeralds are similar to those in the first Sonic game. But instead of the maze rotating by itself, you get to control the rotation. So it reminds me of one of my favorite Taito arcade games: Cameltry (otherwise known as Off the Wall).

My final problem with Sonic 4 is more of a personal preference. One of the things Sonic fans have had a beef with the more recent titles is they focus too much on the side characters instead of the main hedgehog himself. So Sonic 4 features him only. But I really liked playing as Tails. He was cute and his flying ability made him more fun to play as. This is just speculation on my part, but maybe they’ll add Tails in some DLC. Although that would actually be a little annoying, like they were nickel and diming us to death. I also liked Big the Cat, but I’m just weird that way.

But even with these minor problems, Sonic 4 is a great step in the right direction for classic 2-D Sonic gameplay. Download it for a quick dose of speedy blue nostalgia.

Kid Factor:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reviewing games for more than 15 years and being around kids, it’s this one simple fact: Kids Love Sonic. No matter if it’s a 3-D game, 2-D adventure, cartoon, or comic books, young gamers just can’t get enough of the hedgehog. Sonic 4 is great for them because of the simpler gameplay and lighter difficulty. And older gamers can still find challenge in getting all the Chaos Emeralds. No reading is required, but some younger players may have trouble and need help with some of the tougher stages, though. Sonic 4 is rated E for Everyone with an ESRB descriptor of Comic Mischief. Sonic spins into robots to make them explode, and when he gets hit, he just falls back. And that’s as about as violent as it gets.

One other kid-related item: one of the reasons why it would’ve been cool to have Tails in Sonic 4 is that in the old games, Tails would follow Sonic and a second player could pick up the controller and play as Tails. It was great so younger gamers could feel like they were playing, too. If you could’ve done that in Sonic 4, it would’ve been even better for kids than it already is!

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