Wednesday, April 25, 2012
XBLA review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
Some sixteen years after the releases of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic and Knuckles, SEGA has heeded the cries of many fans who wanted nothing more than the return of the original formula. There have been a few side-scrolling Sonic games in recent years, like Sonic Rush and half of Sonic Generations, but most outings since the start of the 2000s have been from a third-person perspective. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is being released in two parts, and Episode I seeks to rekindle the flame for fans of the Genesis classics.
For starters, Sonic 4: Episode I controls almost exactly the same as the original three games, though the accuracy of the blue hedgehog's motions have been adjusted to play more smoothly on current generation hardware. The lock-on attack is carried over from the Adventure titles, and makes for a much more enjoyable experience, as there is no guesswork involved in attacking enemies. That said, strategy is no sacrificed, as each enemy has a different method of attack/defense that players will need to work around. Episode I favors high-speed thrills over lethargic puzzle-based segments, though the few puzzles that are included are quite well designed, requiring players to tilt a room to drain it of water or spin giant mobile gears to open doors.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good. Everything on the screen is brightly colored and there is some nice attention to the finer details, while the game design as a whole puts forth a solid effort to recall its classic roots. The new-school Sonic character model is used, albeit with some cel-shading that is a bit rough on the eyes.
As this is only the first half of Sonic 4, there are a mere four levels included. Each has three acts plus a boss fight, so they all last longer than a typical Sonic stage. The first level of Splash Hill Zone follows the pattern of Green Hill Zone and Emerald Hill Zone. Casino Street Zone is a nearly-direct copy of Casino Night Zone, though it does include cannons and card platforms as a means to traverse the terrain. Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear are the best of the bunch, with the former feeling like a wildly original spin on the side-scrolling Sonic experience, despite a note taken from Donkey Kong in the form of a mine cart ride segment. The latter, Mad Gear Zone, is something of a hybrid between Chemical Plant Zone and Wacky Workbench, but still brings enough new gameplay elements to the table to merit its important role as the final true stage of the experience.
Boss fights are nicely varied and present a decent degree of challenge. At the end of the game, players must face off against all four of these once more, in a 'greatest hits' lineup. However, this is both unnecessary and unmerited due to the fact that Episode I only lasts a little over an hour. It feels lazy on SEGA's part, and they should have just cut to the chase and made the final boss fight more impressive and challenging.
The soundtrack gets off to a bumpy start, as the first few tunes are some of the most boring and uninspired since Sonic Rush. However, the tunes that play throughout all the acts of Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear, as well as the boss themes, are very well done. They are as catchy as they are befitting of the levels they have been associated with, and are in keeping with whole 'throwback' vibe.
When SEGA says "Episode I", they really mean it. There's not a whole lot to this first chapter of Sonic 4, and the best part of the experience lies beyond the halfway point. Still, if you are a fan of classic Sonic and are in need of a quick fix, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I should serve as a decent solution.
My rating 7.75 (out of 10)