As grim as it may sound I have been sitting here dreading writing this review. Nothing splits opinion like a new Sonic game, and I have a feeling that any score I give will please/upset in equal measure. A lot has already been said about Sonic 4: Episode 1; Sonic’s the wrong shade of blue, his eyes are the wrong colour, his legs look weird; repeat to fade. I won’t be focusing on any of that malarkey; I’m interested in the important stuff; the stuff you want to know before logging on today with your credit card in hand - so here goes.
The game starts ticking the right boxes from the off. Highlight the Sonic 4 icon on the XMB and you hear the familiar sound of rings being collected. Boot the game up and you will be greeted with a “SEGAAAAA” that will cause those over a certain age to give a knowing little smile. Those were the days eh?
Straight away you are thrown into Zone 1: Act 1. There is no fluffy back story; Sonic isn’t hanging out with his ‘friends’, and there are no dodgy cutscenes or voiceovers. So far so win. The visual style of Sonic 4: Episode 1 screams old school Sonic. Somehow SEGA has dragged the game back to its roots, whilst simultaneously making it feel fresh and modern. Everything looks fantastic, bright and vibrant; even in the Lost Labyrinth Zone where you head underground. The kindest thing I can say about the music is that it definitely brings back memories of the 1990s; whether that’s a good thing or not I’ll let you decide.
After completing Act 1 every other Zone and Act unlocks for you to play at your leisure. The game is comprised of four Zones; Splash Hill, Casino Streets, Lost Labyrinth, and Mad Gear Zone. In every Zone there are three Acts and a boss battle and they can all be played in ‘Score Attack’ or ‘Time Attack’ mode. Each Zone has its own visual style, and top marks have to be given to the Casino Streets Zone for some fantastic little details and fancy effects. I won’t ruin them for you, but you’ll understand when you see them.
The retro heads among you will also be pleased to hear that the ‘Special Stages’ from the Mega Drive era make a return. These involve navigating Sonic through a ring filled maze to try and retrieve a Chaos Emerald. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as there is a strict time limit as well as bumpers scattered throughout to try and push you the wrong way. Teeth = clenched.
Old Sonic game traits also make a return, such as running into spikes/traps that appear without warning; and overrunning parts of the level and falling to your death because you were going too fast. These will either fill you with rage or overwhelming nostalgia depending on your mindset. In terms of moves Sonic hangs on to his faithful ‘spin dash’ where he curls up into a ball and dashes off at top speed.
Also carried forward from previous Sonic games is the ‘homing attack’ where Sonic locks onto an enemy and homes right in on them; it is also handy for reaching springs. Sonic can also do a little forward dash in mid air to help him get to hard to reach places. In my opinion the controls are spot on and feel just right and suit whatever style of play you want. If you favour speed then you can quite easily zip through levels with very little interruption; but those who prefer the exploration can slow it down and eek out every ring and power up a level has to offer – just be wary of the ten minute time limit!
In terms of longevity I would have preferred a beefier game to sink my teeth into. Sonic 4: Episode 1 is launching at a premium price, but you’ll be lucky to get three hours out of it. Yes the Score Attack/Time Attack does add some replay value; and the Trophies pretty much demand multiple play throughs but it still leaves you wanting more bang for your buck.
The game is also fairly easy bar one or two of the boss battles. Seasoned Sonic veterans won’t have many problems here. A massive thumbs down also goes to the very last boss which I found to be such a cop out and left me feeling disappointment
- Lush visuals
- Very strong platforming
- Sonic back to his best
- Nice variety of Zones
- Slightly easy
- Questionable length
- Poor final boss
Overall Sonic 4: Episode 1 is the best Sonic game I have played for a long time; and I absolutely loved it. While it lasts it’s the perfect example of how to a 2D side scrolling platformer. No doubt some will want to mark it higher, and some will want to mark it lower and that’s fine. All I can say is bring on Episode 2.
Version reviewed: PS3.