Review: Sonic 4: Episode 1

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.

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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

Pros:

  • Lush visuals
  • Very strong platforming
  • Sonic back to his best
  • Nice variety of Zones

Cons:

  • 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.

Score: 9/10

Version reviewed: PS3.

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41 Comments

  1. Cannot wait for this and this was always going to be a day one purchase for me. I have to say I’m very disappointed with the lack of length. Only 4 zones seems a bit.. poor. Especially for the price tag.

    But hey! Looking forward to collecting those rings baby :D

    • It’s fantastic while it lasts!

    • £10 for the same amount of stages as Sonic 3 isn’t poor.

      I have it on XBLA and iPhone 4 and am really loving it.

      • The amount of stages isnt too bad, but four zones.. hmm..
        I just got round to playing it myself,

        I loved having a new sonic game, but the handling on the controls lacks the free feel and speed of sonic games of yesteryear.
        You used to be able to just roll without holding down buttons if the hills were going down, but now you have to keep the right button held down. Not a major problem really, but for someone who is so used to the old controls it takes a bit of getting used to!

        I feel the homing attack is a bit unneeded and overly used in parts of the game. But hey, They had to add something “new”!

        I think the fact that every level unlocks straight after act one is rubbish!! I know I have the option to play them in order (and believe me, I will), it just seems a bit pointless opening up everything off the bat.

        But hey, still better than a lot of games out there (other than my personal handling issues..).

        Very enjoyable game.

        I would personally give it a 7/10 (out of ten meaning the TSA style out of 10 where 5 is average, not 7).

  2. Far to many things about for the time being for me to get day one… and as a PS+ member i’ll hold fire incase there’s a discount in the wings.

  3. OMG cant believe you gave it a 9, it so deserves a 10!!! lol, im sorry, i couldnt resist! Good review dan, I was a fan of sonic, but the premium price has put me off instantly, like the review says, its 3+ hours, and is basically a hd upgrade of the sonic games i own in the megadrive collection. Do you know how many episodes are they planning? I could see this eventually making its way to ps+ when all the episodes are released, as per sam & max.

    • Not sure how many episodes to be honest. I would say three or four so combined they would equal a full retail release.

      • 4 episodes, I think. I’m sure Sega tweeted a while back either that or it’s on wiki .
        A remix of the old games and a brand new chapter at the end.

  4. Finally, a decent Sonic game! A shame about the price though, for such a short game with no multiplayer. I will probably wait for this to be on special offer or for free on PS+ before I get it, I imagine they will bundle all the Acts together at some point!

  5. The price is a tricky area. Is it expensive? Yes – but in my opinion it really is worth picking up.

    • I don’t see it as that expensive,
      Six levels in the original trilogy of games for £30-£40….
      In this four levels each with three acts for a tenner x 2 modes? Bargain-tastic!

      Fecking hell, some people are going to part with £40 for 4-6hrs of MoH when they have no interest in multiplayer, this is positively cheap by comparison

      • Thats what i was going to say. People seem to think PSN games should all be a fiver.lol. loads of new games are only 6 hours long and the cost £40, so i think this is about right. Ill get this to nurse my hang over on sunday i think

      • if it got a physical release, with all 4 episodes, id happily pay £30 – £40 no bother, but £10 a pop for a series of 4 episodes and they’re all digital?

        unappealing.

        il hold off until i can buy them all together and for a lower price/physical copy.

  6. Cannot wait!

  7. “SEGAAAAAA” – ah that made me smile :o)

  8. “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.”

    How can it be a bad thing!! *Goes to youtube and loads up Death Egg Zone music*

  9. There’s no point buying this in its current form due to Sonic Colours and much more entertainment.. which is here in almost two months… roll on to a full game pack I guess.

    Can’t believe its in episodes which seems to be just being lazy and the huge problem I have with Sonic 4 is that it seems to be HD upgrades of Sonic The Hedgehog levels…. but no Death Egg!!! (*jokes) I’m sure DIMPs have enough talent to make an completey new theme for a Sonic level that will best Sonic team.

    So maybe Robonik can pull off some aewsome laser beams in the installment of Sonic Episode Z: Revenge of the super Sonic’s?

    • Sonic Colours is a completely different style of game though, I wouldn’t really compare the two other than to say it used the same lead character.

    • Sonic Colours is treading the fine line of making a modern flavoured Sonic which have all been pretty shit, it looks like it retains enough classic gameplay to save itself though, but don’t forget that costs 4 times as much as this.

  10. Cool, i will be waiting for the ‘full game’ though :)

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