Those of us of an older age (me included) can remember the time Sonic came in to our lives. It was a time of fun, a time of innocence, a time of… well you get the picture; it was a while ago. Sonic The Hedgehog was the first game I ever played on a console after making the leap from Commodore 64 to Sega Megadrive (or Genesis for you American folk). Between Sonic and Streets of Rage, my friends and I whiled away many an evening, keeping ourselves out of trouble. But Sonic wasn’t just a small collection of pixels, he was a gaming icon. In fact he was one of the first gaming icons ever to grace our TV’s. Standing toe to toe with Mario, he was instantly recognisable to almost everyone, even those who had never played a video game before.
However, where Mario matured and changed with the world around him, Sonic was left to grow old ungracefully. Forever milking their little blue cash-cow dry, Sega tried to recapture his glory attempt after failed attempt. This lead to many an older gamer (me included, again) to shed a tear or two as they stuck him in a Kart, gave him a human like appearance and even turned him in to a Were-Hog (I mean, really?). Many people thought Sonic had lost his way and that he should just be put out to pasture.
Sega however had another plan. In what must be a final attempt to regain the love and trust of all the Sonic fans out there, they decided to take him right back to his Green Zone roots! Gone is the 3D game style with its clunky controls and awful camera. Gone are all of his sidekicks and their daft dialogues. The old Sonic is back, just with a new paint job.
The first thing to say about Sonic 4 is that it isn’t so much a sequel as it is a remake of the first game. All the old levels are there (with different names), and they all feel very similar. That’s not to say they aren’t any good it’s just a bit disappointing that Team Sonic couldn’t come up with something original. However, it’s the look of the game that really stands out. The environments are lush and colourful and look very sharp. Sonic and Dr Eggman have also been given a facelift, and now have a cell-shaded look to them. It gives them a cartoony feel that really fits in well with the new visuals. Sound design is also excellent; the new remixes work well and sound great. And all of the iconic sound effects make a return.
The levels are pretty much how you would expect them to be and there are a few really nice touches to the gameplay, which adds to platforming action. The various guises of Dr Eggman have been updated as well, meaning that he’s not such a push over this time round. The special stages also make a return (seven in all). I found them to be less of a hassle than the original game, and have even managed to get a few of the Chaos Emeralds!! If you manage to collect all seven, Super Sonic then becomes available who will help you wiz through the stages. It really feels like a Sonic game should. When he’s running at full pelt through a level you really get a sense of speed. This is where the game shines, running through sections of a level with his legs all a blur, feeling like nothing can stop you.
The game is comprised of 4 acts; Splash Hill, Casino Street, Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear. Each act has three stages and a boss stage. Along the way you will encounter all manner of beasties who have been turned into robotic henchmen by Dr Eggman. As I mentioned earlier, they are all recognisable to old Sonic fans but have been updated enough to stop them feeling too outdated. There is also a final battle were you try to stop Dr Eggman once and for all (well, at least until Episode 2).
However, all is not sweet smelling in Sonic’s garden. There are a few changes to the game that didn’t sit well with me, firstly, the controls. Even though they have stripped Sonic back to the basics, the controls feel a little sluggish. It takes ages for Sonic to gather enough speed, and because in some of the later levels there is so much stopping and starting this can get really annoying. The whole point to Sonic is the speed, so why make it so difficult for him to get his jog on? Also, they have decided to include Sonic’s Homing Attack. When an enemy (or object of interest) is close to Sonic, a crosshair appears over it. This means that while sonic is in mid-jump you can press the jump button again and he will spin attack the targeted enemy.
Although this can be handy, it can also be frustrating as a miss-timed press can easily result in Sonic’s death. The other thing that bothered me was the games campaign length, you could probably get through it in an hour or two and towards the end of the game it feels like they artificially ramped up the difficulty just to prolong the game. There is the time attack mode, in which you can go back and replay the levels and post your times online. This does add some replay value, but already there are some people out there who have managed to hack the leaderboards and score a time of 00:00 (Idiots).
But those issues aside, Sonic 4 is a stand up game. For the most part it feels and plays like a 2D Sonic game. Sure, it may not be original and he may not have evolved in the same way Mario has, but Sonic is back where he belongs. Some may say that there is no place for Sonic in 2010 and that that the game is dated and boring by today’s standards. But I say Sonic should be given a chance, and that there are plenty of people out there who have never played a Sonic game the way it was meant to be played.
Review copy provided by publisher.