Delayed Reactions: Sonic 4 – Episode 1 – Back to the olden days
For people who like:
The Original Sonic Series, Retro Sidescrollers, Fast paced platformers (i.e. VVVVVV, Meat Boy, etc.).
+Classic Sonic action
+Retro difficulty with modern convenience
+Good variety in the stages
-Controls are a bit sluggish
-No need to be episodic, too short
-Boss fights are a bit too classic, lacking variety
I have nothing against Sonic. I’ve always liked the guy, seemed like good people, but I never really understood him. The games were fast, but I always took for granted that platformers consisted of one solid map with various places that could be thoroughly investigated all in the same playthrough of the level. I could never really do that with Sonic. Sonic was full of sections that couldn’t be backtracked. It didn’t really make sense to me initially. The exploration in Sonic was never about collecting all the rings or powerups, it was about finding new routes. Sonic 4 helps to bring that value to the front and allow you greater freedom to play and explore, to find new paths and directions within the levels.
The reason this value was somewhat hidden in the original Sonic games was because once you were done with a level, you couldn’t go back without replaying the whole game. Sonic 4 has level selection which presents a greater likeness to picking a track on a racing game. I ended up replaying the levels over and over naturally, finding these new routes each time until I found the fastest route because anytime I missed a chaos emerald in the special stage, I had to return to the level anyway. I didn’t have to take time out of my forward progression to re-do a stage, restoring to a time trial mode or score attack mode. I was able to jump back into a level with an actual purpose. By the time I moved on to the next level, I was satisfied with the number of routes I found. It became the same feeling of satisfaction that I get when I find all the items in the levels of other games.
This is really the way Sonic is supposed to be presented as far as I’m concerned. The point is you want to go back into the level after you’ve finished it to see what other directions are around, and this game presents you with a reason to do so. The previous games forced you to progress after completing a level rather than giving you a chance to go back and explore what you feel you might have missed. Because of this Sonic 4 is, in concept, the best of the Sonic series. I say “in concept” because there are still certain things that hold it back.
From the moment I played the game at E3 two years ago, I thought that the controls felt a bit sluggish. Sonic took a while getting up to speed and the platforming felt stubborn. Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed. I figured they were going to try to replicate the controls as exactly as possible. I thought maybe my memory of the original Sonic was wrong, so I went back and played Sonic and Sonic 2 to see. Nope, the original games control better and with greater responsiveness. It’s unfortunate that the controls are really the only thing holding me back from loving the game as much as I would like to. Aside from that, the controls are generally the same as the classics, the only real change is the targeting air dash. If you have a target, pressing jump in the air will rocket you into it. If there is no target, Sonic with dash forward mid-air. This helped get momentum going from a stand still, but definitely caused some unexpected problems and deaths throughout.
It seems like the physics of the character would sometimes do unpredictable things, changing up the momentum of the character. I noticed at various points I’d be rolling up a ramp, or swinging from a vine and then using this dash would either stop me in my tracks or send me off faster than I could have predicted. This occurred enough times to make me question whether I was utilizing the controls well enough to get maximum speed or height off ramps and other obstacles.
The boss fights in this game seemed a little too classic for my likings. Robotnick never really has more than a couple of moves until his final stage form. This is the way things were in the original too, but it made the boss fights feel smaller, less interesting. I would have liked a bit more variety in the battles, but I still had fun.
The levels are hard, which is a good thing cause the originals were hard. Still though, by the end of the game I had well over 100 lives. It makes the game feel like it should have had infinite lives and called it a day. So, while the game itself really is hard, you get extra lives fast enough that there’s not much to worry about, especially if you go after the chaos emeralds. I assume that someone not returning to stages for this purpose might find themselves running out of lives.
My last issue with the game is the fact it’s episodic. There’s no real reason for this structure. The fact that a game like Super Meat Boy goes for the same price and has far more levels and content than Sonic 4 makes the cost value of the game questionable for people with a thin wallet. The fact is that the game is fun, it’s classic Sonic action. It’s only a few hours of core gameplay without heavy use of the time trials though. There are five zones with three stages each and a boss fight, then 7 special stages. So, if you want classic brand new Sonic gameplay right now, and if you want to show your support to Sega and to Sonic so they’ll keep making them, definitely pick up a copy, but understand the game will be over faster than you’d like it to be. The updated graphics are nice and the music is catchy as ever. If you’re hesitant, maybe hold out until the full bundle is available.
The game made me want to go back and play the originals, and I did. It pulled at the right nostalgia strings for me. It’s hard to say if someone without the same nostalgic fondness would like the game as much. My hunch is that, if you haven’t played the previous Sonic games, that this game’s pacing will seem odd in certain ways. The character’s all about going fast, but there’s still a good portion of careful platforming in the game. I can only hope that this edition re-defines Sonic for the new generations so that we can see more Hedgehog in our future.
Played on the PS3. Available on PSN, XBLA and WiiWare.