Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Xbox 360 Review

October 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – SEGA – Developer – Dimps/Sonic Team – Genre –  Platformer – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 3+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, Wii

We’ve had, amongst others, the Adventure and Rush series, Sonic Heroes, the Sonic Rush series, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog reboot and Sonic Unleashed, but we haven’t had a proper numbered sequel until now. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is the first downloadable episode of, well, however many SEGA wants to make and takes the series back to its roots, stripping it back to its simpler and earlier days.

The last time we saw a game in the numbered mainline Sonic series was Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which was released back in 1994 on the Mega Drive. Fans will also remember that Sonic & Knuckles was released later in 1994 and this is the game where Sonic 4’s story picks up from. But to actually call it a story would be a bit of a joke; Sonic 4 seems a lot more interested with getting you moving as opposed to leaving you stationery to watch a cut-scene, and it wasn’t like Sonic ever needed a story in the first place anyway. Like the past 2D games, you aren’t going to be hearing Sonic and company speaking, either: damn, that means no maniacal laugh from Dr. Robotnik/Eggman.

You can always return to levels to attempt to get missed Chaos Emeralds or to gain some extra lives if you are running low. Indeed, the structure is more Sonic Rush than Sonic the Hedgehog.

It’s tradition for a Sonic game to start in a level that looks very green and Sonic 4 is no exception. It’s in this first level where many of us will be comparing it to other 2D games in the series, asking questions such as is it as fast as I remember? Is Sonic’s jump different? And the questions just keep coming for such avid fans.

Well, I’ve got to say that Sonic isn’t as quick as he once was, although that’s not to say that he’s slowed down his pace to match that of, well, an actual hedgehog. Yes, Sonic 4 is only a tad slower, but many of the fans have noticed and have made their feelings known. As for the jumping and overall physics Sonic feels weightier in this game and comes complete with the homing attack that may take away the precision of certain jumps when you choose to use it, but typically it’s a lot of fun to use, quickly bouncing from one enemy to another and so on. Sonic also has his classic spindash move, which is great when you want instant speed to perhaps escape what would otherwise have been a quick death.

All the things that fans will remember are here: there’s loops to dizzy yourself with, springs to bounce on, spikes to avoid and other familiar objects and obstacles to respectively use to your advantage or avoid. This is definitely a Sonic game and one that has been designed to appease the long-time fans of the blue hedgehog in mind, perhaps for those who never got on with Sonic in a 3D world.

This first episode of Sonic 4 is comprised of four zones, each consisting of three acts and a boss. As opposed to any imagination, zones are seemingly inspired by those that have gone before: we have the typical attractive and green zone, the bright lights and usual fixtures of a Sonic casino zone, the dark and ancient temple, and finally a peril filled factory. Don’t get me wrong, all the zones are very well designed, although more imagination wouldn’t have gone amiss. The lack of imagination extends to the bosses and the bonus stages, which are largely rehashes of past games. For example, the first boss is pretty much the one that featured at the end of the first zone of the original game.

Perhaps SEGA had this idea in their head that they were going to bring tears of nostalgia to the eyes of many, although must such a short game with the 4 on the end of its title be without anything truly refreshing?  Do bear in mind that there are more episodes on the way, though.

No Tails? Perhaps he'll arrive in another episode.

Yes, it’s short and perhaps overpriced (1200 Microsoft Points, which is around £10) and, despite a few tricky portions, in no way is this the most challenging Sonic game that has ever graced a console. The majority of players will likely have the game complete pretty quickly, although be prepared to face frustration with the multi-stage final boss, I came relatively close to completely giving up. A few more zones would have certainly been most welcome, although there’s replay value in the time attack mode (complete with online leaderboards) and typically it features different routes here and there throughout each act. If you can grab all the Chaos Emeralds from the bonus stages, then a bright yellow hedgehog may also become playable.

Visually, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is colourful and delightful to look at, whilst the chirpy music and all the classic sound effects – from the jingle of the rings to Sonic’s jump – are also very likeable. It all makes for a very charismatic and nostalgic package for many.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is certainly a nice throwback to how Sonic used to be and offers all the classic 2D platforming fun of old. I feel rotten to have any complaints about such a colourful and childhood memory producing game, although sadly this first episode could have been more – not only does it feel overpriced, but it also could have looked forward as opposed to regularly looking back and taking well used elements from previous games. This is a great starting point, but let’s just hope that episode 2 will build on it and deliver a superior classic 2D platformer.