Sunday, October 17, 2010
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Review
Sonic 4 is, according to the description, the game we've been waiting 16 years for. However, does it really live up to that reputation? Or is it just another disaster of a game that can only continue to hurt the blue hedgehog's poor standing in current gen gaming? Don't worry, your friendly neighborhood Mega Buster is here to fulfill all your curiosities.
For those of you who don't know, Sonic 4 is the latest installment in the original Sonic series back from the Sega Genesis era. It's a 2D super-fast action adventure game, to say the least of it. You collect rings, bop enemies on the head, and collect power ups and all that fun stuff. I really shouldn't have to explain an old school Sonic game to you, go play one.
Walking into Sonic 4, I won't lie, my expectations weren't sky-high. They weren't low either, but they were there... in the middle, I guess you could say. What happened as I played the game was nothing short of delightful, as the game exceeded my middle ground expectations and really brought an excellent Sonic game to the table, after a great long many years.
The gameplay is what you'd expect from a Sonic game, and that's a good thing. There's running, jumping, swinging, ring collecting, and so on and so forth. However, Sonic does feel a bit slower than his 16 bit counter parts (oddly enough considering how much chubbier he was back then), but for whatever reason it works for the way the game is laid out, and when you have to go fast, you are going fast, so that has to count for something, right?
The level design is an absolute dream to us Sonic fans. Sonic Team essentially took old level ideas from the original Sonic games, and turned them into something new. There's Splash Hill Zone, your typical green forest-like level that gives you a nice introduction to the platforming elements of the game, with little to no difficulty in beating. Then there's the Casino Street Zone is similar to other Casino stages of the original Sonic franchise, but oddly enough I didn't hate it as much as I did back then. Usually I despised the Casino stages for their completely maze-like and chaotic level design, and the annoying pinball things all over the place knocking you around. In a sense, I think this might be one of the best Casino stages of the entire series, since it never strays you off the path and you don't get lost, and you're not always getting knocked around. I thought I'd enjoy this stage the least out of all of them, but I somehow managed to enjoy it a lot. That was quite a surprise on my end. The Lost Labyrinth zone is based off one of the most hated stages of Sonic 1, but somehow, the developers managed to make the stage enjoyable. Actually, I think this is my favorite act in the entire game. It has an exploration feel to it, there's a lot of interesting platforming elements added to the stages as well. The mine cart, rolling this giant rock under your feet, traversing through the water (not that this is new, but different compared to the other stages). A lot of fans complained about the mine cart part when they saw the trailer, and the devs ended up taking some of it out, which is unfortunate because quite frankly... it was a lot of fun. Thanks, fans! Then you have the Mad Gear zone, your typical Dr. Eggman hideout stage with gears and pipes that shoot you around, and so on and so forth. The game hardly strays the path of a Sonic game, taking almost little to no chances to be quite honest. In a way, it's somewhat of a letdown in a weird sense, but I suppose that's why this is Episode 1. They laid the groundwork down, perhaps now they can take a chance and experiment a bit for future installments. In a nutshell, the level design is great, if not a bit too familiar.
I'd like to take a moment to talk about the graphics. They're awesome. I absolutely love the way Sonic looks in this game. He looks like such a bad ass. I can't believe the fans wanted that fat, short legged Sonic from the 16 bit days instead of this edgy, cool looking hedgehog with some of the sweetest head spikes I've ever seen. Everything else looks great too, the monsters are all familiar foes for the most part (again, a bit too familiar), but to see them all redone in this HD setting is pleasing. The stages are absolutely beautiful, the backgrounds especially (if you actually take the time out of running through the stage to look, like I do). Casino Street and Splash Hill were the two stages whose backgrounds really stood out to me, it was just really nice to look at. This game in general is very nice to look at, with its vibrant colors, excellent character design, and awesome backgrounds. You can tell that a lot of time went into the pretty graphics, and it was well worth it.
Then there's the music, which, in my opinion, falls devastatingly short compared to the Sonic games of the past. Don't misunderstand me, I didn't hate the music or anything like that, it fit, it worked (especially that snare drum, it was so Sonic), but there was something about it that just threw me off, perhaps a bit too synth for my taste. I couldn't help but think of epic Sonic tracks like "Ice Cap Zone" from Sonic 3 or "Mystic Cave Zone" from Sonic 2 and then see how little these new tracks could possibly add up. The music fits, it works, but in my opinion, the composers really should have took more time to study the music of the past games and what made it good. The snare drum is nice and all, but you need to have the full package to make it work.
Also, this game is very short. Perhaps a bit too short. I know Sonic games in general aren't all that long, and I don't expect them to be, but this game only took me two hours to beat in my first sitting. I don't recall a Sonic game ever taking me that little bit of time on my first run. Then there's the fact that it's way too easy. By the end of the game I wracked up over 30 extra lives. The bosses were a joke, and the regular enemy's didn't stand much of a chance either. The homing attack helped a lot with that. I love the homing attack though, and I'm glad it was put in there, but they seriously could've amped the difficulty up a bit... a lot, actually. That's not to say that the game wasn't a complete blast to play through, but I suppose I was just a bit let down at how quickly the roller coaster ended. Maybe an extra act would've helped out a bit, or a hard mode, or something. Though on the bright side, the Chaos Emeralds still aren't all that easy to obtain, so there's plenty of reasons to go back and try again. Aside from the Emeralds, there's time attacks and leader boards and all that fun competition stuff. Also, since it's so short it makes it easy to come back to for another round, so it's a double edged sword in that sense.
In conclusion, Sonic 4 has its shortcomings (excuse the pun), but it's an overall fun, if a bit too familiar of an experience, but it lays down the groundwork to what can quite possibly be Sonic's return to being taken seriously by gamers in the future.