Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1 (PS3)

Title: Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: October 12, 2010
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Sonic Team
Price: $14.99

Developer Sonic Team has taken the little blue hedgehog back to his roots.  Sixteen years after Sonic the Hedgehog 3 hit the shelves, we’re finally getting a proper sequel to the franchise that helped build the Sega brand.  While staying true to its roots, Sonic 4 adds some new gameplay elements and twists to help make the game a bit more contemporary.

Gameplay:
Right from the intro screen, Sonic veterans will be hit with a wave of nostalgia as Sonic pops up into the logo above the water shaking his finger at you.  The game itself is broken down into four main zones, Splash Hill, Casino Street, Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear along with a Special Stage section.  Each Zone consists of three Acts and a Boss level.  The really nice change here from previous Sonic titles is that once you play the first Act in the Splash Hill Zone, everything else is open to you and you can jump around from level to level playing through the way you want.  This takes away one of the frustrations of earlier Sonic titles and older platform games in general where you’d have to start from the beginning and work your way through it all over again every time you started up the game.

Multiple playthroughs of each level are encouraged with online leaderboards posting the best scores on each level.  You can break it down by overall scores (with player regions listed) or by your own or friends scores.  There are also two ways to play through each Act which are tied into the leaderboards, Score Attack and Time Attack.  It’s really a fantastic way to give the game a longer lifespan as you try to work your way up the leaderboards.

The gameplay consists of your standard Sonic fare with a twist.  You’ll rush through the Acts, spinning, jumping, hitting enemies, collecting rings and such but you now have a homing attack as well.  If there’s something on the screen you can home in on when you jump, such as an enemy, a box or a springboard, a red target will appear over it and if you hit the jump button again while in the air, Sonic will zoom directly towards the target.  More than just a gimmick, this changes the gameplay in some places and becomes critical in others.  While I wasn’t comfortable with it at first (I felt it wasn’t ‘old school’ Sonic) it quickly grew on me and I’m glad it’s been added here.

While each of the levels pays homage to levels from Sonic 1 and 2 (Green Hill, Casino Night, Labyrinth and Metropolis respectively) they’re not just a simple rehash.  The gameplay is familiar for sure, but the challenge level is high, in some places frustratingly so.  One reason why everyone (including Glenn) should love the Lost Labyrinth Zone is of course, the mine carts.  These are, of course, the mine carts that were seen in a leaked video months before the release date but after an outcry from fans, their usage has been scaled back considerably.

Overall Sonic fans should feel right at home while newcomers should be able to get right into the gameplay with its familiar platforming elements and have a really good time with it.  The control actually feels better than earlier Sonic games on the Genesis and the d-pad on the DualShock 3 is much more precise.  I’d really recommend using the d-pad over the left analog stick as this type of game warrants that level of control.

Visuals:
2D Sonic has never looked better, and that’s to be expected when you’re going from a nineteen year old 16-bit version to a widescreen HD version.  While there’s not a whole lot going on in Splash Hill Zone Act 1, the rest of the levels have some great foreground and background animations .  The color palette is retro-licious.  Sporting bright, beautiful splashes of color even in the darker Labyrinth and Mad Gear Zones, it really evokes the feel of an old Genesis Sonic title, right down to the cue cards introducing each Act.

The Labyrinth level in particular shows off some neat lighting effects as the entire level is dark and Sonic carries a torch lighting only his immediate surroundings.  As you progress through the level, you’ll light stationary torches lighting up entire areas and even fuses to set off dynamite allowing you to progress through the level.

Another nice touch is having the idle animations.  A lost art in a sense, idle animations kick in when you put your controller down and let the game sit for about 30 seconds.  Sonic will get agitated, tap his foot, look directly at you and his watch as if to say “Come on already” Idle animations were big in the 16-bit era but tend to be missing from a lot of games nowadays, one exception being ‘Splosion Man on the Xbox Live Arcade which has some fabulous and hilarious stuff going on when you put the controller down for a bit.

Audio:
All the original sound effects are here just as they were in the old Genesis classics.  The music has a very 16-bit feel to it and evokes a lot of the original background music without completely copying it.  It’s nice to hear something that’s very familiar which doesn’t get repetitive or annoying while playing through the levels again and again.

Conclusion:
This is an excellent return to Sonic’s roots while updating the graphics and gameplay elements just enough to keep things interesting.  This is a good first step on Sonic’s road to redemption and but I’d like to see some completely new levels mixed in with Part 2 when it comes along.  While I would like to have seen more levels overall, especially at $14.99 I think there’s certainly enough here for long time fans and newcomers alike.

Score:
9.0

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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