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Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I (WiiWare) Review

Review for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I on WiiWare - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

SEGA’s iconic hedgehog is on the verge of turning twenty years old and Sonic Team are celebrating by attempting to reboot the franchise with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Can Sonic foil Eggman’s plans once again, or has the diabolical doctor finally caught up with his prey?

It's hard to believe that the franchise is approaching two decades with over fifty main games and spin-offs. We’ve seen Sonic and friends jump, glide, fly and spin through various platforms, some critically acclaimed and others far less memorable. The group have driven cars, hover-boards, wielded swords, played various sports and even exchanged fists in the arcades. The hedgehog has done it all. But amongst the genre mix-ups many fans had questioned the franchise’s direction, even proposing a “Sonic cycle” where hype is intertwined with gimmicks to the point where anything could be tagged onto the good Sonic the Hedgehog name.

That said the journey hasn’t been all that bad and although there are many who were disappointed a majority of the last decade’s efforts, there have been some far more successful attempts at cooking up a modern Sonic game. Sonic Adventure was the first step, introducing a richer story and dialogue to the otherwise quiet plot. It was a smooth launch to Sonic’s 3D career, offering plenty of variety and recruiting newer players along the way, but since strayed too far from what made the concept fresh and unpredictable. In more recent outings developers had experimented with different art directions, themes and although we’ll give credit for attempting to expand, the gameplay mechanics and poor controls soiled the otherwise potentially inviting experience.

"Will they ever do another purely 2D platformer?” asked legions of Sonic the Hedgehog players. The answer came with a well received run on Nintendo’s Game-Boy Advance and DS, proving that the demand for side-scrolling Sonic was still strong. Whilst coming close, these games are different from their console predecessors, utilising a new physics engine and style. Fans still had a thirst for more: A new 2D sonic game on the living room TV.

Screenshot for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I on WiiWare - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

SEGA’s solution was to create the direct sequel to the original Mega Drive/Genesis games, dubbing it Sonic the Hedgehog 4. The project is split into numerous episodes, the first of which is made up with four zones (worlds), each spanning three meaty levels and a boss stage.

The opening scene, Splash Hill Zone, starts things off with the almost obligatory cocktail: a sweeping grass stained forest with plenty of checkered hills, lush trees, leaping fish and bomber bees. It’s 1991 all over again, and it’s a glossy, fun start with a healthy dose of nostalgia spread. The trend continues with the remaining four worlds, we’ve got a casino, Aztec styled labyrinth and Eggman’s robot supermarket. All these environments are an almost pixel perfect rendition of some of the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 stages, with the addition of a handful of unique, fun but occasionally painful twists. In one moment you’re cruising in Donkey Kong Country-inspired Minecarts, casually leaping over endless and the next you’re carefully leaping over folding cards. These additions to the core Sonic design enrich and vary the experience and coupled together with a classic level design do provide a potentially solid canvas for our hedgehog to do his thing. Potentially.

We’ve got all the hills, pipes, bridges, cogs and springs that you can ask for, but the what lets down the game is control. The way Sonic moves and interacts with his environment is key to the platforming formula. You can’t have Nintendo’s Mario toppling over as he jumps or Yoshi’s tongue failing to work - and that’s the case with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. It's an unreliable experience. We're not talking about the odd wall not working or a a pixel out of place, Dimps and Sonic Team have done a solid job of crafting together a working environment but it’s Sonic’s tendency to slide about too much, homing attacks not working every time and boss battles unresponsive.

Screenshot for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I on WiiWare - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

New to the running, jumping and rolling is the homing attack. Ported over from the 3D games, the move allows players to lock-on to anything that Sonic can pounce his prickly spikes onto, or well, into: power-up boxes, springs, enemies and even Eggman himself. The addition hasn’t been adopted well by some fans, and here it’s both an advantage and a curse. In general when you can see your target in good time, a double tap of the jump button and you’re there. It’s quick, it’s easy and is a useful addition when it isn’t forced upon you. However when quicker reactions are needed or there’s a need to home in on enemies to avoid specifically-designed traps, it’s far trickier and less convincing.

Another inclusion what we’d like to call ‘uncurling’. Whilst we like to adapt to change and embrace the new, a core function from past 2D games has been brutally shafted to one side and instead replaced with a potentially game-breaking change. Previously after coming off ramps or being propelled off springs Sonic would keep to his ball shape, allowing you to attack most incoming danger, but now he ‘uncurls’, leaving him open to the complete opposite - almost anything can now cause damage. Coupled with an unpredictable homing attack and we’ve got a recipe for disaster. Again having to compromise to make the core gameplay work.

Screenshot for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I on WiiWare - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Aside from the control flaws it’s all a visually impressive treat. Whether your a fan of old or a newcomer to the series, Episode 1 has had a healthy amount of love and care in it’s presentation. Although the original Sonic the Hedgehog games had their own individual look and style, there was a recurring design that’s been carried across without overly complicating or dampening the feel. Checkered backgrounds, lush orange, greens and blues carefully stirred and delicately painted across a new canvas. Press play and the world comes alive with neat visual treats: subtle sways in the wind, dust and other particle effects add to the already vivid look - keeping in line with the old, but with a splash of the new. That said, for a sequel it there perhaps is a lack of expansion in the design. Though it’s always good to inject references into sequels, we’re finding Episode 1 lacking that bit of originality and progression, as if we’ve seen much of it before. Granted it all looks nicer, bigger and bolder than its predecessors, but can ware off after the initial excitement.

Music and sound effects are also key to the Sonic the Hedgehog formula and with a tight soundtrack to live up to, we came away disappointed with an irritating, continually pulsating beat pounding in our heads. There are a handful of standout tunes, particularly the Labyrinth and Mad Gear selection but in general offer weak compliment to the on-screen action, looping over and over to a painful effect. On a more positive note all the jumps, bounces, flicks and switches are brought back, keeping the original effects intact for a more authentic feel.

Screenshot for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode I on WiiWare- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

The developer has put together a convincing world for Sonic to re-inhabit after a rather long absence. All the loops, springs, bridges and hills are brought back to life and are crafted into twelve solidly designed stages. Great. There are moments where it works, there’s a smooth flow and we have confidence playing as Sonic once again, however where Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 falls apart is in specific, precise control: when you need to do more than roll and run in a straight line. Some of the physics errors we can push to one side, but the inconsistency and limitations in control let the experience down, frustrating and verging onto unplayable at times.

Graphics

It looks good and runs great. Updates the look without compromising the classic Sonic the Hedgehog feel and style. Could have done with more original and unique designs, particularly after initial step back in time.

Sound

A mixed bunch of tunes, some fitting and memorable and others that you wouldn’t even consider setting as an enemy’s ring-tone. However the returning sound-effects do invoke good, happy feelings. Still though, the backing tracks do need work and certainly more variety. As much as we enjoy his work, composer Jun Senoue needs to reference more than just four bar nursery rhymes.

Value

There are tough moments, and the confusing game engine doesn’t quite help but the overall campaign can quite easily be done and dusted in an hour or so. No co-operative play or simple level by level racing is unfortunate. But that’s not much different from most Sonic games - the real lasting appeal are the online leader-boards and time attack, and fortunately this game has both. If you’re a speed demon you’ll be constantly trying to shave seconds, or else it’ll be a pick up and play affair.

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Good - Bronze Award

About this score
Rated 7 out of 10

Here at Cubed3 the majority of us love Sonic the Hedgehog. The series is tattooed onto our childhood memories and the offering of a new entry has the potential to create new ones. From a sequel perspective we’re hoping for more originality, expansion but keeping the roots firmly intact. As a standalone game the engine is littered with issues that force compromise in order for it work, using nostalgia as a drive to ignore these faults, and that’s not the way it should be.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is a good enough start to what will hopefully be a more refined and usable experience. It is better than some of the more recent games, and although has addressed some issues with the move back into 2D, still suffers from awkward and unpredictable controls. Aside from the gameplay issues, Episode 1 is worth considering - however perhaps try out a demo version (on other formats) or a friend’s copy before buying.

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20.10.2010

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Developer

SEGA

Publisher

SEGA

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10 (1 Votes)

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Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Good review Smilie

I have the same experiences with the downsides of the gameplay, namely the uncurling and sometimes inconsistent homing attack - both of which can bugger you up.

The soundtrack wasn't particularly memorable at all, and there were a few other frustrating moments which slowed the game down a bit (looking at you, cannons of the casino).

Like you say, there isn't much to come back to after you beat the game. Leaderboards and trophies (do they have an in-game equivalent for the Wii version?), but not too much else.

I think this shouldn't be looked at as a true sequel to the classic Sonic series, else you'll be more disappointed. Think of it as more of a "New Sonic the Hedgehog" in the same way that New Super Mario Bros has gone back to its roots but still made things a little bit different.

I think it's worth the 10 quid (or how many Wii points that is) it's available for, and that 7/10 is a pretty fair score.

Cubed3 Staff :: Senior Editor
Follow me on: Twitter | YouTube | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Thanks Azuarado!

It was very hard to review this as we should always consider the games as standalone but as SEGA is branding it Sonic 4 I had to make the comparisons!

Good point on the "New Sonic the Hedgehog" concept, and you're right in the way that Nintendo did that with Mario.

The weird physics (like being able to run-up the walls Rush style) I didn't really take into consideration as they're not game-breakers or a major issue for me, but the dodgy homing attack and uncurling really do ruin the gameplay, I'm sure even for those that haven't played the original Sonics would note the same flaws.

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Of course, Retro have probably done the right thing by calling the next game in the DKC series "Donkey Kong Country Returns", rather than "DKC4". They're playing it safe, I guess, taking note from what Nintendo did with Mario. Sega, on the other hand, took a risk by calling it Sonic 4.

In fact, I think "Sonic the Hedgehog Returns" would suit this game better, heh.

Cubed3 Staff :: Senior Editor
Follow me on: Twitter | YouTube | Backloggery

Completely agree with the review in what I've played so far. Played it only once, actually, and haven't gone back to it since =/..

Cost me €15, btw. Sort of ticks me off it cost me €15 and not €10 with how little 'entertainment' I get out of it, but meh.

( Edited 22.10.2010 15:52 by Faust D. Strooijer )

~Getting on C3's massive tits since 2K5.~
Staff Member

7/10 seems fair. Completely milked this game dry though, got all the Acheivements, both Avatar Awards.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I've really enjoyed it. The first time I played it I didn't actually like it much, but then I replayed some stages, got some Emeralds, and did another run after I had done everything.

I've really gotten used to the gameplay, and my second runthrough was just really solid fun from beginning to end, especially the latter two Zones. The Casino Zone is just pretty weak though. ._.

I'd probably give it an 8 myself, but really I agree. My stance on the game is it doesn't do the classics justice, but it's not an insult either.

A decent starting point, looking forward to seeing how the final product turns out.

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery

"New Sonic the Hedgehog" is appropriate to call this game by. Not the worst thing i've seen but I hope Episode II can take what Episode I did and go way beyond.


Mario, Mega Man and Rayman FTW!!!

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