The fourth installment of the classic Sonic the Hedgehog series has been a long time coming. Sure, there have been more spinoffs than we can count, but many have come out as uninspired. Just when gamers started to believe Sonic was dead, Sega announced the fourth installment, promising a return to the game’s roots.
As one would expect, hype went through the roof. Has the final product lived up to these outstanding expectations? In our opinion, not really, but that’s not to say that the game is bad.
Sonic platformers have one key element: speed. Most of the fun is in rushing through roller coaster-like levels set in wacky worlds at blazing fast speeds. In some of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1’s levels this is achieved, and it feels great when it happens. There isn’t anything like watching the blue blur that is Sonic whip around loops at breakneck speed.
However, there are some levels that slow down the pace too much. They offer an unsatisfying take on classic run-and-jump platforming, requiring you to use Sonic’s homing ability to climb up to new areas by smashing enemies or precisely aiming cannons. With only 17 levels, five of which are classic boss fights against Dr. Robotnik, these duds stick out like sore thumbs.
Reach for the sky!
Two exclusive iPhone-only levels are included in the game. One places you in a tilt-controlled minecart that you must navigate around the level. While videos of this level from a few months back showed the mechanic to be clunky, we are happy to say we found no issues with it. In fact, it was a highlight of the game for us.
The other exclusive level is a throwback to Sonic Spinball, where you need to simply score 100,000 points. This comes and goes pretty quickly, and considering there is no way for Sonic to die and that he practically sticks to paddles when he hits them, this level is far easier than it should be.
Returning from the classic Sonic platformers are the special stages. These trippy worlds are difficult, time-based mazes that award a Chaos Emerald at the end. You can control Sonic through these using tilt or swipes (we prefer the former) and they are just as fun and mind-bogglingly hard as we remember. In other words, this is a nostalgic blast from the past that we welcome back with open arms.
With 17 levels, plus seven special stages, Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode1 can easily be beaten in a little over an hour by expert players, and likely two to three hours by everybody else. Considering how long the development time for the game has been and the premium price attached to it, this is a little too short. A time attack mode adds a bit of replay value, but it doesn’t make up for the overall lack of content.
Sonic isn’t afraid to submit to his Minecraft addiction.
We have a few other gripes with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 as well. One is that the “braking” physics are off; Sonic comes to a complete halt when stopping and takes too long to gain up his speed again. This can occasionally become frustrating. Also, the small analog stick controls are usable, but not optimal for Sonic gameplay. Tilt controls are also available, but for a platformer, we prefer something slightly twitchier.
It may seem that we’re giving Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 a bad rap, but in reality we actually enjoyed our time with the game quite a bit. Despite not being the next superb Sonic platformer, what it does do right, it does exceptionally well. For example, the great visuals really scream classic Sonic to us.
Sonic fans will undoubtedly have fun with this game. Heck, we’d recommend it to most platforming fans. If the downsides aren’t an issue for you, go download it and start collecting some rings. We just hope the next episode makes a few improvements as well.