Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 – Xbox 360 (Live Arcade)

16 years later, Sega finally bring us a numbered sequel to Sonic. Finally giving the fans what they’ve been asking for for years – a 2D HD platformer featuring only Sonic. When this was announced I was interested but disappointed it was going to be downloadable and episodic. However, on launch day I found myself downloading this (which took a long, long time) and enjoying it greatly. I’m going to divide this review up into sections similar to the old Kotaku reviews:

What I liked:

  • The SEGA logo and chant at the beginning. I feel Sega games have been lacking this in recent years and it felt good to be back.
  • The game feels like a homage to the old MegaDrive games, in particular Sonic 2. The levels are familiar, with a Green Hill Zone and a Casino Zone etc.
  • The music – it is chirpy and feels right in place and makes you feel good.
  • The sound effects – again, just like the MegaDrive days. Sonic sound effects are my favourite.
  • The old school Sonic sprite on the loading and extra life icons.
  • How the game is actually in 2D, and is not a 3D polygon game viewed from a 2D perspective like a lot of modern 2D platformers.
  • The way Sonic doesn’t move too fast. He starts off really slow so you can do some real platforming and does build up a lot of speed, but not ridiculously fast like Sonic games in recent years have become.
  • The homing attack. I know a lot of people hate it, but I find it useful (particularly on bosses) and like the way you can get to different areas with it.
  • Finally a Sonic game with level design like the MegaDrive originals, with different routes (mostly high and low) and little secret areas with bonuses to collect.
  • The way the game starts with you being able to breeze past by just holding right and then gradually introducing more and more platforming elements. Really fun and a generally good difficulty curve.
  • The feel good blue, blue Sega skies :)
  • The final boss. Despite my hate for half of the other bosses, and the boss rush (see below), I actually liked the epic fight against the final boss and figuring out how to defeat him.
  • I like the clustering of rings after you get hit, makes it easier to collect them again.
  • The special stages. Like a hard version of the game Cameltry (arcade/SNES, also known as Labyrinth or Mawashite Koron on the DS).

The Nitpicking:

  • Whilst it is great to have the splash screen on Sonic in a circle – it feels a little too small, probably just due to the widescreen aspect ratio.
  • The lack of air momentum – Sonic just falls straight down when you don’t hold right.
  • The way a few features were built for motion controls, and remain in this non-motion controlled version.
  • Sonic’s running animation. Those swirly legs look bad.
  • The overall shininess to it. Sonic is really shiny, as is Robotnik. Looks a bit wrong.
  • The power-ups which don’t do anything – in Sonic 3 they were much better with the different abilities.
  • Although I like the special stages, I don’t like how you access them – having to jump in the big ring after the spinny Robotnik sign – you often just zoom right past them. I wish they were more like Sonic 3, where you found the big rings if you explored hidden paths.
  • I also miss the sparkly things over checkpoints if you collect over 50 rings which lead to a different style special stage from Sonic 3.

Actual bad game design:

  • The bosses. The first two are okay. But the second two are terrible. On the third the way you can die from being crushed, and the way sometimes the rebound of the homing attack forces you do die. In addition to getting crushed easily, what wit the random nature of the crushing attacks, you then have to replay a bit of an actual stage which is against the clock, so you can die here as well if not pulled off perfectly. The fourth boss is also really annoying, you can sometimes hit him and sometimes get hit yourself. There are two parts, the second is a stupid auto-running bit where you have to dodge things and also get closer to homing attack. Much hate towards these two bosses.
  • The boss rush before the final boss. Not content with having two terrible bosses, you have to face them again in a boss rush stage just before the final boss. And then, if you lose all your lives on the final boss, you have to go through the whole boss rush again. Thus you have to store up loads of lives before entering this thoroughly annoying level. I do like the final boss though.
  • Sometimes the collision detection is off. Like on the final boss sometimes I hit him and sometimes I do the exact same thing and get hit. And a couple of times I’ve dissapeared to behind the boss, where I can’t see Sonic, and can jump and hit the boss sometimes, and sometimes die.
  • There is a stupid room where you have to tilt left and right and press down at the same time. The game never makes it clear that you have to press down as well – repeated this far too many times.
  • There is also a bit where you have to homing attack to get past, however, if you don’t time it perfectly you fall to your doom, and you also die if you do a standard jump attack, very frustrating.

Overall rating: ****
A really fun entry to the Sonic series, great fun whether you are an old fan or new to the series. A great stylish 2D platformer.

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