N+ WiiWare Review - Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
By Masonwaffletower. Sunday, October 24, 2010 5:06:15 AM
Sega's first episodic release has been met with generally positive reviews, but I personally hope that this is just an indicator of better things to come.
As I'm sure you've heard by now, Sonic 4 is a direct continuation of the "Death Egg" saga outlined in the original titles. After managing to destroy the Death Egg, Sonic parts ways with his pals and decides to explore a new land at sonic speed. Unfortunately, not only has Dr. Robotnik survived the Death Eggsplosion, but he's managed to reassemble some of his earlier destructive machines and is yet again causing trouble for the titular hero. You'll get to race through four primary zones, each containing three acts and a boss stage, before taking the fight to Eggman once again on his own turf.
Read on for the full review.
As you'd expect, Sonic 4 handles similarly to the classic titles, albeit with an occasional feature (or nuisance, as the case may be) to make the experience more interesting. In addition to jumps and Spin Dashes, Sonic is now also capable of utilizing the homing attack seen in most of his 3D adventures. While this is an extremely useful feature, it may also put you in a bit of an awkward situation, as the game's physics only allow so many attacks per second. The game handles well, but strangely enough speed seems to be an issue, as I found myself backtracking to gain the momentum necessary to clear some obstacles and terrain. That aside, the classic Sonic formula is all there with a traditional speed-platforming layout to keep you moving.
Making it's triumphant return to the scene is the inclusion of Chaos Emerald bonus stages, where jumping through the giant ring at the end transports you to a stage where you must tilt the terrain to quickly navigate Sonic from beginning to Emerald.
In addition to the classic bonus stage obstacles, there is also the inclusion of barriers which are impassable until a certain number of rings are collected. The first bonus stage is simple enough that it can serve as a makeshift tutorial and is an easy way to get your first Emerald.
Graphics and Playability
The graphics in this game are pretty impressive, especially for a WiiWare title. Most versions are available in full HD, and the Wii edition supports 480p output. As you can (sort of) see in the image, a lot of detail has been put into even the overworld. Shown are the four zones: Splash Hill Zone, Casino Street Zone, Lost Labyrinth Zone, and Mad Gear Zone. Each zone is separated into three Acts and bears some similarity to the previous games. Also shown is a Bonus Stage selector, where you can replay and keep track of the bonuses you've successfully completed.
The Zones and Acts can be played in any order, as long as you've completed the very first; the only exception to this is that you must complete all three Acts in a Zone before you can challenge that Zone's boss. The bosses barely live up to the title of rehashes; you'll fight a boss you've already seen before at the end of each Zone. Each boss fight will be exactly as before, except each boss will use a special new attack in desperation when it's almost beaten.
As I mentioned before, the physics engine used to make this game leaves something to be desired. It feels a bit sluggish for a Sonic title, although you'll never see any red plumbers dashing around half as fast. It's easy to get stuck while running up a wall, and the Spin Dash only works best when there is a slight slope or something to give you momentum. The Homing Attack can be used as an aerial dash when no enemies are in range, but this can end up as a curse instead of a blessing. My primary complaint is that Homing Attacks always put you in an awkward falling position where you can't attack or defend effectively. This also happens anytime you use a spring.
The one thing that I found most interesting about this game is the context sensitivity in most of the levels. While most are context sensitive challenges requiring you to perform an action only available in a certain level, some are more like rewards that provide a treat just for playing. Of course, I imagine that for some people, a challenging Sonic game is enough of a treat. I don't want to give away any specifics; that's why I used the vaguest image I could find here. Hopefully, you can get as much joy as I did in discovering for yourself the little surprises in this game.
If only there were one word to describe it. At first the game is ridiculously generous; we're talking finishing an Act with 200+ rings and entering the third zone with 20+ lives. That having been said, it wouldn't be a Sonic game if not for the greatest equalizers. In the second half, the game gets downright unfair; perhaps at times it's the physics flaws, and others I'm quite sure it's my own fault. It is here that I am certainly grateful for the numerous save points and the ability to replay the easier levels. Whereas the originals could be made simpler by grabbing powerups, they are too scarce and poorly placed to make a difference here. All in all, you're still looking at a fairly easy game. My time from beginning to end was around two hours; this is averaging six minutes per level, where the record for some levels is under two minutes. Still, as it's new and still retains a bit of the classic feel, there is something to be had for any 2D Sonic fan.
The infamous question people ask when deciding whether or not to purchase a game is "will I want to continue playing this game after I kick Eggman's @$$" (okay I might be paraphrasing). Sure, there is a lot of motivation to go back and get all the Chaos Emeralds; after all, it wouldn't feel classic without a Super Saiyan transformation. You can also try your luck and top the leaderboards, and especially younger fans may have a favorite level they want to play over and over. In most cases, however, this game is just a Sega Genesis title that was left in the oven a little too long. While the music is enjoyable, it is obviously an attempt to recapture the unique feel of Sega's classic scores, which I don't feel works as well as it maybe could. You can tell a lot of time went into this game, and that the time was well spent, but unless this game is a precursor to something new and original (here comes the hate mail) I can't see the episodic series surviving in longevity. If you can get a friend to pitch in $5, the rest is worth it. Otherwise, wait and see where Episode 2 leads.
Sonic fans, rejoice! Everything you asked for is right here for only 1500 Nintendo Points ($15 USD). Fast paced, linear gameplay and best of all, no Werewolves or fishing felines. There are a number of viable paths to take in each level, each with it's own rewards and challenges. I can't stress my enjoyment of the context sensitive gameplay enough, even when it causes more headache than happiness. 17 Acts spanning 4+ Zones would make this more of a value if it weren't for the fact that they killed their biggest replay factor - cheap death restarts. After all, it took twelve tries to beat my first (and only beaten) 2D Sonic game, Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Most importantly, while it was a great idea to capture the 2D Sonic fan base with a familiar level design and themes, if the next title doesn't serve something more we'll be in Apotos at night all over again.
Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Developer(s): Dimps and Sonic Team
Player Mode(s): Single Player only
Available For: PSN, XBLA, WiiWare, and iPhone OS
ESRB: "E" for Everyone - Comic Mischief
Wi-Fi: Leaderboards, no mulitplayer
N+ Does what it promises - Classic gameplay on modern consoles
N+ Well designed graphics in HD (I have an SDTV, but YouTube don't lie)
N+ Context sensitivity gives each level something unique to pique your curiosity
N+ Music is up-to-date while maintaining a nostalgic feel.
N+ A how-to menu; I was wondering about that time limit thing...
N+ My hands went numb from the rumble
N+ As a precursor to new 2.5D games, I stand to give it the benefit of the doubt.
N+ 17 full-length Acts for only 1500 Nintendo Points ($15 USD)
N+ Fun bonus levels are always a plus.
N+ As this is a review of the WiiWare version, I'll point out that the controls feel nicer than the Xbox 360 version.
N- The music tries too hard at times to replicate the nostalgic Sega classics, and then there's that synthesized whirring sound that's always there on purpose.
N- The physics are too slow for a Sonic game, and he falls like a bag of
N- A few neat ideas, but lacking in fundamental originality.
N- The first playthrough is too short, even for the price point.
N- As a stand alone, it'd be just as fun to watch someone else play it.
As a single game, I'd give it a 7.5; as part of the Sonic 4 series, I'd give it an 8.5. I can therefore say with confidence:
-Mason Mack, WriterThanks to Anton, and the Entire N+ Team!
Visit: http://www.sonicthehedgehog4.com for images, videos, and more. You can even get a fully comprehensive storyline of the first four games, up to the events of Sonic 4.
Visit youtube.com/user/undergroundgamingUK for a complete video walkthrough of the Xbox 360 version of the game.