It was just after the launch of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that a survey showed that more kids were familiar with Sega's mascot than with Mickey Mouse. Sonic had a lot of success and deserved it as the 16-bit titles were masterful. It's that feeling that Sega have tried to recapture with the two dimensional Sonic the Hedgehog 4. To mark the return to the old days they used the working title for the original Sonic the Hedgehog - Project Needlemouse - during development.
Feel free to call me a cynic, but given the quality of Sonic's recent outings I haven't really gotten my hopes up for Sonic the Hedgehog 4. I have prepared myself for yet another disappointment. And here I am with the game I thought I'd never see - a direct sequel to Mega Drive classic Sonic the Hedgehog 3 completely free of shitty friends. I have some good news and some bad news for you.
Let's start with the good news. Sonic feels right at home in two dimensions. Several of the levels are wonderfully entertaining and offer lots of alternative routes. There are things happening all over the place, pressurised air bounces me around Dr. Eggman's Secret Base and I'm chased by boulders in Ancient Maze of Mystery. The true highlight is Road of Cards on Casino Street that easily makes the list of the best Sonic levels of all time.
Meanwhile brilliant old school bit-pop caress my ear drums. Simply put it sounds like a video game, just like video games used to sound back then. And the colourful graphics are also so good that they make me want to lick the screen. Add to that the fact that the game starts up with the old Sega logo and as the classic "Seee-Gaaah" comes through the loud speakers Sonic runs past. The retro hairs are standing on the back of my neck.
But this takes us to the bad news. The main problem is the imprecise controls that have sent me to my demise more than once. But the collision detection is also a problem, that has prevented me from reaching intended platforms, and I have also gotten stuck in some levels. The bonus items seem to have been placed completely randomly or were they are of little or no use. The precision and thorough design of the Mega Drive titles are nowhere to be seen.
Add to that the fact there are only four worlds (each containing three levels), and the experienced Sonic player without the need to find all secrets can complete it in about two hours. It should be noted that this is only the first of several episodes, but at $15 or 1200 points, it doesn't come across as good value for your money. Especially as the complete game runs the risk of landing at the same price as a retail release.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is not a poor game, in fact it's a rather decent platform-adventure. It's just that with this title and the heritage of the 16-bit games it should have been so much more. Sega made a big deal out of not including his friends, and this is something that I applaud. But it wasn't the fact that the Mega Drive titles were free of Amy Rose and Big the Cat that cemented their place in the history of video games. And perhaps the competence to make the same masterful 2D platformers just isn't there these days. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is a decent platformer, but not the brilliant comeback Sega had promised us.