Sega. In this day and age not since the introduction of Plots ‘R’ Us has a company been so openly divisive in splitting fan and community opinion. Some people adore Sega and will travel to the ends of the earth on the mere whiff of a suggestion of a new Bayonetta title, others would rather see it closed down burnt and then sealed away never
to be ever mentioned again unless its about late 80’s/ early 90’s 2-D side scrollers. Of course if you were to walk around your local anime convention and ask the slightly panicky “Con goers” Clad in their tight PVC and Latex outfits to name one of Sega’s best character creations their first response should be “Sonic The Hedgehog” (Though some Nerdy individual’s May say “Mike Haggar” if so props to them if they do…even though he was capcom created).
Sonic the Hedgehog began life in 1991, back then there was no such thing as a Spin Dash and Tails was nearly a full year away from even existing, at its heart it was a good solid platformer and as there was little serious competition to set up against the red plumber himself (Mario) Sonic seemed to breeze in and take the gaming community by
storm. Throughout the 90’s Sonic was riding a large high which among fans and me personally, came to a climax in 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2. From their however the silver lining that had made sonic the success he was began to fade. 2006’s reboot of the original Sonic The Hedgehog notably is referenced as one of the worst video game reboots of all time. Since then the blue hedgehog has seen several titles fail on release, with 9 released in the last 5 years there seemed little hope that there would be any return to form for Sonic. That is until Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 came along.
Deciding to start from the ground up, Sega took Sonic back to the very beginning by dropping him back into the side scrolling view that had established him in the first place. Rejuvenating the now slightly dated 16-bit 2-D graphics to full HD 3-D renderings. The “new” zones both maintain the charm of the Sonic zones of old while offering a “new” and refreshing twist to game play of old. The reason I quote the word “new” above is because I really don’t know if you can call them that. It’s only a minor gripe on my part but if you have played the first 3 Sonic the Hedgehog games these levels will seem all too familiar, With Splash Hill Zone highly reminiscent of Green Hill zone, Casino Street zone a rather cunning redo of Casino Night zone From Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the final Boss battle equating to a “Best of” from a selection of the bosses from the first 3 Sonic games.
Not to say that that’s necessarily a bad thing, Episode 1 is essentially Sonic’s Greatest hits, with the slow and steady difficulty curve really returning the tone of Sonic games of old to this title. The level structures are all very well designed with the “easier to travel, harder to reach” higher paths and the “Harder going but easier to reach” lower pathways providing more difficulty for the more hardened fan. There were times in this game where “Leap of Faith” moments really tested my patience and points where quick thinking sometimes left me a little stumped. That being said I completed the game in just under an hour and a half and only lost 2 lives throughout the whole play. To the hardened Sonic fans who can breeze through the old games with ease, episode 1 really shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge. For newer initiates to the series the bar is set to a level that I personally would say would be difficult enough to show a challenge but fun enough to keep you coming back.
I purchased the Wii version for £7.00 (about $12 USD at time of writing) and in my opinion it was worth it. The levels were well constructed, The Music harking back to that Mid 90’s Midi sound that’s really difficult to accurately replicate but Sega have really pulled out the stops and it has been brilliantly pulled off. All the old sound effects are retained and the return of a mute Sonic rather than giving him a voice actor as has been the case for the last few sonic titles is a great relief in my opinion to say the least.
Other than the subtle repetition of themes the only other critique I could draw from Sonic 4: Episode 1 was that the 3-D upgrade has certainly affected the physics within the game, Sonic is always sluggish in starting and the full power of his jumps are never really felt unlike the first game in which even a light tap of the “A” button would send you practically to the end of the stage when traveling at speed. Though the addition of the homing attack (First seen in Sonic Adventure) is a very welcome addition sometimes it does have the habit of missing or glitching which its really needed Hopefully though this should be remedied for the as of yet unannounced and highly mysterious sequel still to come.
As mentioned above the game all in all took me about an hour and a half to complete, I would estimate an additional hour at most to complete the side quest and unlock the additional Easter eggs within the game (Which I shall not spoil). Add to this a time trial function and an online score board to compare your times with the rest of the world, and you’ve got quite a nice small package that both entertains and restores a small amount of reputation to the Sonic franchise. If you’re a fan of retro reboots such as The New Super Mario Brothers Wii or Megaman 9 and 10 or if your new to the franchise and are looking for one of the best introductions but don’t want to be dropped into a heavy mythology I cant recommend this title enough. Its a fun pick up and play title that I think definitely brings the blue hedgehog back to the front line with a bang!
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