Sonic 4: Episode I - Would The Mean Machines Crew Approve?
By James O'Neill - 19 Oct, 2010
Sonic 4: Poured Pure From The Mega Drive's Core
The good news is that you can swill out any unsavoury taste of 3D Sonic with a can of Asahi 'SegaSonic' (MM News, Iss.23, p.15), because 2D Sonic is a Born Again Blisterin'…blisteringly fast, that is.
We have completed PSN Sonic 4: Episode I a couple of times and are resting our pointy red trainers to consider what the Mean Machines crew would make of it, if it had been released in the mid-90s.
They would have been blown away by its visuals for starters, there was not a console available in the mid-90s that could handle this game's niftier effects, such as Sonic surfing on a bunch of playing cards, loop scaling between the foreground and background of the screen. Sonic may no longer be a sprite, but his high-res CG rendering is still sprightly. The backgrounds, like Splash Hill Zone's 'Sunset Dash', burst with so much colour, the Mega Drive's 64 on-screen colours and palette of 512 would have trouble mixing such subtle pastel shades.
They would notice his momentum too, he does not start off 'blisteringly fast', his physics have a gentle stroll on their way to max speed, which is the first of many small niggles which warrant attention, but are not game-breakers. The biggest nitpick, and Mean Machines would spot this within 15 minutes of play as it is an issue which they highlighted in games like Irem's SNES DinoCity, is Sonic 4: Episode I is far too easy. One Casino Street Zone act in particular lavishes you with extra lives, you hit the jackpot simply by bounding through it, and achieving the 99 extra lives 'Immortal' trophy is a piece of cake as a result. The Mean Machines team were obviously skilled players, so also take into account that DinoCity is a much harder game than Sonic 4: Episode I.
Sega has crunched up their early Sonic Mega Drive cartridges, mixed them together in a pot and concocted a modern take on their 16-bit magic in Sonic 4: Episode I. The game plays out as part extension and part homage to select levels and bosses from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2; it is built for retro nostalgia, not as a massively unique experience. The standard power sneakers and invisibility power-ups are present, as is Sonic 2's spin dash, although Miles 'Tails' Prower is noticeably AWOL. The addition of the homing attack is implemented brilliantly, it was one of the few highlights from the glimpse of 2D gameplay in the daytime stages in Sonic Unleashed, and so it is good to discover that it is fast, satisfying and accurate here.
The gameplay stays fresh by throwing out fun features on each level, Sonic swings on vines, balances on boulders and navigates huge cogs to progress. The player also has to determine the trajectory to fire him out of cannon and guide him on a Sega Master System Sonic 2 style mine cart ride, which also feels like a small nod towards SNES Donkey Kong Country. Puzzles are also set-up based around gameplay additions, igniting torches to create pathways in the World of Darkness is one example of this and there are multiple routes though each level.
Once a player knows the level's layouts, the main game can be completed in under an hour, but the variety means that it is fun to return to it. Even without the multitude of extra lives and being able to start from any previously completed act, the general game is easier than the Mega Drive titles. For example there are a larger number of bubbles to breathe during the Underwater Maze Escape and traversing a Special Stage to collect a Chaos Emerald is more accessible than in Sonic 1. The patented 'Dastardly Deep Drops of Doom' are still present, but crop up less regularly and the main hurdle to overcome in Sonic 4: Episode I is the game's later bosses.
Once the main game is finished, Episode I takes a leaf from Strider's 8 Megabits and decides to throw the four main bosses at you in one rush level. However, it is the last fifth boss, inspired by an appearance in Sonic 2, which finally offers players a challenge. It may not be the strongest example of balanced game design, but after rushing through the main platforming game, dying numerous times during this encounter and learning attack patterns makes for a welcome change.
The player can find further challenge in Sonic 4: Episode I, for example Time Attack Mode only allows one life per level to beat your times and post them on an online leaderboard. Collecting all 7 Chaos Emeralds adds replay incentive and if you truly want to prove your Sonic skillage, then unlocking all 12 trophies and attempting to beat the aforementioned E.G.G. Station Zone's boss rush level without taking any damage will improve the game's lastability.
One last mention must go to the audio team's and Jun Senoue's compositions, the music is splendid. Forget Eastenders, for gamers it is Sonic which has the best use of a well known drum intro and from the moment you hear its appearance in the title screen's tune, you will know you are in for a treat. Sonic 4: Episode I throws catchy, cheerful ditties at you throughout and they are spot on in capturing the feel of the Mega Drive game's audio. Just in case you are in a hurry to play the game, we urge you to hover on the 'New Game/Continue' menu screen as Sonic wiggles his finger, because you may accidentally skip past such a lovely little looped tune.
With 12 platforming acts, 5 boss battles and 7 special stages, Sonic 4: Episode I is still too short and too easy, but it is recommended for being tons of fun. If you are buying this expecting something new and original, then your expectations are all wrong. Sonic Team and Dimps have lovingly poured the core feel and style of the first two Mega Drive games into Sonic 4: Episode I. However, if Episode II takes the same approach, then whether or not heaps of 16-bit nostalgia will be enough for another purchase is uncertain.
We can only guess if the Mean Machines crew would have loved this 'warts and all' if it was released in the mid-90's, but in 2010 capturing the style, fun and energy of the first two Sonic Mega Drive games in a PSN title is £9.99 well spent for a retro gamer.
Cosmic Cracker - 28 Oct 2010, 05:24 GMT
Ed Lomas was planning on having a Sonic 4 weekend marathon. If he played it until Sunday then I'd say it must be pretty damn good.
I always disliked Sonic games unlike the T Guise's and the Lomas's in this world.
Jaz's Sheep - 20 Dec 2010, 13:25 GMT
Me too CC, fair play to those who liked it but to me all the Sonic games were total dross.
Cool article tho!