Game Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Review

USA USA Version

Posted by James Newton

After 15 years, 16-bit is back

The drums are perfect. That's the second thing you notice about Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, right after Sonic runs past the Sega logo to the classic 16-bit "Say-gah!" sample. Anyone who's ever played a Sonic game will start to smile: it's off to a perfect start.

That start builds momentum quickly. Splash Hill is a classic opening stage, all chequerboard hillsides and waterfalls, the perfect playground to adjust to Sonic's slightly different handling and moveset. He still runs, brakes, spins and dashes like you remember, but hardcore fans will notice a few tweaks to the physics that govern his world: his acceleration is slightly different and he can run up walls more easily, but the basics of jumping, rolling downhill and generally bouncing around all over the place remain firmly intact.

The biggest change to Sonic is the inclusion of the homing attack from his 3D adventures, used to lock-on to everything from enemies to springs, switches and generally anything that needs activating. As well as being used to cover large gaps by chaining enemies as in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for example, it soon proves a useful tool for switching routes, letting you reach areas just out of regular jumping range by locking onto a distant monitor or spring.

Another area in which the game combines classic Sonic gameplay with a twist is the level design. The inspirations for the four Zones will all be instantly familiar to anyone who played Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2, and each zone contains plenty of graphical elements or platforming stages to raise a smile. At times it almost feels like a "Best of Sonic the Hedgehog," such is the array of classic elements on display: loop-the-loops, giant cogs on which to run, grabbing air bubbles underwater and dozens more all bring back plenty of memories. It's not just the interactive parts either: the level layouts contain plenty of hidden rooms, destructible walls and extra lives dotted in hard to reach places. Exploration is back, and amply rewarded.

Sonic 4 still bears the hallmark of a modern Sonic game however, with plenty of sections that ping you about the playing field like a pinball (Casino Street Zone in particular, of course), but they're far shorter than some of the hands-off sections seen in his 3D adventures. In some levels it seems you can barely walk five yards without finding a set of springs ready to fling you into the air, and there's no shortage of speed brushes either, but as in the original titles most of the high speed sections are used after a platforming passage to keep the tempo high. In a radical step for a Dimps-developed Sonic game, sometimes it's necessary to run left: imagine that. It’s also mostly free of the dreaded “pits of death,” although they do rear their heads on occasion but rarely spoil the rhythm.

In fact, little brings the rhythm down, including the difficulty. Experienced Sonic gamers will rack up a few extra lives per level, amassing a total well into double figures before the final stage, with only a few stages posing any real trouble. Players who’ve never enjoyed the hedgehog’s 16-bit outings may find it trickier, but for many it’s like riding a bicycle and they’ll zip through most stages.

Whether you’re racing around loops or dodging huge machinery that threatens to pulp you in an instant, you’ll genuinely enjoy yourself. There’s next to no frustration here: no broken mechanics, no irritating voices, cutscenes or sidekicks. It’s just Sonic, a D-Pad and a jump button, and a fantastic gaming engine that’s lightning fast and looks fantastic, especially in 480p. The game’s crammed with details: flowers dance as you run past, a speed trail blurs everything in its path and puffs of smoke fly from Sonic’s shoes when he brakes. The bigger picture is intricate levels that use depth of field brilliantly; neon cities stretching into the distance whilst hot air balloons hover in the foreground. The texture work is uniformly excellent, particularly Lost Labyrinth’s stony slabs, and on the whole you’ll be surprised it all fits within WiiWare’s 40MB limit.

The music is equally good: unmistakably the work of Jun Senoue, its classic instruments – you’ll notice the drums immediately – and catchy melodies accompany each stage exceptionally well, although the boss music misses the mark, making Dr. Eggman a more comical than threatening presence. Certain jingles return in their original 16-bit form, the sound effects are spot on and the lack of any voices whatsoever is sure to be music to Sonic purists’ ears.

Each Zone contains three Acts with a separate fourth Act for the boss, and again these are based on classic Sonic bosses: Dr. Eggman contraptions based on his flying Egg-o-Matic capsule just as they used to be, with familiar attack patterns and a few new tricks up their sleeves. Again however, experienced gamers will take them down in no time, even with their tweaked attacks. The only boss to provide a stern challenge is the final space station encounter with Dr. Eggman, another classic Sonic boss with a few modifications.

Clearing the game first time around should take a couple of hours, with a classic ending if you finish it without collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds. Completing it again with the mystical jewels reveals a secret cliffhanger ending hinting at a character set to make a big impact on Episode II. There’s sadly no extra level for collecting all seven gems, but you are rewarded with an extra ability in-game attained by collecting 50 rings and pressing 1.

The psychedelic special stages from Sonic the Hedgehog return, with a rotating maze to navigate and floating Chaos Emerald at its centre. This time rather than controlling Sonic you control the maze, spinning it around to manoeuvre around its twisty confines. You can control it with the D-Pad or motion control, with the latter option offering plenty of sensitivity but lacking the precision of the digital control. There’s also a jump command that makes the maze shake and Sonic hop a little, but mostly you’ll survive without it. Each stage grows more complex and demanding in design, and it’s here you’ll find most of the challenge.

After having finished the game you can run through each stage in either Time Attack or Score Attack mode, posting your best results to an online leaderboard for the world to see. There’s support for plenty of save game profiles so you can start over again once you’ve finished the game, which really is all you can do.

That’s the biggest problem with Sonic 4: there simply isn’t enough of it. There’s a total of 24 levels including bosses and special stages, making it only just shorter than Sonic the Hedgehog’s 26 levels, although Sonic 4’s Acts tend to be a little longer on the whole. As with all the best Sonics, the ride is great while it lasts, and there’s no doubt you’ll be anxiously awaiting Episode 2’s arrival next year. For 1500 Points though it’s hard to say the game represents a great return on your money in terms of longevity, though there are few more enjoyable games on WiiWare if you’re a fan of 16-bit style platforming. As a standalone title it's full of fun, but realistically it will only take you a few hours to finish it, with Time Attack and Score Attack modes remaining to justify your investment.


The fans who clamoured for a "proper" Sonic adventure will be thrilled by Sonic 4: there’s no dialogue, no cutscenes and no sidekicks. A dozen side-scrolling stages, seven torturous special stages and five classic bosses all adds up to a great Sonic game. It’s a shame there just isn’t more of it as this won’t last skilled players too long, but the gameplay is so joyous you’ll revisit it time and again.

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User Comments (87)



Dazza said:

Nice review James, sounds like a great tribute to the old Mega Drive Sonic games. Instabuy for me when it hits the Euro shop on Friday



Leo_Vernillo said:

Excellent review. It sums up my opinion about the game. 8 is the same score I would give the game.



motang said:

Shazam I guessed the review score right when you asked if we can guess the final score before the review went live on twitter.



JamieO said:

The enthusiasm that James has for the Sonic series and especially reading his tweets about the classic core Mega Drive games, as well as hearing his reflections of playing this, has meant that bouts of Sonic 4 fever have been contagious recently.

It is good news that the homing attack works and is a handy addition, I am not too worried that this one is a bit easier than the other MD games, I'm really looking forward to experiencing the classic gameplay, bright visuals and hearing its catchy jingles.

Fair play to this spinning its way to an 8/10, the longevity of it is not that much of a big deal to me, I know that I will keep replaying it in the same way that I return to the 16-bit Sonics. I am really hyped for Sonic 4 now!
Super review, James.



Slapshot said:

Great Review James.

The fact that you wrote all the articles you have yesterday and today and already mastered Sonic 4 proves you a Sonic Beast my friend

Im thinking a spin through Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knucles is due before the PSN downloads drop through this evening.



Egg_miester said:

this game is just for sonic fans, as for me liking only 3 sonic games i'd give it a 6



irken004 said:

I'd give it an 8 as well. It's great, but flawed until you get used to some of the changes.



Link79 said:

I thought It was a pretty good Sonic game considering the crap they've been putting out since Adventure. Thank goodness they left out all those pathetic characters like Big the cat. The only ones I wanna see are Sonic, Tales and Knuckles.
Just a Warning for those still using Standard TV's. The game is set up with Widescreen in mind so If your TV isn't Widescreen The game doesn't display correctly. It looks zoomed in and the edges are running off the screen. You'll notice this as soon as you reach the first Robotnik battle.



Kid_A said:

Great review. I still stand by my assertion that the iPhone/iTouch version is the superior game, however. It's the exact same experience that the console versions offer, but it's $5 cheaper. Not only that, but the controls are significantly tighter and there's more bonus stages not found on the console versions as well.
Then again, the WiiWare version is prettier.



Gavin_Rozee said:

I'm still not sure whether to get the (50p cheaper, and released two days earlier) PS3 version.

The game will feel better on a Nintendo console for me, but the PS3 version has the advantages above, as well as HD and trophies...



LuWiiGi said:

Great review, still think it was a completely stupid idea to release it in episodes though.



JebbyDeringer said:

Interesting that it fits withing 40mb yet for the iPhone it's just over 80mb. Although now that I think about it, it's probably because it has duplicate art for the iPad and iPhone 4 which both are also higher res than the Wii.

edit: Looking at the game for the iphone the music actually takes up 63mb.



Raylax said:

Sonic doesn't have sidekicks. God this game is sidekickist. 2/5.

Awesome review, can't wait for this to come out on Friday



JonWahlgren said:

Sounds cool, but maybe not $15 cool for my tastes. I'm excited to give the PS3 demo a spin though.



Token_Girl said:

I agree with you. It's a running debate in my mind as well. Wiimote is the better controller for old school games, by far. But you get HD for the same price (in the US) on the PS3 (but does a Sonic game NEED HD? Decisions, decisions).

I'm NOT getting the iPhone version. I cannot do onscreen d-pads, at least not for a game that requires the quick responses that Sonic does. Such a shame as iPhone Sonic 1 is really the only good port Sega's done of the game for a portable (unless there's one on PSP, which doesn't count as I don't have it).

I'm not worried about the difficulty level either. Sonic 3 was horrendously easy, because it was meant to be the first half of a game that ended up pretty difficult by the end of S&K. I'm sure episodes 2 and 3 will get tough!



Starwolf_UK said:

@JamieO. To be honest the 16-bit Sonics weren't known for brutal difficulty throughout but rather a few tough moments. IIRC, one UK magazine back in the day lowered their Sonic 2 score because it was too easy.

@JebbyDeringer. At a guess lower quality music or more intelligent optimisation of the music and other bits of code are why the WiiWare is 40 megs. You only have to optimise when there is a filesize limit. Reminds me of this that two tribes wrote about porting Toki Tori to the iPhone (which was the other way round, making a Wiiware game smaller for iPhone), sadly it seems that story vanished from their site with the redesign



Rarewarefan7495 said:

Excellent review. To be honest, after seeing and witnessing all of the crappy Sonic games like Sonic Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog next gen, and Sonic Unleashed, I'll be happy to dish out 1500 Wii points for a return to form for the hedgehog.



alvieao said:

For many years, Sega didn't seem to care about the declining quality of the Sonic franchise... until now. Recently, Sega somehow turned things around and revitalized the blue blur. After playing Episode 1 for a while, the game is simply awesome with props to Sonic Team and Dimps once again. A very short but sweet game, yet it's only the first episode after all. It's classic 2D Sonic gameplay, just with the added homing attack to bridge with the 3D adventures. Compared to the HD versions, the soundtrack took a hit in the WiiWare version in order to fit the size limits (the music definitely sounds more Genesis-like). While I'm aware of the polarization this game caused for some fans, I couldn't care less. What really mattered to me is that I had fun playing Sonic 4. Let's see what Sega can do with the next two episodes. That being said... Welcome back, Sonic!



SuperMarioFan96 said:

Nice review. And- wait.... you live in the UK. Why did your nationality change to American and you were capable of reviewing this??!?!



RebeccaGunn said:

Good review James : )

I've been loving the iPod version which by all accounts is the inferior version according to fans that saw the original Xbox leak. So quite eagerly anticipating the console version too (yes I am double dipping lol)

Considering this is only the first episode, I'm quite excited to see what future episodes bring



Rasche said:

AWESOME! 1500 is a lot of wii points but I'll definitely buy it someday. It looks SUPER fun. I love the original Sonic games and this looks like a great re-make.



Twilight_Crow said:

Great review James! This one looks good, I love old 16-bit Sonic, but there are a few issues that take me off from getting it:
1 Price. This sounds like a 1000 points game to me, so, does seeing Sonic image cost 500 points?
2 I don't have a widescreen so, I'd be missing part of the screen .
3 I'm still fearfull of this being too similar to Sonic Rush, which I don't like.
4 I'm saving for Kirby's game.

I may get it later, only after reading many more impressions and watching some videos.



James said:

@SuperMarioFan96 I own a North American Wii so I bought this from the Wii Shop Channel. My nationality remains the same!

I hope everyone is enjoying this as much as I am. Going back through it to beat my best times and scores is fun, I think I'll start a topic for time attacks and score attacks soon



James said:

@TC It's very different to Sonic Rush: there's no boost move, no tricks and far fewer empty pits. Definitely watch some videos but they can't replace the feeling of playing it old school style!



CanisWolfred said:


You won't get dizzy if you focus on Sonic. It's when you try to look at everything while going full speed that you get dizzy. Focus your mind, man.



Punny said:

No sidekicks, no cutscenes, no voices, no huge story, and no gimmicks? No problem!



BulbasaurusRex said:

The only problem I have with the game is the slower accerleration. I can get used to the lack of inertia, but the acceleration change makes Sonic too sluggish before you build up enough speed and also makes quick platforming somewhat more difficult.



Azurineknuckle said:

The only problem I have is no classic controller support. Seriously it was possible but whatever still loving the game. =D



James said:

I struggled with the acceleration at first too, and I'm sure if I went back to Sonic 3 I'd struggle, but then if you play the first three Sonic games in quick succession he handles slightly differently in each. It is a noticeable change though, I agree.



DrCruse said:

I never really saw Dr. Robotnik as a threatening presence. He always seemed pretty comical to me.

I'll be waiting for a retail release, even though it is highly tempting to pick up.



Sylverstone said:

8/10! That's what I expected from a Sonic nut like James! sarcasm

j/k, decent score indeed.



SilverBaretta said:

Well worth the 1500 points for me. It's got enough replayability to keep me occupied, as well. Very much a download for everyone to enjoy. thumbsup Great review, too James, I would definitely agree with the score and all of your points. Come on, Episode 2 and 3, and Colors too, for sure!



PSICOffee said:

Wow not even a proper Sonic game can get a 10/10! It really shows something when a game like Shantae RR can get a perfect score without having to have a bunch of failed attempts like Sonic did. Maybe it just goes to show the classic Sonic formula is good but not THAT good compared to something like Mario or Zelda. Someone once told me Sonic games suck now a days because they were never good to begin with.

I'll still pick this up though, because I can't resist a good platformer!



Kobayashi said:

The game was released on USA PSN now ! Downloading...
Sonic 4 in Full HD here I go !



ToadFan said:

Great Review! All tho everyone else gave the same review. Downloading it tomorrow. Can't wait for the 2 episode.



mjc0961 said:

Glad to hear they stayed away from bottomless pits every 5 seconds, but I don't like the sound of the bosses. I've already seen shots where they recycled the Sonic 1 Green Hill Zone boss for the umpteenth time (the nostalgia factor for that boss wore off a long time ago SEGA) and it sounds like they recycled more, unless I didn't properly understand what was meant by "another classic Sonic boss with a few modifications".

Plus, no matter what, they can't shake the stink of the failure of "we still don't know how many more episodes there will be" from themselves. I'll probably check out the demo on XBLA tomorrow, but it'd still take a keg of something alcoholic and quite a few blows to the head before my standards are lowered enough to buy this for $15 without any indication of how many more parts are coming and when they are coming.

EDIT: Someone was nice enough to provide a demo on PSN, so I'll be trying that sooner than I thought. Only because of the good review though, if people were saying it stunk I wouldn't have even wasted the bandwidth on that. But since this review seems like there might be hope for the game, I'll try. Still won't buy though, not at this price with no information on the other part or parts.



RionaaM said:

What, no Espio the Chameleon? 0/10 for me!

Just kidding, I loved the review, and I'll be getting this as soon as I get some points, though I'm a little worried about some of the comments that said the game doesn't display correctly in a SDTV.



NintyMan said:

I spent my points on Shantae, so this will have to wait. It's on my radar though!



NeoShinobi said:

An 8/10 is about what I expected. I never expected this game to be on par with the Genesis titles anyway.

I'm also vary glad to hear that this isn't just Sonic Rush on the big screen, that was probably my biggest concern with this game.

I'll likely be getting this on PSN in a week or so.



BulbasaurusRex said:

@63 They've got the story planned out, so they know how many episodes there will be. They're just not willing to reveal that number yet.



Kobayashi said:

Oh, man. I just returned from one of the best gaming experiences that I had in my entire life !

Awesome game ! Not finished yet, but I'm at the last world (Mad Gear Zone) and thought the game simply amazing! Seriously, in my concept, is the second best Sonic launched, only behind to the first Sonic, surpassing the rest of the Sonic games released so far.

The gameplay is fantastic, super fun, I found the graphics gorgeous and wonderful in 1080P (I pick the PSN version), great songs, the level design is brilliant! I thought physics consistent because it respects the concept of inertia to start slow and then reach higher speeds and handle Sonic speeds fabulous.

The Homing Attack works great and is still optional, because if you don´t want to use it, there is the possibility of eliminating enemies of the old way. The bonus stage was great, better than the original. The difficulty was well balanced, really enjoyed. There are hidden paths as in previous games of the Genesis.

The acts are longer than I thought. The game is not so short as they say, okay more or less in the middle of the first Sonic in terms of duration. US$ 15 for this game is very cheap for what it is.

Guys, the game was far beyond what I expected. Sega you're to be congratulated because, for me, Sonic returned from a triumphant!

My Score: 10.0

PS: sorry about my bad english.



CanisWolfred said:

...Glad you enjoyed it, Kobayashi! I certainly hope I do too, but I'm glad it didn't disappoint you after you hyped yourself up so much over it. Here's hoping the secong episide is just as good.



WolfRamHeart said:

@Kobayashi: Don't worry, your English is quite good.

Great review James! I'm glad to see that this game was worth the very long wait. I still have yet to try it out for myself but I plan on checking out the demo tomorrow. I don't think that I will be getting it anytime soon but I will definitely be putting it on my must-buy list. Hopefully Sega will have another holiday sale on their downloadable games just like last year.



Slapshot said:

@Kobayashi.... man your English is better than mine

Im looking for a $10 PSN+ sale soon on this one myself as well. Im going to trump through all the prior games prior to buying this one, Ill be fine, but Im looking forward to getting it.



MikeyMikeMike said:

Great game!!!
When I like a game, it doesn't really matter that it's slightly more expensive...when a game sucks, 5 bucks feels like a rip off. This definitely won't leave you with buyer's remorse...



BulbasaurusRex said:

@Kobayashi You think "Sonic 1" is the best classic Sonic game? Almost everyone agrees that while the first game is great, it's easily surpassed by both "Sonic 2" and "Sonic 3 & Knuckles."



Knux said:

Just completed the PSN version, and oh man this game is awesome! This is the best Sonic game since the Genesis classics! Oh, and great review!



Moonhillwat said:

I don't see why people keep complaining about how "short" this game is. But think how HUGE Sonic 4 is going to be after all the episodes are finished. And fifteen dollars is a lot? I'm sure that's cheaper than what you would pay for Sonic games back in the day.

Awesome review, by the way. _



Shiryu said:

Finnaly out over here in euroland. Played the first levels, loved it. =)



imapterodactyl said:

While this game IS excellent, those who have the option should go with the PS3 version, as there's a real difference in the graphics and sound. The sound is less compressed, and therefore more full, and this applies to the graphics too. In comparison, the textures in the Wii version look very dithered, and if you've got an HDTV there's a HUGE difference between 480p and 720/1080. Exactly the same gameplay on both systems, though. My only other recommendation is to avoid the X360 version, as it's D-pad is terribly gimped, severely damaging the gameplay (as Sonic is certainly not meant to be played with an analogue stick). Great review James! After finishing the game, and being 1 emerald away from Super Sonic, I agree completely.

@Blizzaga: Yeah, $15 isn't bad at all. Considering a full-length Sonic game would cost you $40 back in the '90's (so a solid $50 if you consider inflation), this is a great deal. It just seems that everyone automatically assumes that 2d games take less work, and therefore should cost less. This is false.



RebeccaGunn said:

@yoshisage took some time away for a while. I'm just a normal member these days though. Uni work load tis heavy, though I do still do reviews elsewhere from time to time



MrB4 said:

Just wish it was released as a full retail game to all consoles, instead of in increments to be downloaded. I want to play it all at once, AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!, lol.



WolfLink22 said:

I like that it is in Increments to be DLed because that way we can make them improve upon the games that follow behind the current game itself.Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 was great and deserved it's name by far. I just hope a playable Tails and Knuckles follow after that.Every Character after Amy can be thrown into the Black Hole of Doom or destroyed by Dr. Robotnik for all i care. Unless everyone really must have Shadow the Hedgehog.Other then maybe that No more crappy Character returns.

Oh and P.S. it only took me 2 days to get every Chaos Emerald the first time.The second playthrough only took me 1 day.I won't spoil the suprise at the end if you beat the game tho.Most already know about it by now too.



Big_A2 said:

Might get this on PSN. Perhaps the future episode will have Tails? He was pretty cool before they gave him a voice.



pntjr said:

they missed out huge with skipping multiplayer like NSMB Wii. It would be big for families and groups of friends who are tired of NSMB Wii.

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