Sonic 4 review – is this the best game franchise reboot in years?

Adam explains why the first ‘classic series’ Sonic release in sixteen years may have just reawakened his gaming identity. (PS3 version tested)

By Adam Doree, October 11, 2010


Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I review 

Last night I was hanging around in Soho with a friend, enjoying a sneaky Sunday pint outside one of our favourite pubs. Randomly, one of the UK games industry’s better known PR people strolled past; he was in town for a preview event taking place just this morning. In our catch-up banter, we discovered that despite being mercilessly immersed in gaming, we both have a huge pile of games to get through but just haven’t got around to playing them. 

For him, the issue is a lack of time to actually play though any games (which makes sense, as I know he works really hard to keep us games media types happy). But for me these days, it seems to be more a question of apathy towards actually playing through lengthy video games in general. I’ve felt this way for about the last year; I just haven’t fancied devoting the time required to play through any of the last year’s major releases. Not even the furore of Modern Warfare 2 or the charm of Mario Galaxy 2 tempted me; I’ve just felt like I’d rather spend my leisure time doing other stuff. I had quietly, almost guiltily been wondering: do I no longer care about my most important pastime? 

The reason I’m mentioning all this here is because I had a sneaky feeling that Sonic 4 might change this current ‘lull’ in my attitude towards spending time playing games.

Bosses are remixed from classic Sonic 1 and 2 encounters.

I knew that Sonic 4 would be one of probably two games released this year which I would medically need to play (the other being Portal 2), mainly because of how emotionally invested in each series I have been in the past. (Particularly Sonic, without which I would probably never have ended up becoming involved in games in the first place). I also knew that since Sonic 4 was being released episodically, it probably wouldn’t be too large a time investment. 

So when Sega’s friendly PR man gave me a PSN code to download the game last week, I switched on a console with an itch to play a game (rather than watch a Blu-ray or DVD) for the first time in literally months – since Super Street Fighter IV, I think. (Actually I had already been playing Sonic 4 on iPhone, released on App Store last Thursday, but the console version – released later this week – is a whole lot more impressive).

Screaming ‘Classic Sega’, Sonic 4 is simple, beautiful, slick, and for me, one of those rare titles that reminds me why I liked playing games in the first place. It’s a nice blend of classic 2D Sonic gameplay with modern, impressive HD graphics. By the time I finished playing through, I realised my assumptions were right: I feel like I suddenly care about games again! And I felt excited enough to steal the review opportunity from our regular editors. 

Lost Labyrinth zone is a thing of exquisite beauty...

Sega’s done away with the extended cast of characters (everyone – including Tails – is OUT) and now it’s just Sonic against Dr Robotnik, just like the old days. It nicely echoes the much-requested ‘back to basics’ approach in Sonic 4, and fortunately the game lives up to expectations – it’s actually worthy of being the first ‘numbered’ entry in the original series in sixteen years. 

My biggest concern about the game from having seen the trailers and gameplay footage was that the core physics seemed a little bit off, but exactly the opposite is true. Sonic’s overall movement has been updated slightly since the originals, and after a few minutes of initial play it feels really natural, and actually more dynamic; in particular I like the stronger link between jumping and momentum, Sonic’s improved vertical running strength, and most of all the precise level of directional control you have over him at all times – whether on the ground or while in the air. The fusion of the more modern, 3D Sonic-era ‘homing attack’ with old-school 2D gameplay ingredients actually works quite wonderfully; I think they’ve got the core control just right and the resulting pace of gameplay matches the style of level design rather well. (It does feel a little bit tricky on the iPhone at times, but with a real controller there are no real concerns). 

Mad Gears zone is a bit like Metropolis from Sonic 2, but not quite as ball-breakingly tough.

It can’t really be said that in terms of raw level design – the way that platforms, enemies and bonuses are lovingly positioned – that these levels match the genius of the original Sonic, although to be fair it’s not that far off. There were only a couple of areas I actually thought were ‘bad’ (both in the otherwise exceptionally beautiful ‘Lost Labyrinth’ zone). One involved a pesky switch puzzle that felt somewhat out of place in the overall scheme of things, and the other was simply a matter of the game not telling me I needed to use the analogue stick to get from A to B rather than awkwardly trying to jump through the section – it took me about 50 deaths to figure that one out, and there seems to be no reason why the d-pad is rendered useless in that particular area.

Posted in Reviews, Top 5, and tagged with , , .

14 Responses to “Sonic 4 review – is this the best game franchise reboot in years?”

  1. Rupert Higham says:

    Yeah, they really pulled it off with this one. Now if they can just release a 40 player online Sega Racing Classic (That HD Daytona remake) and Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown then Sega and I can be friends again.

  2. S. Bains says:

    I think next on Segas remastered HD reboot list should include the following for SONY PS3:

    -House of the Dead 1-4 with DualShock 3 & Move Support
    -Power Drift (racing game)
    -Streets of Rage 1-3
    -ThunderBlade and Space Harrier

    • Edwin says:


      • MATT says:

        comix zone is probably the greatest most original title to grace any console. period.

        earthworm jim went the way of sonic the hedgehog and began making lackluster 3-d titles that looked horrible and played even worse… a trend a few 8 or 16 bit titles failed to avoid in the nintendo 64 days.
        if i had a say… you overhaul jim… speed him up a bit, fresh coat of paint, super hd comic renderings with animated sketch lines. i always dreamt of heading an earthworm jim project… maybe i’ll keep trying.
        and lastly, vectorman needs to put out another game. all 2d, beautiful works of classic video game art set to motion again. better bolder faster… but at their core, the same game and play mechanics that made it great.

      • JazzDemon says:

        From one Comix Zone lover to another, what do you think of Shank? I’m still not quite sure where I place my finger on that one yet.

  3. Snork says:

    Very nicely written. Great entertaining read. Cant wait to buy te game. :-)

  4. Jim says:

    I agree with Snork, nicely written article and a very good read.

    Purchased the game a couple of hours ago and i’m loving it so far. Brought back memories of the good old days as soon as it started up and I heard “SEEEEGAAA”.

    If I were to be anal and find a negative, i’d have to say i’m a bit concerned it may be a little short and easy (breezed through 1st levels).

    The way i’ll look at it is: cost of game = 2-3 pints… 2-3 pints = 90 mins in pub… 90 mins in pub or 90+(not much more mind)mins of Sonic? Easy!

  5. Tony says:

    Dimps did really nice work with this. It’s a masterstroke by Sonic Team to allow them to try their angle at rebooting the franchise. They did great work with the Sonic Rush series that they were the most logical choice. For once I’ve not been burned by Sega, great game.

  6. Fin says:

    Boooo……sonic unleashed day time stages where excellent,they should have stuck with it

    • Nick says:

      That’s why they are making Sonic Colors. They are keeping all fans (retro and otherwise) in mind, making several games to fit what the fans have wanted for so long.

  7. Pix says:

    After seeing all the negative posts about this game I am glad to see an open minded review giving credit where it is due. I went ahead and bought it from XBLA anyway because I have been waiting for this game for so long. At first I was only able to fire it up for about 2 mins and I thought the ‘uncurling’ and physics of Sonic were just wrong and was disappointed. When I actually started to play the game for real and use the homing attack properly I realised this was a brilliant evolution of the 2d titles. I haven’t finished the game, but my only complaint from a cursory glance is that 4 zones, albeit beautiful zones, seems a little on the stingy side compared to the older games.

    Perhaps it is just taste, but I think you were a little unfair on the music – Mad Gear also has a really great tune, which means that at least half the music is memorable!

    Every Sonic fan should buy this game!

  8. Mousse420 says:

    I love how all positive reviews of this game talk about nothing but the nostalgia factor. Never mind that the overall quality is in the toilet… You idiots are so easy to please. Have fun getting milked!

  9. TBONE says:

    Impressed! Havent played any sonic titles since the originals on genesis, and this was a breath of fresh air. Classic sonic style with visually striking graphics. A great bargain at $15. Would like to see this series continued. Brings back great memories!
    Thanks SEGA!!


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