XBLA Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

16 years on, does Sonic still have the speed?

We all remember the good old Mega Drive/Genesis days of Sonic. I grew up playing them and my favourite had to be Sonic 3 & Knuckles. It’s seemed an eternity since then and Sonic hasn’t exactly done well in the 3D world, has he? But for whatever reason, its taken them 16 years to finally realise that we want Sonic back to his roots…no silly obscure characters or gimmicks, just classic Sonic. As a result, we have Sonic 4 Episode 1, but should we be careful what we wish for?

Some will question why Sega chose to split Sonic 4 into episodes; I’m a bit confused about it myself. Despite that, it’s Sonic at its greatest…even if it does borrow far too heavily from Sonic 1 and 2. The episode is split into 4 Zones, each with 3 acts and ending in a boss fight against Eggman (or Robotnik as he should be called for the purists like me!) There are also 7 Special Stages where each one will gain you a Chaos Emerald, these stages feel ripped out of Sonic 1 but with its definitely increased in difficulty.

The boss fights are like that of the original games but with a twist. The first boss is identical to the very first boss in Sonic 1, but the ball gets thrown around in another direction that fans won’t be expecting until they play it. The end boss is brilliant though and combines all previous fights from the episode while adding a twist to the final boss from Sonic 2. You don’t get anything other than a preview of Episode 2 for finishing the game with all Chaos Emeralds, but it definitely looks like it will step things up a notch.

Sonic doesn’t handle the same as he did in the 2D days though; he now has a homing attack that will take some getting used to. It doesn’t quite feel the same in terms of speed and momentum, but at least it’s far better than anything else the blue guy has been in over the past few years. The one thing that may discourage gamers is the 1200 Microsoft Points price tag, which is a bit high for the amount of content in Episode 1; I found more value in Sonic 1 for only 400 MS Points.

But there is a bit of replay value in replaying the levels for achievements such as completing the last boss without taking a single hit, killing 1000 enemies, collecting all the Chaos Emeralds and registering your scores on the leaderboards. It’ll take you a while to get the full 200 gamerpoints, depending on how good you are and how much patience you have. I personally found getting Chaos Emerald 7 harder than doing the last boss without getting hit.

Sonic 4 looks pretty basic, but has some nice effects while keeping the look authentic of the old days. The music is catchy and gets in your head like in the past 2D Sonics and the sound effects are ripped straight from the classics.

The Verdict

Sonic 4 Episode 1 is brilliant but it borrows too much from Sonic 1 and 2 to reinvent itself. It feels more of a trip down memory lane than a new entry in the series, but at least it’s gone back to its roots. I hope Episode 2 has some original ideas and based upon the ending, I look forward to fighting an old nemesis…