Rehashing zones, bosses, badniks and more from previous Sonic titles
Years have passed since the release of Sonic and Knuckles (S&K), the final outing for Sonic and his friends on Sega Genesis. In the years since, there have been a plethora of Sonic titles for various platforms, both home and portable. Sonic has received a number of great 2D sidescrolling adventures on portable platforms, but he has yet to return to his 2D roots on consoles– until now. The first part of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is finally here, and while it is a step up from almost all of Sonic’s other home console offerings since Genesis, Sonic 4 may prove once and for all that Sega doesn’t know what to do with Sonic.
Sonic 4 is supposed to begin shortly after the events of S&K, but there is really nothing here that connects to Sonic’s final outing on Genesis. After Sonic 1, all of the Sonic titles go right into each other. The end of Sonic 2 leads right into the beginning of Sonic 3, and then leads right into S&K. While the number “4” is in this game’s title, at this point it wouldn’t make a difference if that number were there or not, as the title really has no strong connections with the previous titles. The only connection that Sonic 4 has to Sonic’s prior outings is the rehashing of bosses, badniks and stages that Sonic has already seen in the past.
The official story is that Dr. Robotnik survived the destruction of his Death Egg, and has decided to go back to his previous badniks and machines, improving them so that Sonic may be destroyed once and for all. (Hm, I wonder why he didn’t do that in Sonic 3?) As with Sonic’s Genesis adventures, Sonic 4 is a 2D sidescroller, and like in Sonic 1, Sonic is the only playable character.
In Sonic 4 players will try to make it to the end of each Zone, and each Zone has three acts and a boss level. Players will have the opportunity to try a special stage if they beat a stage with 50 or more rings, and jump through a giant ring at the end of the stage, just like in Sonic 1. After beating the three acts to a stage, Sonic will have an encounter with Dr. Robotnik, and will be able to set his animal friends free upon defeating the villain.
Enough of the bad (for now), let’s talk about the good. Sonic 4‘s graphics are very nice, and levels such as the Casino Street Zone are absolutely stunning. As you are running through the level, you can almost lose yourself in the Zone’s continuously changing lights. On Mad Gear Zone, you can see layers of equipment moving in the background, just as you may have seen in Sonic 2’s Metropolis Zone and S&K’s Flying Battery Zone. The amount of detail put into the stages really makes them come to life, and makes you feel like a lot of effort was put into the title.
While the game is great to look at and watch, the same cannot be said for actually playing it. While no one could have possibly expected Sonic to move in Sonic 4 just as he did in previous titles (after all, Mario moves differently in New Super Mario Bros. Wii than he does in his original adventure), gamers could have at least expected Sonic to handle well and the game to have a good sense of momentum, but neither happens. For whatever reason, the team behind Sonic 4 butchered Sonic’s movement. His walking animation looks off (you can walk and cover a lot of ground), and it takes Sonic a long running distance to reach top speed.
The game also has no sense of momentum whatsoever. If you spin dash off a cliff and are not holding forward on the d-pad, you fall straight down. If you spin dash up a wall and into the air, Sonic comes out of his spin and can be hit by enemies. If you come to a wall that you can’t seem to get to the top of with spin dash, you can reach it if you run, even though you are going slower. It doesn’t end there.
If Sonic tries to change direction while in mid-air, it will seem as though he hit a brick wall and falls to the ground. While Sonic 4 introduces Sonic Adventure’s homing attack to the 2D Sonic games, it seems as though it would have been better without it, as the inclusion of homing attacks results in numerous badniks being scattered throughout all of the zones, whose sole purpose is to be hit with a homing attack. I don’t remember Robotnik being that nice before, but this must be a new thing for him.
If you couldn’t tell already, there are few original elements in Sonic 4. Let’s look at the Zones and which previous games’ zones they copy. Splash Hill Zone (Green Hill Zone, Sonic 1; Emerald Hill Zone, Sonic 2), Casino Street Zone (Casino Night Zone, Sonic 2), Lost Labyrinth Zone (Labyrinth Zone, Sonic 1), Mad Gear Zone (Metropolis Zone, Sonic 2; Flying Battery Zone, S&K). There are too many enemies to name in Sonic 4, but most, if not all, of them also come from previous Sonic titles. Motobug from Green Hill Zone? Check. Crawl from Casino Night Zone? Check, and so on.
Bosses are another frustrating part of the game. Each boss battle consists of two parts, with the first part of the fight being a replica of a boss from a previous Sonic game. After taking a number of hits, Robotnik activates his new improvements, but by time he does, all that’s needed are a few more hits to send him packing. If all of these boss forms had already been beaten by Sonic, don’t you think Robotnik probably would’ve activated the enhancements right off the bat?
The Special Stages in Sonic 4 are easily the most infuriating part of the game. Again, instead of building off of those in S&K, Sonic 4 decides to go with a variant of the Special Stages from Sonic 1. That’s right, the mazes are back, and more obnoxious than ever. No longer do you control Sonic while the stage rotates, but now you control the stage itself. Meanwhile Sonic falls and bounces off of everything– even regular walls. Later stages with a minefield of bouncers become hair-pulling, and it doesn’t help that these stages are timed, and you have to beat the whole stage again if you want to get the chaos emerald. In the end it isn’t even worth it, as there is no final fight in space as Super Sonic. Here, Sega again went for a more Sonic 1 and 2 approach, so there is nothing after the final boss. By the way, the final boss is a rehash of the final boss from the second title.
Getting lives in Sonic 4 is also easy, and losing them is too hard. By choosing the Casino Street Zone, and playing the Road of Cards Act, you can get more than 10 lives in one run-through. Since you can play all of the stages whenever you want, you could have over 100 lives in no time. There are a few levels or boss fights that may take a few tries, but lives will never be a problem. By the time I beat the game, I had over 160 lives.
Even the music of Sonic 4 is sub-par for a 2D Sonic title, which is a shame since Jun Senoue made amazing tracks for many previous Sonic titles. As it stands, this game easily has the least appealing music out of any of the 2D Sonic titles, portable titles included.
I’ve said many times that Sonic Advance should have been Sonic 4, and I still believe it. In Advance, some old bosses showed up at the end, but the game overall was fresh and original. Advance had everything a proper Sonic title should have, including great gameplay, stages and music. Sonic 4, on the other hand, should have had a different title, like Sonic the Hedgehog: Re 1&2, because that is what the game feels like. The game may make gamers question if Sonic Team can make a proper, new Sonic title, instead of throwing together elements from over ten years ago and expecting us to be satisfied.