‘Sonic 4: Episode 1’ Revisited

To say that modern Sonic games are in the center of many discussions of ‘Hardcore’ Sonic-fans is the understatement of the decade. I mean, we’ve got people getting angry over his eye color, that certainly tells you something about the fan-base. One of the most heated discussions in recent memory is the one revolving around ‘Sonic 4: Episode 1’, the official sequel to the Sega Genesis games. So, I decided to go back to that game and give it a second try, with some distance from all those angry yells and mixed reviews, one of which I wrote myself back when it was released. What does the game feel like today? Well, find out right after the jump, where I play through the game, zone by zone and tell you about my impressions…

 

Splash Hill Zone

This is pretty much the classic starting zone all the classic Sonic games had and probably always will have. The ‘Green Hill’ – type zones are the first any Sonic Fan ever thinks about and is widely known as a set piece. This specific iteration certainly manages to copy that mood to near perfection, be it in terms of the design, level layout or music. Even little animations like the mowing Sun-flowers add to the very typical flair.

It’s actually a really great start, the design is very clean and easy to grasp, it gives you enough time to learn everything you need to learn if this is your very first Sonic game and classic elements like the loopings are always welcome. The classic enemy design is also helped the flair and overall, the zone isn’t too difficult. A nice touch is the sunset in the third level, which gives it a more distinct mood.

The boss of those first three levels however is extremely lackluster and way too easy. The music also switches from mediocre to almost bad at times, which is something of a problem during the whole game. Mixed sound aside, I had a blast playing this zone again.

 

Casino Street Zone

Well, first off I have to say that I dislike the Casino zones from all the Sonic games. They are always nice to look at and fun diversions, but in terms of Gameplay, they always fall flat for me. Sure, pinball is nice, especially since it made “Sonic Spinball” possible, but as a gameplay device, it’s nothing spectacular and more importantly, it’s an element that fans have seen a hundred times. While the inclusion can be counted as an homage to the older games, similar to ‘Splash Hill Zone’, it certainly lacks individuality.

However, the leveldesign itself is fun and fluid! But then again, the Boss is pretty terrible and downright boring. It’s a rehash of the Sonic 2 boss from the Casino stage and he’s not interesting to fight at all. It’s also important to note, that you gain so many extra-lives during theses stages, that the rest of the game becomes way too easy in the process. Heck, even some parts in the third zone, where you often fall to your death because of spinning cards, aren’t that difficult anymore. Overall, the zone was a disappointment to me.

 

Lost Labyrinth Zone

Musically one of the more interesting zones, the level design is certainly one of the best in this game too. There is a certain ‘Indiana Jones’-vibe to it, but the whole design reminds me of a combination of two zones from the very first Sonic game: Labyrinth zone and Marble Zone. Now, of course those were slow paced zones, and to some degree that is true here. But for all the wrong reasons…

Yes, I’m talking about those torch puzzles in the second act. Those are downright terrible and I can’t stand them. On the first play-through, they were a real pain, but after some practice, you remember the combinations and can move along. Still, it never was a good idea to implement puzzles into Sonic game. Oh, and there is water too, but I have to say it’s not as bad as in other Sonic games. Sure it’s still lethal, but the difficulty is actually balanced.

When it comes to the mood, the zone is actually quite unique compared to the rest of the game. Then again, the boss is pretty boring, but that seems to be an overall problem of the game. I had fun with this zone, even though some elements stopped it from being great…

 

Mad Gear Zone

My favorite stage by far! I love the music and the setting, which might be because I really love the Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2, which this zone is based on. The gears, valves and pipes really make this zone stand out in terms of design. There are some harder bits in it, which is great since the game has been way too easy overall up until now. The praying mantis-like robots are still hard as hell and there are some timed puzzle elements here, but they don’t slow the players down too much. Overall, there is a good balance here. Running away from that huge drilling machine is great fun and reminds me of some parts from Sonic 3, which is nice, considering that pretty much anything else is from the second game.

Again, this boss is a mere rehash of the one found in Sonic 2, but since I liked this boss in the original, I’ll let it slide for once.

 

E.G.G. Station Zone

I hate this zone. I hate it out of several reasons.

First of all, at the beginning, I though: ‘YES, a new Death Egg Zone!’ I loved that zone from Sonic & Knuckles, I thought it was absolutely brilliant… but NO! It has to be the one from Sonic 2 which is just some bosses put together on a space station. Repeating all the bosses of the game thus far is such a lazy and unoriginal design choice, that it boggles my mind why people aren’t calling Sega out on that one more! Oh, and then there’s that rather absurd and outrageous spike in the difficulty curve! In a way, this zone actually exemplifies my big point of criticism when it comes to Sonic 4 thus far:

It has no own identity!

Every single zone is lifted from the first two games, ever boss a rehash of old bosses and new elements are really rare. Even the bonus stage is lifted from the first ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’! This game could have been way better, if it didn’t try to cash in on the popularity of Sonic 2. Sure, that popularity is well deserved, but did Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles try to cash in on that? Not that much, they still did their own thing! It’s nostalgia that hurts the game for me. Not my own nostalgia, but the one created by the developers.

Overall, I certainly enjoyed Sonic 4, but has it been memorable? No, because I’ve already seen everything and it really just makes me want to play Sonic & Knuckles again! Funny, since I considered it to be the fourth game when I was younger…

  • Stooball

    I think you hit the nail on the head, I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me about it either (except the physics)

    It was missing the ‘new’ spark that I was looking for, instead showing me stuff from before. While that’s not a completely bad thing, it should have been more original in this case. And let’s face it, one entire game, not an episode

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