Don't wave that finger at me young Hedgehog
There was a moment when I realised just how much of an icon Sonic is to non-gamers who haven't experienced his early games. It was while I was sat playing Sonic 4 Episode 1 only to find my wife (normally the least avid gamer in the house) peering over my shoulder and saying ‘ooh, Sonic’ before snatching the iPhone away for a quick go.
So with such an iconic character, the pressure mounted for Sega to come up with something that befits the classic status of our blue spikey hero, something better than the 3D iterations or recent iPhone ports of the old 2D games suggest. I’m pleased to say that they may just have cracked it.
It’s a mixed pleasure, though. The Sonic of old feels as if it has returned in part, from the iconic menu with finger waving smugness of Mr Hedgehog to the almost-retro but somehow new background music that plays throughout the game. But this comes packaged with a few new elements that don’t always sit easy with the classic feel.
Playing through the first level these aren’t immediately noticeable. It feels suitably Sonic; fast paced, ring collecting sonic spin style fun. But hang on a minute, what’s this? Pressing jump while in the air leads to some sort of homing attack, a feature borrowed from the more recent Sonic 3D games. Purists may scream, but in all honesty it fits the game and you may even start to wonder why Sega didn’t think of it earlier.
Later levels add in vines and slower stages, both of which detract from the speed and fluidity of the game. These are minor annoyances though. It’s not long before you hit your first boss level, the classic Eggman ship with the dangling wrecking ball, only this time the ball sails clean over his head in a death arc that makes it a whole lot tricker to hit the rotund villain. Not to worry, though, homing attacks were made for this and the level is soon over and done with.
The casino makes a welcome return, all flashing lights and bumper bars. I have a soft spot for these stages and they actually feel more at home on the iPhone than they did on any Sega machine all those years ago. The issue is that this makes the slow sections in the other stages all the more obvious. Sonic wasn’t meant to wait for platforms to come around or stop to judge a gap, it’s all about the speed.
Newly added mine carts help to alleviate any lingering disappointment for the odd slow down, though, as do chaos emerald collecting bonus rounds, tilting the screen to fall through the maze towards a shiny emerald feels like a perfect match. Controls, too, have been refined from the earlier ports of Sonic games to provide something as near to perfect as you’re likely to get with virtual D-pads. Only the puzzling inability to get going at any great speed when you’ve stopped (or have been stopped by one of the many enemies or obstacles) stands in the way of heralding the controls a complete success.
Despite a lack of retina display support for iPhone 4 and new iPod Touch the graphics are sharp and pleasing, both true to their past heritage and feeling modern enough to challenge their peers on the platform. Sound is both camped in the gloriously chip music style and yet slightly odd in that it’s trying to be something its not, again lifting effects from more modern Sonics as well as those of old.
Sonic 4 Episode 1 is a strange combination of new and old, some of it works and some doesn’t but as a package it still comes together as a more than decent Sonic game that will delight both old fans and newcomers.
- Sound: 7
- Graphics: 8
- Gameplay: 8
- Longevity: 8
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