This is the most fitting review to follow my one for Sonic Adventure. I swear I didn’t even plan it like this. For many, Sonic Adventure signified the beginning of the end for the beloved hedgehog. It introduced the widely despised friends such as Amy and Big the Cat, and set Sonic down a dark path of mediocrity that most felt he would walk forever.
We’ve been promised Sonic’s “return to form” several times in the past, and after this promise had been broken nearly every time, it was understandably hard for people to believe Sega when they said that no for real, this time it’s true.
After all this time, is Sonic the Hedgehog 4 really the return of the classic Sonic we’ve all been pining for all these years?
Sonic 4 is in every way a representation of the Sonic of the classic Genesis era, particularly the first title. There are no side characters, not even a mention of them. You play as Sonic, there is no other option. You run from left to right, speed through loops and obstacles, all the while jumping on enemies and collecting hordes of rings. If you do well, you’ll go to a special stage, and if you succeed there, you get a chaos emerald. It’s the exact same formula you remember but the best part of it all – it’s fun.
I’m just as surprised as some of you no doubt are but I’m serious, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a fun game. It is a throwback to the golden days that seems to remember what it was about those games that made them fun. Everything stays pretty faithful to the classic games. They didn’t give Sonic a gun or wings or anything like that. No Sonic can run, he can jump, and he can now do his trademark homing attack, which I personally felt was a solid addition to the game. There’s something very satisfying about using the homing attack to string together a series of actions in one perfect run.
Much of the experience will feel very familiar to those who played the original Sonic. Many of the levels are based on ones from previous games, but they of course have been modified and updated. You’ll visit familiar locations like the casino and the labyrinth, and while there are certainly familiar elements, just enough has changed to keep the experience feeling fresh. I was particularly fond of the second casino stage. You’ll see why.
The sound effects haven’t changed really at all. All the noises you would expect to be there – collecting a ring, hitting an enemy, pinging around inside the casino stages – are just how you remember them. This is exactly as it should be so hey, no complaints here. The game even opens with the classic “Seeeeega” sing-song intro. That got them several points right off the bat.
The same idea applies to the music. Although tweaked, all of the classic musical beats you remember are present here. The title screen, the victory tune, and of course the classic underwater “ohmygodyouregonnadrownunlessyougetairrealsoon!!!” music is there to bring on the stress. The new tunes are overall pretty solid, although I can’t say they at all compete with the older titles. The one standout for me though is Splash Zone Act 3. That music has been in my head since I played the game. That rarely happens, so well played on that one Sega.
The game is, as expected, pretty short. Of course Episode 1 means there is clearly more on the way, so for the time being you get four zones, each containing three stages and a boss battle, as well as the special stages. The game isn’t especially challenging either. Some parts are tricky (I was stuck on a puzzle involving torches in the Lost Labyrinth zone for far longer than I’d care to admit) but free lives seem to be given to you near constantly.
All in all it probably took me about 90 minutes to make it through the game. But then you know what I did? I went back and started playing the older levels again. I tried to get the emeralds, tried to get faster times, or played Splash Zone Act 3 so I could hear that music. That’s what this game is about. If you just want to beat it and move on, then maybe it’s not worth the money. But if like me you want to go through and earn everything you can, you’ll easily get your money’s worth.
I’m not going to say the game isn’t flawed. Sonic does seem to be a bit sluggish when picking up speed and I wasn’t fond of all the level designs (the casino cannons stand out as being a bit of a slog), but these didn’t hamper the whole experience for me. Sonic 4 may not be mindblowing, but it’s a fun and mostly successful return to what Sonic used to be all about.