Games for Lunch: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I

Posted by Kyle Orland (October 13, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developers: Sonic Team, Dimps
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2010
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii, iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Still Sonic after all these years...

0:00 The only 3D Sonic game I enjoyed even a little bit was the extremely underrated Sonic 3D Blast, so I'm more than happy the series is finally returning to its 2D roots after 15 years.

0:01 The music on the preview screen is annoyingly repetitive, and not even in a catchy, old-school way.

0:02 Oh man they reprised the old school "Seeegaaaaaa" introductory chant. I half expect the classic Sonic title theme to follow, but instead it's the same annoying preview screen music. Bleh.

0:03 We dive right into Splash Hill Zone, Act 1: "The Adventure Begins." I'll catch ya when I'm done.

0:06 Yup, that's some old-school Sonic all right, right down to the loops and the springboards and the constant tension between running as fast as possible and searching the massive levels for hidden paths and items. The biggest difference, right off, is the mid-air homing attack that lets me zoom right to nearby enemies. I'm used to it from the 3D games, but it just feels odd here. Even if there's nothing to home in on, I can use it to change directions in mid-air, which is probably the closest Sonic will ever get to a double jump. Iíll take it.

0:07 They even have the giant ring at the end of the level to access the bonus stage! It's similar to the rotating bonus stage in the original Sonic, except now I control the rotation instead of controlling Sonic himself, and I have to collect a set number of rings to open the doors and move on. Itís a little easier and less interesting than I remember, and the music is almost unlistenable.

0:08 "You can now play Acts 1 to 3 in each zone!" Who needs linear advancement! A vortex appears in the sky above the level select screen. "Special Stages can now be freely selected!" An exclamation point? Really? You're that excited?, game

0:09 Obviously I'm going to start with Casino Street Zone. The Casino Night Zone was my absolute favorite part of Sonic 2, to the extent that I played it probably 10 times as much as any other level. Act 1: "Neon City Adrift." I am giddy with anticipation.

0:11 I've got to say, the ability to nudge Sonic mid-air really helps when you're being shot around by springs, bumpers and pinball flippers constantly. The idea is growing on me.

0:12 Just used Sonic as the coin in a slot machine that won me 150 rings! *flex*

0:13 Man, the invincibility music is a reprise of the awful main theme. I really miss the old-school music.

0:14 Finished up the level with an incredible 301 rings after not being touched by a single enemy. Not that I want the casino zone to be filled with enemies but... that was a little too easy. Maybe Act 2 will be tougher.

0:17 "Zone 2: Road of Cards" features a lot of dice and cards that flip and spin in the background as I run past them. As I do, sound effects for extra lives and rings play as my counters go up and up and up. Not that I'm complaining, but I wish I knew why this stuff worked the way it does.

0:18 I just jumped on a stack of cards that turned into a flying, undulating pathway that takes me on a 3D traversal through a lot of the level. Pretty to watch, but kind of random.

0:21 I finally lose my first life when I run too haphazardly and get crushed by a descending platform. That's OK I have... 18 extra lives remaining?! Wow. Also, there's a third digit in the life counter, so it's listed as "018." Does this imply I should have over 100 lives soon? Ye gods!

0:22 Just followed a line of rings to a secret area hidden behind a wall. Note to youngsters: THIS is what Sonic is all about!

0:23 Just finished a frustrating section of jumps on playing-card-shaped platforms that constantly turned vertical and dumped me into a pit. I couldnít quite seem to figure out the inconsistent timing. This section feels like it belongs in a Mega Man game... not here.

0:25 On to Zone 3, ďCasino Climax.Ē It seems to feature a lot of Sonic-shooting cannons, complete with with big, flashing arrows showing you exactly where to shoot. Sigh...

0:27 It's amazing how comfortable the familiar, old-school sound effects are at making me feel.

0:29 Only after I break open a green shield box do I realize I was supposed to use said box as a bouncing platform to get to a hard-to-reach springboard. Oh bother.

0:30 Grrr... getting crushed between two slow-moving platforms was always my least favorite part of the Sonic games, and it turns out that has not changed. Gives me another chance at that springboard, though. Woohoo, 20 rings! Oh wait, I lost 150 by dying...

0:32 I find myself using the auto-targeting homing dash almost by instinct now, at every opportunity. Amazing how quickly it gets integrated into the standard Sonic move set.

0:33 It's only fair to note that the Sonic-shooting cannons no longer have those annoying arrows pointing out the precise angle I should fire at. Instead, it now takes some serious guessing and checking to find best path through a field of bumpers.

0:35 I'm getting a little annoyed by the inconsistent auto-targeting for the homing dash. Many times Iíll activate it expecting to home in on a nearby cannon mouth, only to instead get a slight bump that knocks me into a bottomless pit.

0:36 Note to self... let the game carry you when you hit a large springboard that sends you flying. Don't try to turn in mid-air and fall to your doom.

0:38 I just spent way too much time trying to land on an extra life box instead of the springboard that sends me flying away from said extra life. I Iost two lives in the process so... yeah, it probably wasn't worth it.

0:39 So instead of jumping, for some reason the game just made me homing-dash right off the edge of a platform to an altogether stupid death. TWICE. My feelings about this new move are getting decidedly more mixed.

0:40 For a casino level, that 3rd act was supremely annoying. On to the boss stage, "Dr. Eggman's Party." WHOO PARTY!

0:42 The long, tall column with a curved bottom feels very familiar, as does Dr. Eggman's floating, pincer-equipped robot. I spin up the wall, attack from above, and actually use a bumper on the wall to bounce back at him without landing. He goes down quick. Sonic pops open a large container with tiny woodland creatures, just like in the original game. They are surprisingly less cute in high definition.

0:43 Let's try the Lost Labyrinth Zone next. Act 1 is the "Ancient Maze of Mystery." The vaguely South American ruins are highlighted by some huge boulders falling from the ceiling at many points.

0:46 I feel like I'm missing an incredible amount of hidden stuff as I dash through the level. Can't explain why I don't feel like exploring more. Maybe it's the claustrophobic feeling that the ceiling is gonna fall in on my at any moment.

0:47 I never know which fall will lead to a secret area and which will lead to death at the bottom of a pit. Oh well, that's what extra lives are for, right?

0:50 Interesting note: When I get hit and lose 60 rings now, it seems all 60 of those rings are re-collectable, instead of just the few dozen that sprung out in the Genesis games. Who says all that processing power is going to waste?

0:51 The level ends with series of large stones which I have to roll then balance on top of with some jerky d-pad tapping. I'm not a huge fan, but at least it's short.

0:52 Lets jump to Mad Gear Zone, Act 3: "Impending Doom," because we can. The music is already ten times catchier than anything else in the game.

0:53 As soon as the level starts I have to run from a gigantic drill chasing me from the left side of the screen. I feel just on the edge of control as I barely make it to the first checkpoint., Thrilling!

0:54 Hmm... a series of conveyor belts send me straight into a seemingly impassable wall, which I'm quickly crushed against. I must be missing something.

0:56 It's not until my fourth try that I find the floor switch that opens up that wall. Itís blended in to the background a little too well, if you ask me.

0:59 I have to rush to hit a springboard on the very left edge of the screen before it's engulfed by the oncoming drill. It takes me up to a hidden path with an extra life and some invincibility, which runs out JUST before I hit a set of spikes. I HATE it when that happens!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I'm eager to see all the levels and explore a little bit, but the free-selection of levels and the bevy of extra lives have paradoxically made the game less interesting, to me. There's no real challenge to push against... at least not yet.

This review was based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

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