Although the Sonic franchise is huge and consists of many games, not too long ago Sonic 4 Episode 1 was released, which was intended to be not only just another Sonic game, but to be part of the original trilogy that set the whole franchise rolling on the first place back in late 80s/early 90s. Sonic 4 Episode 2 has been released shortly after Episode 1. However, this review will only concentrate on Episode 1.
This game takes a humongous amount of aspects and inspiration from the original trilogy, in fact to the point that it seems it was intentional in order to provide nostalgia factor for the players. Of course that’s not a bad thing at all, especially considering that the game added some of its own twists to all of the original goodies that it included.
Sonic 4 Episode 1 consists mainly of 4 different zones – Splash Hill Zone, Casino Street Zone, Lost Labyrinth Zone, and Mad Gear Zone – each one containing 3 acts, plus a boss fight with Dr Eggman. One of really impressive features in this game is that right after completing the first act in Splash Hill, we get access to every single act in every single stage (apart from the boss acts). So as opposed to having to complete the game in a linear fashion, we can choose in which order to do all the levels, with even a chance to revisit previous levels if we want to say acquire some more lives or to have another chance to access the special stages. Another great thing is that with each new act something new is added to each of the zones and hence making each act stand out from the one before. I’ll briefly describe each zone below:
Splash Hill Zone continues the tradition of the original trilogy that always has a paradisal, grassy, waterfall-infested place as the first zone, where the player can get acquainted with the game and to generally cruise through. The 2nd act of this zone introduces vines which we can use to swing on, similar to the ones in the Angel Island Zone of Sonic 3, and the 3rd act has some cool, fast-speed rope-gliding happening, which can be slightly reminiscent of those sliding platforms in the Hill Top Zone of Sonic 2.
Casino Street Zone as the name implies is the same one as we’ve seen in Sonic 2, with also some inspirations of the Carnival Night Zone of Sonic 3. In this zone there’s a lot more bouncing and slingshotting around happening than in the previous zone. In act 2 of this zone we get to spend a lot of time jumping on big cards which flip around, forcing us to be quick, and in act 3, a lot of the gameplay revolves around getting inside cannons and then shooting ourselves in the intended direction in order to continue further.
Lost Labyrinth Zone is mostly based on the Labyrinth Zone from the original Sonic, except now it looks much prettier than before. The first act of this zone has us spending a lot of time running away or balancing atop huge round rocks. The second act happens in the dark, where we must light our path with a torch and not get caught out by sneaky traps. And third act has a lot of underwater areas, which gladly is the only underwater gameplay in this entire game.
Mad Gear Zone is easily recognizable as a tribute to Scrap Brain Zone from original Sonic, and even more so to the Metropolis Zone in Sonic 2, and in my opinion it’s even cooler and more epic than before. A lot of the stuff from those zones returns in Mad Gear zone, including spinning gears, heavy compressors, conveyor belts, and other mechanical obstacles. In the 3rd act of this zone, which is probably my favourite act in the entire game, for most of the time we are being chased by a huge machine, which has a single purpose to flatten us into a pancake, but whilst running away from it we still have to avoid other obstacles, what really forces us to act quickly and on the spot, and at the same time letting us breathe a huge sigh of relief once the act is complete.
Once the bosses in all 4 zones are beaten, we can access the final stage, which is the Egg Station Zone. Unfortunately I found this zone to be kind of disappointing because before you get to face Eggman in his final form, you have to fight him in his previous 4 forms again, except now we just have to do them in a row, one right after the other. Throughout the game we can also access the special stages, which play a lot like the ones from the original Sonic, where Sonic traverses spinning maze-like structure in order to get to the emerald at the end. What’s different this time round, however, is that we get to spin the maze ourselves in order to guide Sonic, but there is a time limit, so we must be quick about it.
Perhaps one criticism that I’ve seen being mentioned by many other players of this game is how the control is a bit strange, and I’d have to agree to it. Unlike the original trilogy where Sonic has a lot of momentum when running and jumping, this time round, if we let go off the direction button midway through the jump, then Sonic instantly starts to fall down as opposed to continuing to fly in the same direction. It is a bit of an annoying mechanic, but it is something one can get used to fairly quickly, not to mention that a new addition of homing diving attack when in midair makes the gameplay pretty fun.
For the most part I’ve really enjoyed Sonic 4 Episode 1. Although the overall game isn’t overly long (~ 5 hours or so), each stage has been given a lot of detail and attention, and some new gameplay mechanics can keep the experience quite fresh in each new stage. Sure, this game does not surpass the originals, but I think it really deserves its place amongst them.
My score: 9/10