Sonic the Hedgehog 4, the game that retro Sonic fans have been waiting 16 years for the release of is finally here, and now that we've had nearly a week to play with it, I thought it was ample time enough to pass off my opinions on the game - to which some of you will agree and others won't - depending on your level of maturity when it comes to Sonic games (i.e. retro or newbie). Be warned there may be spoilers in here but if you have ever played Sonic 2 then chances are nothing will be ruined for you.
First things first let's look at the theme of the game, it is set as a sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles which came out in 1994 on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, therefore the storyline continues from there - with Dr Eggman (or Dr Robotnik as classic gamers might refer to him) deciding to re-visit and enhance his past designs and machines in order to get rid of Sonic once and for all... not having realized that Sonic has been there, done that and knows how to defeat them - but nonetheless he's confident that this tactic is sure to work.
Fans of the classic Sonic games will recognize just about every single enemy in the game from a previous Sonic game, some have had changes in the way they move/attack and others have not. Which brings us to the levels - again, classic Sonic fans will pretty much recognize each of the 4 zones that Sonic can play through, with Splash Hill making a huge resemblance to the Green/Emerald Hill zones from Sonic 1 & 2, Casino Street mimicking Casino Night and Carnival Night from Sonic 2 & 3, Lost Labyrinth making a striking resemblance to the Labryinth Zone from Sonic 1 and Mad Gear looking almost exactly the same as Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2... not to mention the final boss taking place in exactly the same setting as Sonic 2's final boss and the special stages making a minor change to Sonic 1's special stages - but more on that shortly.
With there only being 4 zones, each with 3 acts and a boss, each act seems to feel too similar to the last - if you remember Sonic 2 had 10 zones (not including the final boss) each with 2 acts in - which kept the scenery fresh and made the game feel longer... don't get me wrong you probably get the same amount of gameplay as before but sometimes I just want a change of scenery to remind me that I am actually making progress through the game.
On the subject of levels, two in particular (I'm referring to you Lost Labyrinth act 2 and Casino Street act 2) used to be completely different, something which anyone who watched the early leaks of the game will know - they utilized motion sensing technology - something which the Xbox didn't even have.. They reverted those two zones to the handheld devices (iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone) and changed them instead - Casino Street being changed into a playing card matching stage and rewarding you with way too generous amounts of lives and Lost Labyrinth zone placing you in darkness with a small torch as a means to guide you through the level.
The point I am trying to make with this is although these levels will strike the heartstrings of any classic Sonic gamer, they aren't really anything new... it seems that this game is just meant to be Sonic 2 all over again but with better graphics. The level designs themselves are not as well thought out as the classics and they tend to slow you down if anything which to me, seems to defeat the idea of having a hedgehog that can run really fast. The only times you ever really get to go fast for any extended period of time is when the game wants you to, i.e. it is scripted, and usually you can tell by the fact that there are countless speed boosting pads scattered around the game - something which to me defeats not only the idea of a spindash but also the whole speed is a reward type mechanism which made the classics so great.
One thing that really made me wonder was during act 2 of Lost Labyrinth, during a mine cart sequence you are thrown out and expected to land into another mine cart... now bearing in mind you can only jump in the mine cart as it controls itself direction wise... but when you are thrown out if you do not hold right - you fall to your death - now this is sure to get everyone at some point because anyone who has figured out that holding right whilst in the mine cart does nothing at all, won't be holding it down at the point you are launched towards the next cart - meaning you are almost certain to die.
The game feels incredibly short though for some reason and there seems to be little re-playability once you have achieved everything... i.e the Chaos Emeralds and, if your one of those addicts - achievements. Collecting the Chaos Emeralds seems just about as easy as it always has been in Sonic 1 but instead of you controlling Sonic, you actually control the stage now - something which you might need to get the hang of a little - there's also a timer and ring amount requirements to worry about and not to mention silly bouncing orb placements which seem adamant in bouncing you into game over orbs.
Another big let down is the physics, something which should be the number 1 priority for a game claiming to be the successor of the greats from the 90's. The physics seem too floaty and jumping just doesn't feel like it did back then, you can lose speed too easy if your not constantly holding right/left - something which would only slow you down a tiny bit in the old games, not to mention various things such as the Spindash only taking one charge to propel you to maximum speed rather than a few 'revs' like before. Also, try spindashing off a ledge without holding a direction down and you will notice all momentum stops and you fall straight whereas you used to be able to keep moving forward, something which would reward the use of it at the right times and punish those who didn't.
A lot of people had concerns over the introduction of the Homing Attack - or the small boost it gives you when no target is in range - personally I like it even if it can be worse for you if you mess it up sometimes. Sega have stated you can complete the game without it bar a few sections where using it is necessary but not enough to ruin the game. I still think however that an option to turn it off would have been better but it just feels like the homing attack was only included to cater for the poor momentum physics whilst jumping.
As we start to wrap this review up, let's first comment on the price tag... 1200MSP for this game seems way too much - you can purchase the classics for 400MSP each and they all provide the same if not a hell of a lot more gameplay than Sonic 4 - it seems to me as if your paying more than double for a fancier looking, HD Sonic 2. The music is similar to the classics (i.e trying to mimic the style of the Mega Drive/Genesis) but most of the songs don't have much spark to them like the old ones did.
But may that's just the problem, almost everywhere in this entire review I have compared it to the older Sonic games - and rightly so... but maybe that's why we have so much of a problem with it - let's imagine this was the first Sonic game ever to be released of it's kind - we probably wouldn't bat an eyelid at most of the flaws that have been emphasized here. Perhaps for it to be enjoyable we need to stop comparing it and start taking it for it's own merits. But that's entirely up to you as gamers, it is your game and you play it how you want.
So to sum it up, a good game overall which gives you a nice trip down memory lane but it seems that the developers have lost touch with almost everything that made the classics so great in the first place. And being an absolute huge Sonic fan, it saddens me to give this game such a poor review. It seems like there are more negatives than positives in this game but either way I am still satisfied with my purchase - it is a good little game on it's own merits and I would recommend it so long as you try the demo beforehand. There are a lot of things I still haven't covered in this review but to go into them would make me seem too picky - I have just touched on what I feel are the main points.
Overall I think I am going to give it a 6 and a half/10 - it could have been better but sadly not.