Game Reviews

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

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Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

As many devout Sonic fans would no doubt agree, progress is a bitch. After a magnificent run in the early '90s, Sega's mascot went from hero to roadkill over the course of the next few years.

It's hard to view Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 as anything other than an apology for that decline. Compared with Sonic's original outings, it doesn't stray far from the blueprint.

And that's no bad thing.

Same old story

For anyone who sampled the first episode of Sonic The Hedgehog 4 on iPhone, this Windows Phone title will feel particularly familiar, as it's a direct port.

However, even for newcomers, everything about this latest chapter is designed to evoke memories of Sonic's original outings, from the design of the stages themselves through to the 16-bit music that sits so comfortably within them.

Sonic's skillset, too, remains largely intact. Aside from having the ability to hone in on targets by double-tapping the 'jump' button (mapped to the right hand side of the screen), he essentially moves around in the same manner he has done ever since Sonic 2.

Twin slick

Early on, the idea is to pelt around levels at speed, screwing up into a ball and jumping on any enemies in your way and, when a bit of extra pace is needed, spin-dashing around the loops that form the basis of the first few stages.

It goes without saying that this is the most faithful Sonic game for a good 15 years or more, and – impressively – it's almost impossible to tell the Windows Phone version apart from the Xbox 360/PS3 release that stormed out of the blocks last year.

It's not perfect, however.

There's no escaping the fact that the touchscreen controls (as on iPhone) are less than optimally tight.

The accelerometer controls feel even looser, inevitably, and it's difficult to imagine anybody using them by choice.

What also grates is the ability to play stages in the order of your choosing once the first Splash Hill act is out of the way. For any hardened fans of the series, this simply doesn't sit well, undermining any sense of a coherent narrative thread.

Sound of (no) music

Tested on an HTC HD7, Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 occasionally suffers from sound drops, losing the music tracks at random and leaving only the game's iconic sound effects.

But even with these shortcomings Sonic The Hedgehog 4 is a solid outing, containing all the right ingredients.

The ability for Sonic to roll atop a boulder or two, for instance, is exactly the kind of slow, steady advance in level design that the original Sonic releases would pull off release after release.

It was a strategy that ensured the series stayed fresh without leaving its audience perplexed, and its ability to surprise through small innovations is alive and well here.

Stayin' alive

By the same token, the game's final set of stages – dubbed the Mad Gear Zone – encompass the sense of danger that such a huge part of classic Sonic levels such as Scrap Brain Zone, or Sonic 2's Metropolis Zone.

The tension involved in just staying alive as you edge your way through the game's closing chapters is a feeling few games in the last 17 years have been able to better.

As such, Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is a Sonic game for hardened Sonic fans. Newcomers will take to it happily enough, but its finer points will probably be lost on those who haven't taken Sonic for a spin before.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

The very definition of a 'modern classic', Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 never attempts to reinvent the wheel, but is all the better for it as a result