First off a little info about my relationship with Sonic the Hedgehog.
I'm a seriously hardcore fan of Sonic, I was 6 when Sonic first hit the Megadrive and I followed the games from that point religiously, I bought comics, mugs, books. If it had Sonic on it I bought it or begged my parents to buy it for me. I drew fan art, heck even all of my school work revolved around Sonic in some ways.
It goes without saying that the last ten years have been somewhat of a disappointment for me. I feel a lot like an older Star Wars fan coming to terms with the new trilogy. I often walk past kids playing on demo units in stores, and as they laugh and smile while they homing attack their way through Sonic and the secret black werehog with the massive pink dildo, or whatever they call the games now, I scream to them in my head "you don't know what it's like, you weren't there in the beginning!"
Anyway, Sonic 4. We've all read about it. Designed to be the true sequel to the gem that was Sonic 3 & Knuckles, has it succeeded in saving the blue hedgehogs fate?
At the moment I don't own any next-gen consoles, but I was pleased to see that Sonic 4 was getting a release on the iPhone, and lucky for me it's the first platform to host the game. I got up a lot earlier this morning than usual to buy it and all throughout the process I was panicking...please tell me it's 3G compatible! As so many games are now 3GS and up only. Good on ya Sega...3G FTW.
I've completed the game so I thought I'd bless you all with a badly written and highly opinionated review.
Very nice. The 2D level artwork is clean bold and bright and has a Sonic feel to it, it doesn't get in the way too much and doesn't take too much attention away from Sonic despite being very colourful. If you stand still for a few minutes you can see some really nice touches here and there in all of the levels. My biggest problem with Sonic 4's graphics are the 3D models. Sonic is a little more classic looking than his more recent incarnations but it doesn't feel like he fits the levels, he seems a little too small for the environment. Animation is smooth but his longer legs and arms flailing about with every stop and turn damage the illusion of tight control. Also objects such as springs and interactive objects stand out like a sore thumb against the rendered backgrounds, some exceptions however are the minecart and the boulders in Lost Labyrinth.
OH MY GOD, somebody please rip my fucking ears off. You can tell they've tried to go classic but they can't resist mixing the catchy tunes of old with that electro synthy guitar crap which plagues the new games. The casino level is perhaps the worst especially on act two as due to a gameplay nightmare you hear it over and over. The sound effects are standard sonic affairs and have been toned back to the older sounds which is a welcome addition.
It almost feels like Sonic. The physics are almost there but everything feels a little more floaty. There is a good combination of speed, puzzle solving and platforming and it's without a doubt one of the best on screen controllers I've ever used on the iPhone. The only fatal flaw seems to be the gravity. In Sonic games you've always been able to control Sonic's movement in the air albeit a little unrealistic. The same is true in Sonic 4 however if you hit the dead zone you just seem to stop completely and fall, which can make even the simplest platform navigation a real pain. And don't get me started on the homing attack. :dammit: Ultimately it's pretty good to play but it has some pacing issues, you kinda need to slow down once in a while to figure out the next part of the level but it feels weird seeing as the game seems to have a fucking get moving you prick pace to it.
Level Design/Game layout:
This is where Sonic 4 fails. For a start there is no continuos play, acts don't lead on to each other. After you clear a stage you are brought to a menu where you have to choose the next one and you can see all of the remaining stages in the game. I think they may have done this exclusively for the iPhone in order to make short bursts of gaming for commuters and what not but I don't like it. The levels themselves which follow the classic Sonic formula are really well designed, they've pretty much imitated the flow of Sonic 2 and thrown in a few set pieces and I had great fun playing them. However Sonicteam just couldn't resist fucking everything up with gimmicks. Each act after the first of each zone has a target to achieve, sometimes it's compulsory sometimes not but you will really lose your temper on the second act of the casino zone. You have to reach a score of 100,000 before you can finish the act and all you can do is go through the slot machine over and over again until you get enough points. The physics really let the game down here and trying to get back to the top each time is a pure nightmare, the homing attack often interrupts the jump off a wall technique we were so familiar with in the casino night zone. This is the first time ever in 19 years worth of Sonic I have died of a time over.
The levels also seem to feature alot of bottomless pits, unfair ones too.
Oh dear. There doesn't appear to be one. Nobody is a fan of cut-scenes in Sonic but S3&K guided us gently with a few in-game set pieces which hinted at what might be happening. The blurb that comes with Sonic 4 states that it takes place immediately after Sonic 3 but there is nothing to suggest that at all. What we have here is a Sonic 1/2 remake. The same levels renamed and spruced up, the same badniks, the same bosses with a few new moves (but the same techniques to kill them). The special stages are even a rehash of Sonic 1's maze. If I were Sonic I'd be thinking...hang on I cleared these areas out when I was a kid, what the fuck am I doing back here. It shouldn't be called Sonic 4 at the moment, but I'll hold my tongue for now until episode 2 comes out, hopefully they'll start pointing out a plot by then.
It's not a disaster but it's not perfect. It looks like a Sonic game, it feels like a Sonic game but it's not rich enough in style and story in my opinion to be a true successor to Sonic 3&K. It's bug free, it's pretty fun to play and it presents a challenge here and there and I can see myself going back to it on another system sometime soon. For £5.99 you can't complain.
Some pics direct from my iPhone 3G: