|System: PS3, X360, Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Sega (Sonic Team)||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Sega||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 12, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
Old-school Sonic fans have had to endure a lot over the past ten years, and for those of us who grew up with the blue blur back in his 16-bit heyday, the parade of almost schizophrenic designs Sonic Team have subjected us to since the Dreamcast have often been a bitter pill to swallow.
Like a lot of classic game franchises, the shift to 3D was not kind to Sonic. The initial excitement of seeing everyones favorite blue hedgehog debut in his first honest-to-god 3D entry back in 1999the Dreamcasts Sonic Adventure, recently re-released to less-than-forgiving scorescooled quickly after realizing that beyond the first level of the game, the camera and clunky design made it more of an exercise in VMU-shattering frustration than a promising new direction for the series. Things, of course, only continued to go downhill from there, as Sega decided to introduce a host of stupid or forgettable new characters and gimmicks with each passing game. This lead to such high points as romantically pairing Sonic with a human, Shadow the Hedgehog (its like Sonic, but with guns!), and of course, the now-infamous werehog. In hindsight, a lot of these decisions seem like Sega was operating under the influence of some powerful mind-altering drugs; the sense of desperation to reclaim a market share among younger gamers who probably werent even aware of Sonics lineage was palpable, even if the increasing clamor from old-school fans calling for a return to 2D fell on deaf ears.
The innumerable missteps over the past decade, then, have made it almost hard to believe that Sega has finally taken the series back (more or less) to basics with Sonic 4. And guess what, Sonic fans? The hedgehogs return is actually pretty good. Clearly this is a game designed for old-school Sonic fans, one that owes as much to the series roots as it does some of the more modern cues of the mostly-failed 3D titles. That said, nostalgia will be obvious to those of us who played the original Sonic through Sonic & Knuckles until our thumbs practically bled. Aside from stages (the ubiquitous Green Hill Zone and casino-style levels, ancient ruin settings, and Eggmans industrial factory wasteland all make appearances here), enemies and boss encounters will be familiar twists on old themes as well.
But rather than simply blatantly ripping off identical design and repackaging it for the HD generation, Sonic Team instead riffs on them. Take the first boss encounter with Eggman in the Splash Hill Zone, for example. At the outset, Eggmans floats above Sonic between two platforms, swinging a large ball on a chainthis is the original Sonics first boss encounter, verbatim. But then after being hit a few times, Sonic Team shakes things up. Suddenly, Eggman is quickly rotating in a circle, swinging the wrecking ball in an arc over the top of the screen (destroying the previous safety of the platforms). These types of homage are common throughout Sonic 4, particularly in the boss battles. In effect, Sonic 4 is designed as an amalgamation of the hedgehogs Genesis titles, and longtime fans will likely get a kick out of the bits and pieces they recognize from each.
This comes with the caveat that Sonic Team has actually borrowed a few tricks from later Sonic games. Aside from the more streamlined, modern lookan oblong look essentially taken from the GBA and DS Sonic titles, the most prominent change is Sonics lock-on target attack that made its debut in Sonic Adventure. Unlike the 3D games, the targeting actually works (most of the time) in 2. Essentially any time Sonic jumps near an item, switch, or enemy, a reticle appears around whatever is closest, letting Sonic launch into whatever hes targeting with a homing spin-dash. In some 3D entries, the technique was used to get across wide chasms or access areas Sonic couldnt otherwise reach. The technique works pretty well here, though the targeting can be a little unresponsive at times.