When will Sega put the blue hedgehog out of his misery?
Sonic 4: Episode 1
There’s a pretty famous internet meme that outlines “The Sonic Cycle.” A new Sonic game gets released. Remembering how fun the original Sonic games were, you start to get excited. Screenshots and videos come out introducing some new design quirk, or a new partner for Sonic to team up with, and you start to get worried. The game comes out, and it’s complete crap. Then the cycle starts all over again.
Sonic 4 was supposed to be back to basics, no-nonsense platforming in the classic vein. I’m not a Sonic fanboy – the only games I’ve spent any time with are the first two, and I find the whole furry culture surrounding the series really weird. But those first two games are brilliant in that they take the Mario formula and do something interesting with it. The early Sonic games were as much about high-speed platforming as they were about rapid-fire decision making and finding your own path through the game’s labyrinthine level design.
What you get in Sonic 4 is Sonic 2, minus Tails, and with absolutely broken controls and physics. No longer can you careen through levels with wild abandon—playing as Sonic now feels like driving a 1940s Ford pick-up truck through a sea of pudding. He is so slow that it takes a full five seconds to get up to a full run. Not only that, but let go of a button, and he’ll stop completely dead.
If the level design rewarded a more measured approach to exploration, this wouldn’t be so frustrating. You’re still required to run as fast as you can, and unless there are speed boosters nearby, you’re going to be plodding through this game like you’re the Werehog from Sonic Unleashed. These levels are less of an homage and more like carbon copying. There’s not a single new or inventive idea to be found within them. The four worlds in this game are all straight rip-offs from Sonic 2.
OK, that’s a lie – there are new ideas in Sonic 4. Terrible ideas. Sonic’s homing attack makes enemy encounters even easier than before. The problem is that this game is especially bad for placing unkillable enemies in places where you’re totally undefended – making for many cheap deaths. If you’ve ever made a list of things that shouldn’t be in a 2D Sonic game in your head, they’re all in this game. I’m talking about: inane puzzle solving, minutes of being flung from one speed booster to the next, underwater escape sequences where you move even slower – if that’s possible – and infuriating instances of precise platforming over bottomless pits where you will die again and again and again, all because of the shoddy controls.
Holy crap is this game bad. It’s full of bad ideas, bad execution, and a complete lack of identity. Seriously, I know that Sonic was a poster boy for animals with baditude – see Punky Skunk, for example – but I’d almost prefer that to him having no personality whatsoever in this game, boring or infuriating levels, and terrible controls. Let the Sonic cycle begin anew.