Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Reader Review
The last time I wrote, I said some horrible and hurtful things to you. It occurred to me, for some time, that it was your home at Sonic Team behind the fašade you had grown upon your person, grossly mistargeted towards an audience that, frankly, didn't give a toss - a young market more interested in their Call of Duty to really give you the love you needed so much. I feel bad - not that I have forgiven your past transgressions, however. It is somewhat hard to forgive that horrible performance you gave in 2006. Harder still to forget that silly Werehog phase you went through. But you did as you were asked, you performed within the confines of poorly-written and badly-designed games that hurried behind the pack, hoovering up ideas that were long past their sell-by dates.
Now you waltz back into my world with Sonic 4: Episode One, a game where you and your family at Sonic Team have tried so hard to rectify the mistakes of the past. You are back on a two-dimensional plane, where I could argue quite rightly is where you belong. There isn't a trace of emo to be found, not even a skin flake of it. Gone too are the crowd of 'friends' you hung around with - Shadow, Rouge, Amy; all bad influences on you, leeching your limelight for their own gains. The blue skies, clean waters and classic Badniks we all knew and loved from you are back, lovingly rendered in high-definition. It is almost enough to make me forget about your past.
From the off, it is abundantly clear what you want me to do - remember why, as a child, I fell in love with you so deeply. It is also clear what you want me to be doing in the game - reach the classic finishing post, leap into a gigantic gold ring and find the Chaos Emeralds so that we can beat the bad old Doctor and free all the fluffy, fuzzy and cute denizens of Mobius. You copy so much from the original template that you were never quite able to get back to, but as much as it all feels like copying - it also feels right. That this is where you belong. Whizzing along, bouncing across the zones with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
And yet, as much as it feels right, there is something a little sad about it all. All your zones, though they hark back to your original two-dimensional escapades, haven't really moved on. Splash Hill through Lost Labyrinth, they all feel like we've done them before. I also notice, and I did warn you about this, that you brought along a few too many toys to throw into the mix, making some of the progress fiddly and awkward. I know these toys mean a lot to your friends at Sonic Team, but could you please ask them to at least use them in a more intelligent manner?
Still, the zones are celebratory - harking backwards to classic templates, with gorgeous vistas in the background racing along as fast as we can go, with bright and beautiful landscapes and some incredibly thoughtful platforming. There is an element of technicality to it that is almost surreal at times - the shortest route isn't necessarily the best route to take, and coming back around you can sometimes shave seconds off a time by taking a lower or higher road. That is what you should be doing. Make us think about how we race through your landscapes and keep us coming back, to explore and shave precious seconds from our previous bests. It is glorious. Add to that the bosses, whilst they are classics, definitely came with surprises I was not expecting, so that is something to applaud. Although I find it a little surprising that Robotnik has smartened up, and not yourself. I'm a little concerned for you.
Some other areas of note - actually, let's pick up on that last one. What is with this new-fangled Eggman stuff? Okay, the Japanese called him Eggman but we didn't! We know him as Dr. Ivo Robotnik, his mechanical minions are badniks. Could we please have Robotnik back proper please?
Also I'd like to point out the music - as jaunty and fun as they are, they just don't have that addictive quality that we used to get. Even though I haven't played them for years - I can whistle away to Green Hills, Bridge Zone, Casino Night and many more. I doubt in a decade from now I'll remember the tunes from your latest caper so vividly - they're forgettable, and that is a crying shame as the music is one of your strengths. There is nothing of course wrong with any of it, or the sound effects. They're serviceable.
Also, I must ask - why the episodic nature? I'm sure we'll get more in the future, but this is somewhat disheartening to realise that you could be strung out for months, if not years, rather than finishing your task and hoping Sonic Team will finally bring you back into the third dimension, triumphantly, with real zeal and panache. You can work in 3D. I know you can. Sonic Adventure showed us you can.
You don't feel quite as athletic as you used to - perhaps because you are still rendered in three-dimensions and that may be causing some weight issues, who can tell. It takes you a little while to get moving, and when you stop it feels like a punishment that I have to get you back up to speed. When some levels, and of course rankings, require urgency it is somewhat frustrating to me that you do not share that sense of urgency.
The Homing Attack is of course a staple of your repertoire now, but it is a double-edged sword. It makes reaching certain things easier, but also when required to make a blind leap-of-faith (as asked to towards the end of the second act of Splash Hill) you don't spin, meaning we are punished at the last minute for what feels like something that is half-finished. It is... disappointing.
I am also a little sad at the special stages - they are wonderful, but that relaxing and almost psychedelic edge is lost in the timer, making special stages a sometimes fiddly race where blind luck can at times win out or mess up the best laid plans. I wish the timer wasn't there and in truth, I wish they were a little more complex at times... please look at the original special stages, they were wonderful. And I miss that music as well.
However, as things go and when all is said and done, I am glad you came back into my life once more. Deep in the bowels of a game that isn't technically as accomplished as its origins (or as it would like us to believe it is), there is still a lot of joy and fun there - as well as its ability, for me, to relive some good memories with you. There is still some way to go on this road, and I urge you to stick with it for now. You haven't completely patched up the damage you and your family have recklessly caused in the past six years or so, but this is enough to know that you do work in 2D - and not even Sonic Team can completely screw that up, for better or for worse.
Thank you for coming back into my life... and I shall welcome your second episode with open arms. Please do not betray my faith in you.
Yours with great respect and admiration,