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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

True blue.

And you will get stuck. This is hard to believe at first. You'll sprint through Splash Hill without doing much more than pressing right on the d-pad. You'll zoom through the first Casino level just like old times, racking up points, bouncing off flippers, bumpers for goalposts etc.

'How disappointing,' you will think. 'They have dumbed Sonic down for the casual gamers and stupid children of today. As a veteran of the series, I find this experience to be enjoyable but unchallenging. I am therefore a superior being, even though my hobbies include making smug statements to myself in my head.'

Half an hour later you will be twisting your control pad in rage as if trying to wring its wretched plastic neck, swearing at gods you've even never heard of and vowing to spend the rest of your days stuffing towels in those holes at the side of country roads so no hedgehog may ever cross safely again. But you'll keep playing all the same.

That's because, just like the old games, Sonic 4 is brilliantly paced. The whizzy fast bits are punctuated by slow, tense sections, smart set-pieces and moments of seemingly impossible hardness. True, overall the game is easier to complete than its predecessors, especially since you can access all the levels in any order. But there are still tricky bits, and hardcore fans have plenty to be getting on with what with all the secret routes and hidden power-ups to discover.

Then there are the Special Stages, which once again are acccessed by completing levels with a minimum of 50 rings in Sonic's possession. They involve navigating around a floating maze to find the Chaos Emeralds. In the PS3 version, you can do this by tilting the Sixaxis controller instead of using the analogue stick. There is no-one living or dead who could explain why you would want to do this.

No sign of Tails. Hopefully he's dead.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between Sonic 4 and the old games lies with the titular character. Sonic is presented here in his modern iteration, all droopy quills and long legs, looking a bit like a blue cartoon hedgehog version of Lenny Kravitz.

Along with old favourite the Spin Dash he has a new move, the Homing Attack. This allows Sonic to zoom in on enemies while in mid-air and bop rows of them in sequence. It's a fun addition which fits in well with the traditional move set.

Another key difference is less visible - in fact, it isn't visible at all. The music in Sonic 4, while decent enough and pleasingly retro, is entirely forgettable. It won't jangle around your brain at night when you're trying to sleep like good old Richard Jacques' tunes used to do.

Listen to the tune from the first level for an example. Like good drugs, a great Sonic track should make you want to run up walls and across ceilings with a giant smile on your face. This one is more likely to make you think about going for a coffee and buying some new blinds.

There may also be moans about the length of Episode I. It's comprised of 16 levels plus the Special Stages, and even with the tricky bits it won't take veterans too long to polish off the lot. But that's a decent amount of content for a tenner, and those who are bothered about collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, finding all the hidden bonuses and topping the online leaderboards will get even more bang for their buck.

Those who didn't play or enjoy the first games might argue Sonic 4 feels dated and derivative, and those are usually good reasons to condemn sequels. But this is a special case - it's the return to form of a much loved, much mucked-about series, and the fact it's so familiar has a lot do with why it's such glorious fun to play.

So if you fancy a happy afternoon spin-dashing down memory lane, Sonic 4 is well worth the money. There are no 3D environments, no isometric viewpoints, no sidekicks or hoverboards or knights of the round table. Just a blue hedgehog, a fat man in a space helicopter, a good selection of well-designed 2D environments and some of the greatest gameplay mechanics in history.

In short, this is the game SEGA should have made 15 years ago. It's just a shame that to be this good took ages.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is available now on iPhone and will be released tomorrow for PSN and XBLA. A WiiWare version follows on Friday.

9 / 10

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About the Author
Ellie Gibson avatar

Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.

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