Sonic's deforestation project
As the 26th Sonic game released, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 aims to numerically confuse the world. It also aims to address just about any and every complaint levied at the series since the existence of polygons. There is no beastiality love story. There is no ridonkulous plot. Sonic doesn’t transform into a wolf form and have crappy combat sequences. (Though I’ll confess to being weirdly curious about Sonic Unleashed at the moment. Maybe for the wrong reasons.) There is not an ounce of dialogue. There are no alternative characters with annoying voices. There is no mock-punk soundtrack. In fact the only characters present in the game are Sonic and Dr Robo…Eggman.
Sonic 4 wisely assumes that you’ve played one of the real Sonic games in your life and know how the controls work. You jump into things to kill…I mean liberate their woodland prisoner. You run really fast through loops. You listen to funky synth music. You hold down and repeatedly press the jump button to charge up a Sonic Spinning Testicle Dash™. The one and only holdover from recent games (besides the awful naming convention of “Dr Eggman”) is an aerial dash that lets you lock on and catapult into flying targets with the press of that one jump button. In the context of a game that’s about running really fast and letting the world pass you by, it’s a natural fit.
I mentioned earlier that Sonic 4 aims to address every negative complaint fans have had with the series since when Sega started plugging extra hardware devices into the Genesis. (Side note: I would love to have a Genesis with a 32X and Sega CD. Not to play, but as a conversation starter. I mean say what you will about the games or hardware or anything, but the visual of a fully-loaded Genesis is an impressive sight.) And they addressed EVERY complaint that Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons would have, which means they took out anything resembling change. The levels are all variants of Blue Hills, trippy casino, water-filled temple and industrial areas. You will run through the horizontal sidewinder, scramble to find air bubbles, be the human pinball in the casino and watch a crappy ending worthy of the early Sonic games. Even the Chaos Emeralds bonus level is ripped right out of the first game, in all its Lucy-In-The-Sky-With-Diamonds-trippy glory.
A vast majority of the game’s assets and ideas are plagiarized from Sonic 1 and 2. Even the bosses are near-identical, as Dr Eggman shamelessly steals vehicle ideas from mentor Dr Robotnik. There are a small handful of new ideas; one level has you lighting torches to set off dynamite and destroy historical temples. Maybe there is some truth to that logging storyline. One casino level is designed to hand out dozens and dozens of lives as practical freebies for you to lose against the final boss. Otherwise, you will sit there and swear you are playing a shinier version of the original Sonic.
The other issue is that Sonic 4 is terribly short. It took me two hours to finish all of the levels, and then another 90 minutes struggling against an annoying final boss. Perhaps this comes with the territory of being episodic, but an episodic nostalgic throwback platformer feels like a bad idea for all involved. If one really cares about their Sonic experience, then perhaps they could replay this game for the sake of the online leaderboards. Or make a not-very-amusing grab at fetching the Chaos Emeralds. Though devoted Sonic fans can already guess the reward for nabbing them all.
Other retro revivals like New Super Mario Bros and the recent Mega Man games at least make a compelling argument for their existence with some level of new content. Sonic 4 borrows so liberally from its predecessors without offering much in the way of value that it makes me wonder why someone wouldn’t just play the original games instead. They’re readily available on digital distribution services like the Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and the friggin iPhone. They’ll at least last you longer than this episode.
2 ½ stars