Inspired by the Mega Drive era.Sega and Sonic Team has finally gone and done it. It may have taken them many years and a handful of awful games to realise that they didn’t need to radically change the existing Sonic formula, but the Japanese developer has finally brought the Hedgehog that we know and love back to life without compromising the glowing reputation that he gained back in the 90’s.
The 3D realm just doesn’t suit Sonic all that well. In more recent years, we won't forget in a hurry how surreal it was to wander around a town with Sonic to talk with NPCs, or experiment with the host of boring new characters thrust upon us, or even wrestle with the over-thought new move-sets that cluttered and over-complicated the essence of what made Sonic games so addictive in the first place. You can't blame Sonic Team for attempting to evolve the series, but the results have been embarrassingly bad in more recent years.
That's why we're so chuffed with Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. The blue hedgehog exists alone; just you, him and a load of great looking zones inspired by the classic Mega Drive era. The 3D Sonic is no more as the first of ‘x’ amount of episodes designed to capture the fun of the 16-bit era arrive on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. In Episode 1, Sonic doesn’t change into a werewolf at night-time and use his stretchable arms to cling to distant objects, nor does he roam needlessly around 3D hub-worlds interacting with characterless local town-folk. He simply does what he does best: running, jumping and rolling at incredible high speeds, collecting rings, bouncing on badniks, speeding through check points and taking on some challenging big bosses -- just like he used to.
As a result of the streamlined new/old Sonic, the action is incredibly fast, predictably so, but controlling Sonic feels very intuitive because there’s little more to think about other than trying to time your jumps and spins correctly. The change back to 2D means there are no annoying camera angles to wrestle with either, and as a result Sonic fluidly and rapidly traverses the levels just like the speedy hedgehog of old.
You can't take your eyes of the screen for one second. The fast pace means that one mistake can cost you your life as you try to get Sonic from ‘A’ to ‘B’ avoiding obstacles along the way and scooping up those precious gold rings. It isn’t easy either, there’s plenty of challenge to be had out of navigating some tricky courses and intense boss battles. It's incredibly satisfying when you get it right and complete a level without stopping. When the gameplay flows like this, the Sonic experience really hits its peak. However, frustration can set in due to the trial and error approach needed during some sections, thanks to the inclusion of some hastily-placed obstacles that are far too difficult to avoid on your first run.