Let's not kid ourselves. We all love Sonic the Hedgehog at least a little bit. SEGA's spiny blue mascot is arguably one of the coolest computer game characters that has ever existed. There's a reason that the original 1990s Mega Drive series is still held in such high regard today ? Sonic 1 to Sonic & Knuckles represent some of the most replayable titles that you can find, even in today's gaming age.
It's a testament to the sheer perfection in physics-based platforming, level design and themed gameplay gimmicks that each of those 16-bit games provided. Since Sonic Adventure
on the Dreamcast however, the blue blur's reputation has been tarnished thanks to the release of some proper clangers. SEGA is seeking to fix that in the only way it can ? revisit the formula that made the Mega Drive games so great.
Now, at this point it's only natural to be a bit dubious. Sonic Team isn't what it once was ? programmer Yuji Naka has formed his own studio, designer Naoto Ohshima is heading Artoon and level designer Hirokazu Yasuhara is flirting with Pac-Man
at Namco Bandai. The guys left standing have been unsuccessful at translating the 2D action into 3D. Fans are even split on the modern 2D releases on Game Boy and Nintendo DS. This track record isn't exactly encouraging.
As perhaps one of the most studious Sonic
fans of all, I had the opportunity to see the game for myself a little while ago. I had heard about the claims that Sonic 4
is too much like a rehash, or that tricks such as the homing attack have dumbed down the experience. I've even seen those dodgy-quality internet videos that leaked shortly after the game's announcement. And I've got to say, that there's no point passing judgement until you see it running first-hand.
On an HD screen, the graphics are simply gorgeous. 'Vinyl-looking grass' be damned ? as you take in the entirety of Splash Hill Zone, with towering landscapes passing by in a parallax-scrolling fashion as you run through the level, there's no other word that describes it other than 'Sonic.' This game has 'blue skies' written all over it.
There are certainly plenty of throwbacks to the original game's Green Hill Zone. That much is obvious from just looking at the screenshots. But that's no bad thing at all. Crazy robots ? all inspired by previous Mega Drive titles ? try to stop you in your tracks, but aren't mapped so erratically that it breaks the flow of Sonic running down a hill and through a string of loop-de-loops.
Momentum-based ramps follow on from speed segments, and flinging into the air will reward you with a bunch of rings. Additional paths can be found by spin attacking through weak walls. Gameplay-wise, this is looking like the real return to form that Sonic the Hedgehog
fans have desperately been asking for.