If we compare the legacy of the two most iconic gaming mascots of our time, Sonic the Hedgehog from SEGA and Mario from Nintendo, the portly plumber clearly wins, not only because he’s starred in infinitely more games than Sonic, but because his games, at least the important ones, generally didn’t suck. Unfortunately for Sonic, after the MegaDrive days, he just couldn’t seem to get it right, starring in a succession of progressively worse games – with the exception of Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast back in 1999 (and which is now available on PSN and XBLA).
What would it take to repair 16 years of bad PR and restore our faith in SEGA’s plucky blue hero? Well, us fanboys are easy to please, and all we need is one good game to get us back on the bandwagon. Well, perhaps we have just that. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a conspicuously named throwback to the classic Sonic the Hedgehog style gameplay. I say conspicuous because the title, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, places it directly after Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on the MegaDrive, as if SEGA has come down from above and granted us a righteous retcon, a chance to forget the transgressions of the last 16 years and start anew. Well, I’m game, so let’s see how it plays.
Upon starting the game, we are booted straight into a classic, side-scrolling stage where you must guide Sonic, usually from left to right, in an attempt to earn the highest possible score by reaching the finish line as quick as possible, collecting as many rings as possible, and defeating as many enemies as possible along the way. Each stage has multiple routes, hidden passages and secret shortcuts, so how much of each you’ll do is based on how you like to play. This is the first episode of several, and is comprised of four zones with three stages and a boss encounter in each zone, plus bonus stages where players can attempt to acquire the Seven Chaos Emeralds, which will allow Sonic to turn into Super Sonic.
There are a few modern trappings included that improve this oldschool experience. The most important is the inclusion of the Homing Attack, the only good innovation from the more recent games which allows Sonic to attack enemies with unerring accuracy and hit those boosters and springs every time. The next most important addition is the ability to save data and go back to replay stages, which would have been very welcome back in the day – especially for players of Sonic 2 who had to go and collect all the Chaos Emeralds every time they wanted to turn into Super Sonic.
With its incredible charm, addictive nature and welcome return to a classic formula, it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t appeal to just about any Sonic fan, but again – just in case – I must warn you, it’s an incredibly oldschool and, dare I use the term, dated style of game, so decide carefully.