Neurons firing everywhere, brain is lit up like a Christmas tree, and then it stops dead in its tracks. Initiate ball rolling technique… and here we go again. Hand eye coordination not really up to par with the speed, enjoyment levels critically high. This is exactly what a tired brain needs after a long day at work. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 could probably be prescribed by therapists, if it wasn’t for the lapses into utter frustration.
Sonic 4 is at times one of the greatest games available for iOS, and at other times it is just annoying as hell. It is all about pacing, and Sonic 4 suffers as soon as the game throws slower passages at you. Precision jumping between platforms, and avoiding getting crushed by elevators is not suitable to the controls. Sonic is meant to be experienced at high speed with a bit of a lag between input, and reaction. That feeling when I manage to string a combo of attacks together with a couple of bumpers, and a loop or two is exhilarating. It should feel that I am on the verge of missing the next jump, and having controls to further slow down my input enhances that notion. For precision jumps the controls are not up to par. Comparing it to the jumping abilities of the Italian plumber is not fair, as those games are constructed with different goals in mind. Super Mario Bros forces you to improve your skills with the controls to reach new areas, whereas Sonic wants you to improve your reaction times at high speeds. In Sonic 4 we sadly get a lot of areas where you need the controls, and reactions of Mario.
Physics in Sonic 4 is kind of strange, as Sonic tends to discontinue movements without any delay. He can go flying off at an angle just to fall straight down if you don’t steer him. It is also much easier to get around loops, and up steep inclines compared to earlier Sonic games. To me this is great, as I never liked the slow build-ups needed to get past small ramps. Sonic is also quick to gain momentum, but also just as quick to loose it.
The controls work well for the most part, especially when running and jumping to the right. For controlling Sonic in the air, when you need smaller movements, the virtual stick is quite unresponsive. It wants more input, and all of a sudden Sonic starts suddenly in that direction, even if I only need a small adjustment. The air dash attack is also quite temperamental, and it is easy to miss easy enemy targets due to target reticules disappearing as I get too close. You can choose to use tilt instead of on screen buttons for the dash, but that is just not a practical control method. Overall the controls are good, and I don’t think there is much more to do rather than fine tune the virtual control stick a little bit more.
Sonic 4 runs smoothly on my iPhone 4, and from what I have understood it works for most earlier devices as well. There is no Retina support in version 1.0.0, simply because production of the game started prior to the release of the Retina screen. But I still think an optimized version could have been available from release, as other developers such as Gameloft have managed to squeeze Retina display in any way.
The graphics are lush, and varied depending on the zone you play. In Episode 1 we get four different zones, and they vary as much in gameplay as in graphics. The quick run’em up Splash Hill Zone, pinball style Casino Street Zone, Indiana Jones inspired Lost Labyrinth Zone, and weird technological Mad Gear Zone. There is also a variation to the goals of the different levels within the zones. Not all are run to the finish, as there is also one point challenge and a cool mine kart race. The unlockable special stages plays much like Slyder, and other rotate-the-world-to-collect-coins maze games. I think the special stages control well, but are generally a slow addition not adding much to the game.
I have always had a love/hate relationship to the music in Sonic games. It sounds great, energetic and at the same time it can be really stressful. You have ten minutes to clear a level, and strangely enough the same music changes the closer you get to that game over mark. Sound effects are all bleeping, blooping and coin whooping around Sonic as he bounds up hills and bounces off bumpers.
Gamelife is all about how well you manage to navigate the stages, and how patient you are to retry when out of lives. For the average gamer there is probably about six hours worth of levels. A skilled Sonic gamer can complete it much quicker than that. But to me playing a Sonic game isn’t as much about completing the levels, as about experiencing the speed, dazzling graphics and making cool moves. Game Center is promised in the next update, and it is hard to say if that will enhance the game, with online scores and achievements, or add bugs and slowdowns as it has with some games.
I have had a blast with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, and I really want to play the next episode right away. I hope Sega makes it DLC at a reduced cost, as the initial $9.99 for Sonic 4 is rather steep. Furthermore updates adding the promised Game Center, and the not confirmed Retina display feature are hopefully not far away. On a side-note I must mention the excellent iOS task manager compatibility letting you continue exactly where you left off if you exit the game to take a call.
If you are an old Sonic fan you will have a blast with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. The price is a bit of a deterrent, and I hope it will be on sale soon to get more players interested.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 $9.99
Seller: Sega America
Tested on an iPhone 4.