Sonic 4 Episode 1 announced
Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the classic 2D platform games of the 1990s, but it badly lost its way when ushered into the 3D era. Can the glory days be recovered with a move back to side-scrolling action?
- Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
- 2D or not 2D, that is the question
- So will it be any good?
- Supported platforms?
- Why wait? Sonic is available now.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
For some time there has been an expectation amongst Sonic fans that Sega's teaser campaign around Project Needlemouse would become a full classic 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game.
It looks like we're getting what we wanted, and perhaps this time it won't be yet another Sonic derived calamity!
The game is being released on Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and WiiWare this summer, under the title Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, and a short trailer has been released today.
2D or not 2D, that is the question
When you mention the early Sonic games to people of a certain age they tend to get all misty eyed and talk about the speed, the music and the eye-popping landscapes. But this overlooks the depth of the game-play in those games, the famous speed was used sparingly and the character physics was very carefully tuned. The balance of motion and environment, such as slopes and platforms, was immersive, consistent and rewarding. They'd copied the master (Super Mario) and pulled it off, with some new twists that some of us found preferable to pipes and mushrooms.
But in the rush to 3D SEGA lost sight of the core values. They decided it was all about speed and suddenly it was like playing on glass, the weight and inertia was gone. They decided more characters were needed so they added countless friends for Sonic, all of them superficial and forgettable. They threw in some half-hearted RPG elements, and in a final desperate bout of absurdity we found ourselves playing as a bumbling Werehog.
Any bridges back to the glory days were getting pretty well burnt, but the character lived on and sold pretty well thanks mainly to Sonic's inclusion int games like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.
By the end of 2009 we had New Super Mario Bros. Wii, complete with excellent true-to-Mario physics and depth, whereas all Sonic fans had were Werehog jokes. Lots and lots and lots of Werehog jokes.
So will it be any good?
There is about 3 seconds of game-play footage in the trailer, so its more or less impossible to know if they game will be any good at this stage. But the signs look promising. The landscapes recapture the original look and feel, and the soundscape is spot-on.
If I had to voice concerns - the rings look too big and Sonic is going too fast for that environment. He also doesn't been to slow at all when going uphill. Lets hope the glass-flow syndrome hasn't crept back in, managing your momentum was a key aspect of the early Sonic games' success.
My other concern is pricing. This is going to be a download game, and they've put "Episode 1" prominently in the name. So we have to assume it'll be modestly priced and fairly short, with level packs following later as additional Episodes. It needs to be cheap to succeed, an impulse purchase. If they overreach on the price then I can't see there being many episodes to follow, but keep it cheap and the masses will be hooked on classic side-scroller action.
The currently announced platforms are Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and WiiWare, but look at the screenshot above and you'll see a little yellow box with a padlock in it.
The official website is also full of little padlock boxes. So expect some more surprises before the release this summer, and at least one surprise platform to be added to the line-up.
(The remaining platform is almost certainly the iphone/ipap, but most of the other features are still unknown)
Why wait? Sonic is available now.
For purist and new-comers alike there is no need to wait until Sonic 4's release for your 2D fix. The early sonic games are available for almost every modern platform, and can be emulated with ease on platforms where no official release exists.
An emulator on a hacked PSP is the ultimate portable Sonic solution, easily a better choice than the more recent official Sonic releases on a Nintendo DS. The Wii virtual console releases are also pretty good if you want some sofa based retro gaming.