Friday, October 15, 2010
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1(Xbox 360)
Hello, Ceph-chums. There now follows a review of this game, written by a man who grew up clutching a Megadrive. Indulge me, I'm extremely bitter.
I waited all morning, I did. I couldn't find any information on when Xbox Live Arcade updates the game catalogue, and vaguely remembered Rez being released around 8.30am, so I waited. Did some writing, drank a lot of tea, refreshed the Marketplace, repeated. As it turns out, they update at 12pm dead these days, so at 12.03 I had a lovely, pristine download of Sonic 4: Episode 1 booting up, presenting me with the legendary SEEE-GAAAAAA! sample, the Sonic Team logo, a title screen that hit every nail right on its excited little head and said to me maybe, just maybe, they got it right this time.
Illusions can be shattered quickly, readers. Very quickly indeed.
Imagine, if you will, a tennis game. Say, Virtua Tennis 3, a decent example of the genre; it looks like tennis, it plays like tennis, it sounds and feels and reacts in a tennis-y way. It's tennis, is what I'm trying to say. Not Sega Superstars Tennis, or any idiot novelty nonsense: TENNIS. Now imagine that the programmers forgot to put a ball in. Rather defeating the purpose, no? Completely destroying the mechanic that tennis is known for, like that Dredd game for the original Xbox that included a Lawgiver but no ammo for it, forcing the inimitable, epically-chinned Judge to rely on scavenged weaponry from fallen crims. Taking something known and expected, nay demanded, and removing it whilst preserving the notion, the hint that it should be there. That's Sonic 4.
It starts off well enough, the Splash Hill zone essentially being a shiny remake of Emerald Hill from Sonic 2 but this is clearly simply in order to spark the nostalgia glands of anyone playing the trial. from Act 2 onward, there is nothing but hateful design, vexing enemies, absurdly easy bosses and horrendous graphical problems. Much of the time, you'll be hit by an enemy you had no chance of spotting. Obviously, this has been placed in order to reward repeat playings; learn where the enemies are, and press the jump button before they appear. However, the experience of being repeatedly hit by something you couldn't conceivably know was there is such a joyless, frustrating task that you'd have to be an idiot to subject yourself to repetition. Shmups are based on this principle, replaying and memorisation, but the difference is that in for example Dodonpachi death is your fault. Rarely does enemy fire come at you off-screen, or appear from nowhere, or arbitrarily change its rules so your hitbox is larger for no reason. This consistency, this set of rules obeyed totally is what Sonic 4 lacks.
Sonic's physics have altered from the classic 2d games of the early 90's. In Sonic the Hedgehog, pressing the jump button whilst moving caused Sonic to describe a parabola in mid-air - you had a degree of control over his momentum, and could affect where he landed, but once you had leapt from a platform you were committed to whatever happened next. In Sonic 4 no matter how much momentum is carried into a jump, it can be cancelled and Sonic dropped straight downward by letting go of the directional button. Now, for someone used to skipping back from left to right to left to correct a trajectory, this is so jarring as to completely break the game; doing so results in a bizarre zig-zag of total direction changes. It's possible to leap outward from the edge of a platform, change direction in mid-air and land behind your original position, a manoeuvre dubbed 'the curly muffin' by Amiga Power and ridiculed in the early 90's.
The cave levels(don't remember the name, am blanking this from my mind) include an act where the main gimmick is darkness. Sandopolis did this well in Sonic 3 & Knuckles; the 'oh-no-there-are-ghosts' thing being the most enjoyable aspect of a tedious, badly designed level. Sonic 4's Stupid Cave Level reduces the player's vision to an area immediately surrounding the character, meaning any oncoming obstacles are not visible until bumped into due to the speed at which the player moves. It's one of the most frustrating things I've played since that bit in Halo 3 on Legendary in the corridor, and exemplifies the nature of this game entirely - it's for the 'hardcore', the savants that post speedruns, people that don't have anything else to do with their lives.
There are many other things; the card game level that grants insane numbers of extra lives(twenty-three on my first go), the bland, forgettable music, the incredibly easy bosses, the horrid special stages, the single save slot, the occasional frame rate problem - if I went on, it would be six times as much text as I have already written. Almost literally everything about this game is subtly, slightly wrong, resulting in mediocrity.
To me, that is the worst crime Sega could have committed with Sonic 4. Sorry, Sonic, but it's over. I've suffered at your hands long enough. It's time for us to part.