In the steamy wake of so-so Sonics on Xbox 360, Sonic Team has finally pulled off what we've been waiting for: it's taken the blue speedster back to his wonderful basics. The first episode of Sonic 4 has none of the expanded universe or multitudes of characters that no one cares about; it's just Sonic racing to the right to foil Dr. Eggman and save his animal buddies.
Everything in Sonic 4 is a loving homage to the franchise's glory days. From the opening "Segaaa" chime to the pinball levels in the Casino Street Zone and the rotating worlds in the Chaos Emerald special stages (you know, the ones in the first Sonic that made you want to destroy your Mega Drive controller), everything you would expect from a 16-bit sequel is here, in full HD glory.
The branching level design is back, too, baiting you into spending hours trying to find the fastest way through the requisite Green Hill-style zone or Donkey Kong Country-influenced mine cart level in the revamped Labyrinth Zone.
The big question, of course, is how it plays. Does it feel like a real Sonic game? It does, but everything's a tad slower: it takes Sonic longer to accelerate, and his top speed isn't quite what it used to be.
You'll suffer fewer instadeaths from spikes and pits, true, but it doesn't feel quite right if you played the original and die-hard fans may dislike it as a result. We liked the slower pace, however: it means less trial-and-error, and makes you rely more on your reflexes. Leaderboard-focused players in particular are certain to find sly uses for the new auto-lock aerial spin attack during speed runs.
With so much classic-gaming joy, we're thankful this is only Episode 1 - although we're hoping that future instalments are much longer or much cheaper. We beat Sonic 4's four multi-stage zones and unlockable bonus stages in just over two hours, which doesn't feel like good value for £10 worth of Microsoft Points. Had the game been a more reasonable price it'd have scored higher.
Sonic returns to his back-to-basics best
- Sonic looks great in HD
- Fantastic level design
- No bad voice-acting
- Slower speed may alienate fans
- Pricey given its short length