Monday, 25 October 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 disappoints. It tries to juggle nostalgia responsibilities with tick-box rejuvenation, and ends up a muddled thing. It seeks to please Mega Drive gamers by recreating classic stages and giving them a lush 3D scrub down, then fluffs the gesture by tinkering with instinct movement mechanics. In all Sonic's 16-Bit titles the basic joy was running through a series of loops before curling into a ball for a near vertical drop; Sonic would pick up a thunderous momentum that occasionally out-paced the console's ability to process information. In Sonic 4, the curl is recalibrated as purely defensive maneuver that actually whiffs any built-up speed. Rather than mark the beginning of a scroll stuttering peel, it signifies its limp death.

Movement in general stresses strolling - Sonic takes an age to rev up - a concession to a stage design remit that specialises in tease without release. Once out of Splash Hill Zone, levels junk roller coaster breeziness to concentrate on the kind of stop-start platforming utterly antithetical to the core Sonic concept. 1991's Sonic the Hedgehog found a pitch perfect balance between speed-run stages, and obstacle course interruptions that played with your freshly minted desire to sprint. Sonic 4 is a title built entirely out of these punctuations, peppered with enough punishment drops and sudden enemy attacks to make the whole enterprise feel self-defeating. What's the point of Sonic if you're not allowed to run?

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