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So in late 2010, after many years of disappointing Sonic the Hedgehog games, Sega decided to throw the series back into its side scrolling roots, hoping to revive Sonic once again with Sonic 4 Episode 1. Unfortunately, they didn't quite succeed.
The game was co-developed by Sonic Team and Dimps, the people responsible for the fairly well done Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush games, on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS respectively. What they made here isn't really a terrible game, but nor does it herald in a new age of good Sonic games with its brilliance. It's very down the middle, with good ideas, bad execution, clashing elements, and a whole lot of nostalgia factor.
Sonic is once again a silent protagonist, and his various critter companions are nowhere to be seen. It's back to basics: Sonic vs. Dr. Robotnik ("Eggman" officially). The gameplay itself is classic Sonic, running at high speeds and spin dashing, though they've also thrown in his homing attack from the 3D games. This makes killing enemies far too easy, and locking onto what you want can be rather difficult. This is amplified by the virtual button controls. They aren't bad by any means, but when you can't feel the buttons beneath your fingertips, it's pretty hard to be precise.
Rather than give us a linear level progression, the game is now busted wide open from the get go. You can play any chapter of any zone. Each of the four zones have three levels each. After all three are conquered, the boss level is unlocked. The game has some other serious design flaws though. The level design often brings the game to a confusing standstill, which you simply do not do in a game about speed and flow. Often times bottomless pit areas are not really signaled, and you won't know about them until it's far too late. The boss battles are also rather lackluster. Each boss is recycled from a past game, but then remixed half way with dull or cheap new attacks. It's supposedly a very buggy app, but I had no issues myself.
The new art style looks quite good, mixing 2D and 3D elements, although at times the background clashes with the foreground in ugly ways. The music also mixes a lot of old and new. This game was banking hard on fans being slapped in the face so hard with nostalgia that they wouldn't notice the more lacking aspects. Old school sound effects and visuals and songs are all fantastic, and the game really isn't bad. it just isn't very good either, and definitely not the second coming of the blue hedgehog. Then again, this is all coming from a lifelong Sonic fan. Honestly, most people will play and enjoy this title save for those few badly designed level sections. I even recommend that you do. At only four dollars, this is a solid platformer right in the middle of the spectrum. If you want old school Sonic though, you should probably just grab Sonic CD instead.