Sonic the Hedgehog 4’s reveal has had a huge impact on the Sonic fanbase. As I wrote in a similar piece, sitting in my position at the forefront of the community, it’s clear that this game has had the biggest impact in the fanbase than anything Sega has announced before. If more proof was needed, just look at forums such as Sonic Retro – who are pulling apart those short three seconds of gameplay and trying to eke as much information as possible beyond the official line. That shows how excited we all are about the announcement of this game, positive or otherwise.
Earlier today, Brad wrote his own feelings as to why there’s a reason to be worried about the upcoming ‘return to the classics’. It’s a topic that I have been debating with him and others who share his view on the SSMB Forums. There are two sides to every argument however, and as much as Brad was right in posting his feelings, so too should I write something of a friendly counterpost detailing why I think there’s nothing to worry about. Yet.
The People’s Sonic
Ultimately, Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most loved characters in the gaming world. As a result of the love we all have for the blue blur, everyone has a different idea as to what they want their perfect Sonic the Hedgehog title to be. Fans – particularly the “Classic” ones – have had 16 years to dream of how Sonic Team could best continue the Death Egg saga. What Sonic looked like, what level gimmicks there’d be, how the environments would be designed…
So when an announcement for something like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 comes along, some of these fans are undoubtedly bricking it. Which is understandable to a degree – Sonic Team hasn’t exactly had the most stellar track record with these things in recent years, and “invoking the wing-tip logo in vain” could very well be a recipe for disaster.
Watching the trailer, you can clearly see where these fans are coming from when they express disappointment and even anger – it looks nothing like how they imagined Sonic 4 to be! The level’s using gimmicks from Sonic 2 and 3, there are no new imaginative badniks, the running animation is weird and — oh dear God, have you seen Sonic!? Where’s my black-eyed, stocky classic hedgehog? To anyone with this mindset, Sonic 4 looks like a huge slap in the face.
But is it really that bad? I consider myself a massively hardcore Sonic fan (I figure I must be, owning this website and all), and I don’t really see the issue with anything raised against this game.
The biggest complaint is the use of modern Sonic rather than classic, black-eyed assface. This is all superficial, and in a way, psychological – many fans associate modern Sonic as the bringer of platforming pain and destruction, so it can be seen why some would rather have classic looking Sonic in the house – particularly as this game is titled ‘Sonic 4’.
Let’s be realistic, though – modern Sonic isn’t all that bad. He still has spines, he’s still blue, he still runs a bit. It’s not like you’re playing as the Elephant Man. And in any case, it doesn’t detract anything from the key thing we should be looking at here – the gameplay. Whether we’re playing as classic Sonic the Hedgehog, modern Sonic the Hedgehog or Go-Go the Donkey, it doesn’t matter as long as we’re enjoying platforming action that is expected of a classic title. Although I’d like to see Go-Go do a spin attack.
Perhaps the biggest liberty that detractors of Sonic 4 are taking is in automatically declaring that the gameplay is going to be crap. What’s that? I’d like your job at Sega if I could, so I can play the game so soon before it’s release! It’s delicious to see Sonic fans ‘confirm’ that the game is nothing more than a ‘Sonic Rush 3’, based on a whole three seconds of spinning and corkscrew looping.
At the end of the day, nobody knows how Sonic 4 is going to play, because nobody’s really seen anything of it. There’s certainly no evidence in the trailer – or anywhere else – that suggests that Sonic Rush’s physics and level design will be applied. ‘Speed gimmick-into-speed gimmick-into-speed gimmick’ has been present in classic Sonic titles as far back as Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Go to Emerald Hill Zone and hot-foot it in the upper path to see what I’m talking about.
One concern that is a legitimate worry – but not legitimate enough to say it is happening – is whether Sonic 4 is a complete retread of past classic games. Never mind the fact that every Mega Drive Sonic game has been a spiritual retread of the last one (Emerald Hill – Green Hill; Angel Island – Aquatic Ruin; Flying Battery – Wing Fortress), it stands to reason that we simply have not seen enough of this game to fully say that this is the case. And no, the level looks nothing like Green Hill Zone, or Leaf Storm.
So what do I make of it then? Am I one of those fans who’ll kiss Sonic Team’s arse no matter what they do? Of course not. I was actually very vocal against games like Sonic and the Black Knight (read my edit in this post). I’m simply cautiously optimistic – and that’s about the right place to be right now. Based on the trailer alone; gameplay looks solid, graphics are absolutely gorgeous, awesome gimmicks are back, and badniks return. How does that not kick arse?
But obviously, there are caveats. We still don’t know what the level design is going to look like. We still don’t know if Sonic Team will implement true spinball physics in conjunction with great level design. Check out a past Sonic Mega Drive title and note the number of inclines, speed opportunities, slopes, pinball arenas, badnik-bopping secrets and momentum-based pathways and you’ll get an idea of how Sonic 4 should (emphasis on should) play. But we’ve seen nothing as to whether this will or won’t be the case.
Just as much as there’s no reason to go hyper-ultra-super-positive over this game, there’s no reason to go hyper-ultra-super-negative either. And the reason is the same – we don’t know what Sonic Team have planned here. But there is a reason to be cautiously optimistic – and that’s because the trailer, and concept art we’ve seen, shows that Sonic Team are hard at work analysing every single facet of the Mega Drive games to ensure this game is as great as they were.
And that alone is worth smiling about.