Since it was taking me so long to get around to this, Jason offered to do the Sonic 4 preview first. Of course, then he ended up REDOING it, so be sure to check it out. But now, on the last day of the show, I think I’ve finally logged enough game play time on all versions of the game to tell you guys exactly what kind of game this is.
Sonic 4 is an evolution of the classics. For all the screaming of how this game was “Sonic Rush 3”, it really doesn’t feel like it. For one, this game is based around physics and momentum. There is no “press this button to go fast” mechanic here. If you don’t have enough speed to conquer a hill, you have to step back and try again. If you lose your momentum in the middle of a loop, you’ll find yourself rolling back the other way, if not coming to a complete halt. The spin dash will give you a lot of momentum, but will eventually peter out unless the level gives you additional momentum. There are booster pads in this game, but they are used sparingly, and don’t fill the levels like they do in the 3D games, kind of like they did in Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone.
In short, Sonic 4 does a lot of what made the classics so great. But what about the new mechanics? Well, this is where the whole “evolution” aspect of the game comes in. This game isn’t like Megaman 9, which basically emulated the early NES titles in graphics, game play, and mechanics. Rather, this is a true sequel, with different mechanics that make for a different kind of game. The most pronounced and controversial additions in this game is the homing attack. How does that figure in?
I would like to get something out of the way right now: the homing attack, in and of itself, does not give Sonic any additional momentum. It doesn’t make him go “insta fast”. Rather, doing an un-targeted homing attack gives you the same amount of momentum that a normal jump would give you. Hitting enemies with a homing attack, meanwhile will completely kill your momentum. The homing attack feels like a natural addition in this game; many of the things you can use the homing attack to reach, such as springs or pulleys, you can access just as effectively without it. What the homing attack gives the game is a certain tempo, allowing you to quickly move from one object to another in quick succession in a way that wouldn’t really be possible without it. It doesn’t make the game any easier, though. It could prove to be an interesting exploit for speed runners as well.
Perhaps the only problem with the homing attack is that some of the enemy placement requires its usage. When Sonic rolls off of a ramp, Sonic does not remain in his spinball form, meaning you then after to use the homing attack on enemies. There are also enemies you will need to homing attack attack when bouncing off of a spring, in order to access higher areas.It is, of course, fully possible to beat the levels on the showfloor without using the move, but I would love to see a mode that removed the homing attack, and change the placement of the enemies somewhat to allow for some good old fashioned bouncing. Of course, some sort of move that allows Sonic to turn into a ball in mid air would have to be added, which wouldn’t be unheard of since such of a move was used in Sonic Adventure 2 and Triple Trouble. But really, this “problem” is something I only present in the interest of informing the old school fans who say they refuse to use it.
All that said, the homing attack is actually a surprisingly fun addition to the game. It’s been fairly well implemented, and while classic fans may cry foul, it did nothing to detract from my enjoyment of the demo.
In addition to the physics, the old school level design is also back. The levels are multilayered, with several paths possible throughout all three acts. The upper path is the most difficult to get to, and not one I was really able to reach in my playthroughs, so I can’t tell you much about it. But all of you begging for branching paths in Sonic games, well…here it is.
Honestly, as I played through this demo, I had to keep asking myself…what where people complaining about? If this was basically the final product, Sonic 4 probably would have been the best 2D Sonic game since Sonic Pocket Adventure on the Neo Geo Pocket. The level design is superb, the physics, while not dead on exact to the original games, where pretty close, and homing attack is more like a fun addition to the formula rather than “spam to win”. My only real complaint with this game is that Sonic starts off a little too slow. No, this isn’t what Sonic 4 would have been like on the Genesis. No, this isn’t like Megaman 9. Rather than copying the old games beat to beat, it took what made the old games great and forged its own path with the formula. This game is exactly what Sonic fans have been asking for for years. It’s just not quite what was expected from a Sonic the Hedgehog 4.