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Game 36 of 52: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode 1 - 20/04/24



Let me give you all a piece of advice. Do not 100% this game twice in the one night. It is not a good idea.

Now that we've gotten that informational PSA out of the way, let's get into the thoughts on what is one of the most infamous Sonic games in the entire series, especially in a post Mania and Superstars world. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 was a unexpected game for me, completely unplanned, until I suddenly decided I wanted to finish up some unfinished business for this challenge.

Y'see, a few years ago, I had 100%'d Sonic Unleashed, and in a fit of pride, I decided I wanted to 100% and platinum every Sonic game on PS3/PS4 (and now PS5). However, Sonic 4 single-handedly ended that idea with the godawful Untouchable trophy. A trophy that wanted you to beat EGG Station without taking a single hit - which meant taking on five bosses, one of which has a pattern that's wildly unpredictable, and another boss that takes 36 hits to take down, has a lot of cheap shot attacks, and janky hitboxes. 

Yet, I did it. I spent five hours doing it, but I did it. From there, it was full steam ahead. 


When I first played Sonic 4 years ago, I - like many people not well-versed with 2D Sonic thought it was a fine enough game. I didn't notice the issues, likely helped by the fact that I hadn't finished many Classic Sonic games at that point, and wasn't at a age to notice physics and all that.

But this time around, I...honestly didn't have too bad a time with it playing the game normally. The physics are not remotely good at all, but it's still alright enough to play. At least for the first two zones. What I'm surprised doesn't get mentioned as much is just how terrible the level gimmicks are, and my god - they are really bad. Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear Zone are two really bad zones, probably up there with some of my absolutely least favourite zones in the entire series. They're slow, fairly boring, the amount of bottomless pits and do or die moments is really irritating, and when all of this is mixed with the terrible physics, it all cascades into a really bad time. 

What didn't help with this is that the game spends too long just trying to ape Sonic 1 in the worse ways. Special stages are the same as Sonic 1 where you need to get to the end of a level with 50 rings to get into the special stage, and if you fail once, you do the whole thing from scratch to get another shot, which is really bad when you also take into account that you can only get one emerald per stage, meaning at least three emeralds will need to be gotten on the longer, tedious stages with easy death pits that can drain your rings right before the end of a level due to being blindsided. Power-ups is the same as what you get with Sonic 1, meaning there isn't much variety with them. Three out of the four zones are taken from Sonic 1, and two of them are terrible, and it's just because how do you mess up Green Hill Zone? You can't, really. So even that isn't really a point to it.

What they were thinking when they decided Labyrinth Zone of all things needed to come back? Spring Yard, Star Light, hell I would've even taken freaking Marble Zone over Labyrinth Zone. It was just terrible decision making, and the level design, mixed with shit gimmicks, with bad physics make it downright miserable on a fresh run.


I played the game 100% once on a completed save since I needed to do all of the time trials, and beat every level as Super Sonic anyways for a trophy, and honestly - when you can just use Super Sonic to cheese most everything and blitz the levels - it's not too bad a experience, honestly. I wouldn't say it's good. It's still pretty bland, and as SomeCallMeJohnny put it best - soulless - but it can be a alright time. Inoffensively mediocre, I suppose. 

But since I decided it's short enough, and it had been years since I played Sonic 4 start to finish, I decided to do a fresh save file just so I could say I did it, and experience it fresh, and it was really bad. Unbelievably bad. The amount of bottomless pits, mixed in with the slow gimmicks and the bad physics just all collide together to make just a downright unjoyful experience. Getting to the end of a level only to lose the rings and need to do it over and over again, especially for the last special stage was just soul-crushing. I usually like to give games a fair shake and try to see the good in a game, but it is just really damn hard to see it here for Sonic 4. It screams budget mobile game, and that's exactly what it is. Even the graphics are just pretty bad, everything looking far too plastic looking to be really appealing, even if some level aesthetics can be nice.

Do I even need to get into the music? It's one of the most infamous aspects of Sonic 4, and while I do think that there's one or two decent tracks like Splash Hill Zone Act 3, or Lost Labyrinth Act 1, it's just a bad attempt to replicate the Genesis era music, something that would still appear by the time of Sonic Superstars. 

The bosses are fine I guess. I did get a decent amount of pride when I got to grips with the bosses during the brutal hours of trying to get the Untouchable trophy. When I started shredding the bosses in record time and consistently, it was really fun, but I still wouldn't say they're memorable or even good. They're just rather bland remixes of preexisting bosses in the series. The Death Egg Robot fight while neat with the rage mode also just massively outstays it's welcome with taking 36 hits in total to beat, not helped by having a Egg Viper type surprise one hit at the end of the fight. Maybe if the Untouchable trophy wasn't there, I'd give these more of a pass, but that trophy has pretty much made me dislike all of these bosses. 


About the one actual point I can really give to the game as a genuinely good thing is that the special zones are actually pretty decent. I'm not a huge fan of Special Zones in the series, but this one is actually pretty decent, with the simple change that you're rotating the stage around Sonic, rather than moving Sonic through the stage, although even at that, the spring physics feel overtuned to the point that the last few special stages are really irritating to deal with when you get cheap shotted into a end area and kicked out of the stage.

At the end of the day, what else can I really say? Most of the fandom knows Sonic 4 Episode 1's reputation at this point. While I was optimistic I could at least give it a decent impression as a average game when I played it as Super Sonic, the regular Sonic run just sealed it to me, it's just a kinda bad game, really. There's not much else to it. It has nothing of interest, it's so by the numbers that it has nothing unique, and the gameplay itself is just lame and annoying to play through.

That said, Episode 2 will be interesting when we get to it. While I never finished it, I do remember enjoying it a bit more compared to Episode 1, and I do think that at least has a good few improvements, so hopefully that has a better showing.

But for Episode 1? Nah, just avoid it. It's not worth it.


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Posted (edited)

I... think Lost Labyrinth and Mad Gear are decent, I mean, all things considered, precision platforming is a pain because of the weird inertia of the character, some gimmicks are too slow (like rotating that gear), and the minecart level sucks, but everything else IMO is fine, those levels would probably be fun in a better gameplay formula and with some of their bottomless pit replaced by a secondary route. Splash Hill Act 2 is the most enjoyable level in the game in my opinion, especially if replayed and explored a bit.

IMO Casino Street is way more boring, it barely has any badnik besides a couple of spots, and that level where you just have to launch yourself out of cannons with precise pre-decided trajectories, it's really dull.

The bottomless pit at the end of a level that will ruin your playthrough is sadly a bad habit of the late Dimps games, and Sonic 4 is one of the biggest offender here.

I think that Episode 2 is more boring than Episode 1 and that's kinda overrated since everyone says that's better... good luck with that one, especially because it has even more do or die moments (hard to predict too).

Edited by Iko
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The tragedy of Sonic 4 is that it was supposed to be this whole big return to form for the hedgehog, but what we actually got was... well, what we actually got. Sega never even concluded that series, and I don't blame them.

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I remember when Sonic 4 first released on mobile and I got the untouchable trophy on mobile, and was not able to do it on PC for over a decade. Rough times.

I don't mind S4E1 tho, I enjoy going back to it now and again. Mad Gear OST is a vibe on it's own. S4E2 however, yeesh. Making the game all about the co-op mechanic sucks a butt.

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