Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Epsiode 1 OST Review
With veteran Sonic composer Jun Senoue taking the musical helm for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, many interviews inquired into how the inspiration from Masato Nakamura’s works from the original games would be shaping Sonic 4’s soundtrack; fans of the classic era began looking forward to future, and the music that would inevitably accompany the title.
Generally speaking, almost every track uses a blend of old 16-bit style samples and synthesised instruments as appropriate, such as the jazzy horns of Casino Street or atmospheric pipes of Lost Labyrinth. This works well and is very appropriate, reflecting the way the game also uses a mix of old and new visually. In a rather different move for a 2D Sonic game, each act has its own melody, rather than traditionally remixing the zone’s theme. However each melody generally keeps in style which the rest of the zone with regards to instrumentation, with vague hints of melody shared between acts. Likewise, each act has its own unique and memorable gimmick, so unique and memorable melodies for each one is a great idea.
However, while there are a fair few ear worms (Splash Hill Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 1 are sure to stick with you) I found a few songs quickly forgettable, or just simply too repetitive, especially considering almost every act is between 3-6 minutes long. Repetitive music certainly reminds one of the old days, but I felt there are still certain standards to adhere to considering this is a modern game being released in a modern market.
Of particular offense was the downright dreadful Final Boss theme. In light of the episodic nature of Sonic 4, a ridiculously epic boss theme would have been inappropriate (well, not that it was a problem for Sonic 3), but frankly Episode One ’s grand finale is just boring sound-wise. The boss is long and difficult, requiring many, many re-attempts – a 20 second loop just simply does not cut it for these circumstances. This might have been forgiven had there been a more dramatic “pinch” version for when Eggman goes nuts half way through (as with the other bosses), but not even that happens. A crying shame as a great, memorable piece of music would have been just what this boss needed to smooth the frustration threshold after frequent failure.
The soundtrack feels like Jun tried too hard to capture the original soundtracks – including what little was wrong with them. Additionally, while several of his melodies have that classic almost melancholic Sonic 1 aura to them, several don’t quite pull it off for me. For example, Lost Labyrinth Act 1 and Act 3 really pull it off in a way that slightly reminds me of Marble from the original game. Meanwhile, I can clearly hear the Special Stage theme trying to emulate the Sonic 1 version’s melodic style, but it fails to grasp quite the same magical something the original had. I also feel that the classic Sonic 1/Sonic 2 tappity-tap percussion severely limited the potential “oomph” factor any track could have possibly had. Using some more modern beats – at least in a few songs – wouldn’t have gone amiss.
In my opinion, Jun’s style was hampered by his attempts at mimicry. When I think of other tracks of his, in particular Azure Blue World from Sonic Adventure, I think it’s very possible for him to come up with an enthralling melody that wouldn’t sound out of place in a classic Sonic game, yet using modern instruments for that extra edge. I’m hoping the reliance on classic elements was purely in celebration of Sonic’s roots, just as the game’s graphics and level genres were, and that we’ll have a much more exciting soundtrack for the next episode. In summary, Sonic 4’s soundtrack does its job. It is a good soundtrack. But being appropriate is the bare minimum a soundtrack should do, and to me that is all Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s soundtrack is – good and appropriate – when it could have been so much more. 
Thumbs Up: Perfectly fitting to the content of the game and theme of each zone.
Thumbs Down: Plays it a bit too safe, making for a wholly unsurprising aural experience.
Favourite Track: Splash Hill Act 3
Though it originates from a wholly god-awful source, (the game from which the soundtrack comes is, quite frankly, an absolute travesty) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s fantastic BGM is a monstrously marvellous electro masterwork, with fiery synth, rockin’ retro beats and a shining and prominent influence from the styles and moods of the tunes of the classic titles – it truly is a glorious flashback to the halcyon days of chippy-trippy MegaDrive music, and is an absolute godsend to anyone who’s been hankering after a taste of a fresh, modern, Sonic-style take on the genre since the series changed its musical fashions so dramatically when guitars took over the audio side of things in Sonic Adventure.
With blindingly awesome tracks such as Splash Hill Zone Act 3 (which truly is the alpha of the pack, sporting supremely catchy chord sequences and a massively memorable melody) and Mad Gear Zone Act 1, (a far jumpier, more dance-orientated affair, which contains more saw-wave licks and syncopations than you can shake a glow-stick at) the Sonic 4 OST is most definitely an album to be remembered and revered as one of the true greats that the Sonic series has managed to produce, and despite a couple of minor niggles, (the instruments aren‘t exactly what I‘d call “authentic“ in terms of their ability to re-create a realistic retro sound, and, right from the off, it’s crystal clear that the track entitled “Boss 1“ was booted from the final cut of the Sonic 3D Soundtrack for a very, very good reason) is the epitome of excellence in modern electronic video game music – it’s by no means perfect, but extremely good and wonderfully well-formed nonetheless. 
The stand-out quality of the Sonic 4 soundtrack is that they do a bang-up job of being reminiscent of the older classic tunes. The majority of the compositions are instantly synonymous with Sonic, and while not exactly replicating the Megadrive soundcard, there is a definite fresh, regenerated feel and pace. I’m particularly glad to see Senoue has borrowed from the later Megadrive titles to revive the evolution of each stage’s sound from one to the next.
While I disagree with any consensus that the classic kick-drum and snare is used too much (they were used in the original as frequently), they don’t seem to have been used with much originality ; for example, the Casino Street percussion is extremely similar to that of Casino Night from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having said this, I would love to see the Sonic 3 drum set utilised in future titles…but that’s personal preference! Mad Gear’s vibe lands itself perfectly at a transition point between classic titles and the post-Sonic Adventure style, a format I think sound be maintained for Episode 2. 
Thumbs Up: A vibrant new sound to compliment the new title.
Thumbs Down: You’d be forgiven to think you’d heard some tracks before.
Favourite Tracks: Lost Labyrinth Act 2 & Mad Gear Act 1.
When he isn’t busy being chased by flocks of beautiful woman, Jun Senoue composes music for SEGA. His latest soundtrack for Sonic 4 doesn’t disappoint, immersing you into sonic’s new 2.5D environment. I’ll start off by being completely honest. I LOVE the title theme to Sonic 4. It’s short, catchy and whenever I hit an invincibility box I hum along to it.
One of the things I love most about the soundtrack is that the music for each of the four zones is very different, but the acts all have a similar buzz to them. The Casino Street stages all have a little Casino Night charm in them but are distinctively different from the more Metropolis sounding Mad Gear acts. The album isn’t without its faults however, with the drum set being a constant annoyance. As much as I liked the throwback to the genesis/megadrive sound font, it quickly begins to stick out like a sore thumb and can really get on your nerves. The E.G.G. Station track is also disappointingly short and can begin to irritate your ears as it loops 5-6 times every time you play the level.
Getting the limited low points out of the way, it’s difficult to pick out a favourite track in Sonic 4 because the rest all have their own charm. I absolutely love the flute in Boss Fight and it helps give it an almost “Banjo Kazooie” feel. I am also a huge fan of Splash Hill Act 1. It’s such a catchy tune, and I think it is well worthy of being the next “First Stage” tune alongside the other classics like Emerald Hill and Angel Island. On a side note, be sure to check out the range of Sonic 4 Remixes sprouting up all over the place. Overall, the music is really appropriate for the game, and I hope Jun can hold back his huge female fan base long enough to produce some Episode 2 magic. 
Thumbs Up: Each acts music is noticeably specific to that zone and complement each other really well.
Thumbs Down: Drums can drain the brain, Egg Station really isn’t long enough
Favourite Tracks: Title Music & Boss Fight
A formidable collection of catchy beats that capture concepts of the older titles and blend them with the new. Although there are many examples of memorable tunes, some fans will grow tired of the recycled drums and the shorter looped tracks.
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