Since the release of Sonic Adventures for the Dreamcast, nearly every single game with the word “Sonic” in the title has been absolute rubbish. Mediocre at best. The once great name has been tarnished completely, and the only games featuring the hedgehog that weren’t poorly received weren’t made by Sonic Team. Still, Sega seemed to let them run wild with the series, adding in anime girls, werehogs, and anything else that seemed like it wouldn’t fit in a Sonic game. Now, finally, they’ve come to their senses, and allowed Dimps, developer of Sonic Rush (the one good Sonic game in recent memory), to bring the character back into the spotlight.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a true return to form for the series. It has eschewed all complications and gone back to the basic formula of fast, frantic, fun platforming. It’s not about blinding speed, as some seem to forget, but changing path mid-run, jumping over objects, and bouncing on enemies after speeding around a loop. Sonic 4 has all of that wrapped in an art style that feels modern without sacrificing the style of the originals. Sonic, his enemies, and the environments are all rendered in 3D, but the game is still locked into a 2D plane, a key importance that the developers seem to have forgotten in the past.
Speaking of the past, all of his moves from the previous games return. In addition, Sonic can also lock on to enemies and speed towards them – one contribution from the 3D games. Despite coming into play after the series’ prime, the homing dash certainly feels at home, and allows for even more hectic platforming. Beyond that, his list of abilities is fairly vanilla. Sonic isn’t about having a slew of skills and moves, it’s about the platforming, and there’s nothing to get in the way of that here. There are still items, as there were before, but they’re never essential to completing an area, just improvements to Sonic’s minimalistic arsenal.
Still, there were some issues time to time, though Sega still has time to clean the game up for launch. At times, the homing dash simply didn’t operate as intended, leaving Sonic stranded without a path or ground below him. After a few attempts at the same area turned up short, the successful run came and went, feeling as if nothing was done differently. On top of that, it also feels a little slow, though that can absolutely be attributed to the levels shown off at the booth. As mentioned earlier, Sonic doesn’t have to be fast all the time, but there should still be times where he’s moving at blinding speeds. Qualms aside, the experience of playing Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is one of nostalgic glee.
Just about everyone goes into Sonic 4 expecting to be let down, as they have again and again with Sega’s mishandling of the series. After a few minutes with Sonic the Hedgehog 4, there’s a change in their expectations. Their eyes widen, they shrink down to a childlike size, and they begin laughing. Just about everyone who has played the game leaves with the same smile they had when they were children. For the first time in years, it appears that Sonic might once again be back on top. In a way, it feels like he’s never left.