|I couldn't take a photo of me with the box, because it's a digital-only|
game. I also couldn't take a photo of me playing it, because I played
it on my phone, which is what I normally use to take photos...
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Released on: iOS, Android, Xbox Live, PSN, WiiWare and many many other digital distribution systems...
Played on: Android Phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 3 if you are interested)
Release date: 2010
When this game was first announced, I was ridiculously excited. Yes, Sonic 3 may have been a slight disappointment in comparison with one of the best videogames of all time - Sonic 2 - but all of the early 2D Sonic games were entertaining at worst, so I was hopeful about Sonic 4.
Then I read that they were distributing it exclusively via digital platforms and episodically, and I was (frankly) a little disappointed. I know this makes me sound like an old fart - but nothing beats having a physical copy of a game. I can understand and appreciate the digital distribution model, but to not give people the option of a physical copy is annoying, as if it existed, I would probably have bought it by now on a proper console.
But four years after the release of Episode 1, and two years after Episode 2 came out - there's still no sign of it. So when I saw Episode 1 appear as part of a Humble Bundle Mobile package, I decided it was time to give it a try.
(NOTE - If you've never encountered Humble Bundle, then go and check them out right now! They do great bundles of Phone Games, PC Games, eBooks, Comics etc.. all for a donated amount that goes to charity. I have bought three or four bundles in the last couple of months and intend to keep doing!)
This bundle of games was the first set of mobile games I have ever paid for, as I've always been a bit wary of mobile gaming. And, do you know what? It was a bit of a disappointment...
I should clarify. I know I'm going to end up tarring Sonic 4 and mobile gaming with the same brush, so I'll say here and now that I don't think Sonic 4 is a bad game by any means. Is it on a par with Sonic 2? Not a chance. It's not even on a par with Sonic 3, but it's way better than a lot of other games in the world.
But, sadly, mobile gaming really lets it down. The problem with porting games to touchscreen phones is the controls. Games that are developed for a touchscreen initially tend to have no problem - look at the world-destroying Angry Birds for proof of that. However, when you try and apply console style controls to touchscreen phones then it tends to go wrong, and that was sadly the case here.
Trying to control a game via virtual touchscreen buttons is a nightmare - mostly because of the complete lack of feedback. When you press a physical button or move a physical d-pad, you can feel what you are doing, whereas on a virtual screen I find myself constantly looking down at the controls to check that I'm doing it right, which affects my way of playing the game. And that's no fun.
On a much lighter note, the game itself (as I said before) is not bad at all. The level design is mostly good, the graphics are pretty (although I personally don't like the style of art as much, but hey, that might just be me), and the gameplay is typical sonic gameplay - which for me is a good thing.
But it's not perfect. There are a couple of little things that bug me - why give me the option which order to tackle the levels in? It's not like Mega Man, where if you tackle certain levels first you get power ups that are an advantage for another level - it's Sonic - you run to the right until you succeed - and why give people the choice of doing Act 2 BEFORE Act 1? That's like going to a dinner party and saying that you can eat your desert before you eat the main course if you'd prefer - both courses will still taste nice, but there will be a slight feeling of unease...
I know it's a strange thing to moan about, but for me it means that the feeling of achievement is gone, because you can play any level at any time...
The Physics are strange - Sonic feels slightly floaty when jumping, and it feels more like luck than skill when landing (although how much of that can be attributed to the control scheme I'm not sure.) There are fun Sonic 1-inspired bonus rounds with the spinning maze that we all remember - only because I'm playing it on a phone, you control it by tilting and rotating the phone - which is a method of control I'm REALLY not a fan of - especially when it comes down to precise control.
But my biggest problem with the game design itself (excluding the platform I am playing it on) is the second act of the Casino Street Zone - where instead of having a fun level to navigate through while bouncing around on flippers and bumpers etc, your objective suddenly changes as you have to earn 100,000 points by bouncing Sonic into the fruit machine over and over. And that's just dull - sorry Sega, but it's the truth.
In conclusion, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on a proper console (which I may at some point purchase - especially if they EVER do a physical copy) might be a 7/10 game, with the Casino Street Zone Act 2 letting it down as well as the slightly strange physics. However, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on a phone? Well....
Time Played: 1 Hour and 5 Minutes
Would I play it again? On my phone, probably not. If I ever buy it for Xbox or PS3 or if I ever get an Ouya and buy it for that, then I'd give it another try...