Sonic the Hedgehog is such a simple concept, yet it's amazing that there are so many games starring the speedy rodent, that completely miss the mark. By now we're all familiar with legendary mis-steps like Sonic 2k6, Sonic Boom, and Shadow the Hedgehog: The Game. Then there's other games like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic & The Black Knight, Sonic Heroes, and so on and so forth. It's like Sega isn't interested in having Sonic games be about..well..just running fast and jumping on stuff. There needs to be a hundred dozen gimmicks, special abilities, ♥♥♥♥♥♥ friends(tm), and dramatic game-design changes.
I don't know what's best for Sonic, I just know what I like. My favorite games are the 16-bit titles, Sonic Generations, and bits & pieces of the other 3D games (haven't played enough of Colors to form an opinion on that). You're probably thinking: "He likes the earlier games, it must be nostalgia." Maybe it is. So what's a better way to play on my nostalgia than by making a Sonic 4? For starters, they should've just done nothing at all.
Episode 1 is comprised of 4 zones with three acts a-piece, 7 special stages, and five boss battles. It's a tad on the lean side I guess, but it overstays it's welcome very early on. The first thing that sticks out to me is the poor level-design. Splash Hill Zone is very messy, with a lot of walls, springs, and corridors. It feels awfully claustrophobic for a zone that supposedly takes place outside. Casino Street Zone is mostly just flashing lights and things to bounce off of. The second act features a ton of cards that can be flipped for bonus lives, that's all I can remember about it.
Lost Labyrinth Zone is where I was stunned to silence. Act 1 features silly boulder balancing and not much else. Act 2 has Sonic running around in near complete darkness, with only a torch to guide his way. There are also a couple cruddy mine cart sections. Why would Sonic Team create an act where players can't see much of anything? When the concept is thoroughly flawed, no implementation can save it. All I can remember of Act 3 is these weird rooms. Sonic is trapped underwater, and the room has to be tilted, but not too quickly or else he'll get impaled on spikes. This is just no good, no darn good.
Mad Gear Zone is a rip-off of Metropolis Zone. I knew I was going to be in for a good time, because Metropolis Zone is my least favorite in Sonic 2. Somehow Sonic Team managed to make it more annoying, with a bunch of mantis robots, exploding starfish, and grinding gears. By this time I just wanted it all to end.
The final zone is merely a boss-rush, followed by a climatic encounter straight out of Sonic 2. Eggman mixes it up a bit with the boss having a second form and a last ditch final attack. It's the hardest part of the game, though I probably died more times on the first act of Lost Labyrinth. Apparently you can't use the d-pad on the boulders, it's analog or fall off and die.
The special stages are supposedly based on Sonic 1, except with all of the simplistic wonderment and unique design stripped out. Ever play the arcade game Cameltry? You maneuver a ball by rotating a maze. It's a really fun game. Sonic 4's bonus stages are the same way, except with all the fun stripped out. Worst of all, there's this horrible lullaby that sounds like it came from an infant's toy. Sonic 4 suffers from uncharacteristically awful music, and the special stage tune is the cherry on top.
The most damning thing I can say about Sonic 4, is that all it does is poorly rip off its superior prequels. If you're familiar with those games you'll recognize everything that happens here. You're seeing all of the same stuff, except it's poorly arranged, with terrible physics, sloppy controls, while looking and sounding positively ghastly. This is a title specifically made to cash in on gamers like me, who are nostalgic for the early games, before ridiculous anime plots and half-baked concepts became the norm. Sega loves to sell their entire Sonic Steam library for a pittance, so you probably already own this game.
It's evil, don't touch it!