Ah the Sonic series. Once a truly amazing series of games, Sonic has since been consigned to the rubbish tip, with terrible ports and lousy spin offs cheapening the series' image and ignoring what Sonic is truly about. Thankfully, with the release of Sonic 4, Sega has finally returned to the roots of the Sonic series and its classic gameplay. Indeed Sonic 4 is deeply entrenched in the series roots and has plenty of the tropes and feel of its ancestors.
Sonic 4 features classic run and jump gameplay at a breakneck pace. It includes 12 zones, closely modeled on 16 bit Sonic game levels. Both score attack and time attack modes are available, and there are a couple special tilt based iPhone exclusive levels.
Sonic 4 is truly a return to form for the sonic games.
For starters the game is extremely fast. You are constantly moving very quickly, flying though loops, careening off springs and bouncing your way though enemies. The levels are perfectly suited to fast play, featuring huge hills and long winding sections full of spikes and obstacles to hurtle though. The frame rate also stays solid no matter what is happening, which is a welcome change after the very sloppy port of Sonic 2
The game also FEELS like Sonic. It has a classic Green Hills zone. It has a old school Labyrinth zone complete with underwater sections. Mad Gear is based off Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2, including the tube like teleporters and conveyor belts There are enemies and bosses from Sonic 1 such as the enemies that appear then charge towards you and the ones that shoot out of the walls in Splash Hill, which also finishes with a twist on the old school "swinging ball boss" The game's aforementioned speed and fluidity add to this vibe.
There are no female hedgehogs, huge cats or echidnas here; its just you, as Sonic, running really fast and killing badniks; Sonic in its purest form.
The game also looks great. Sonic is very smoothly animated, even if he does look a little taller than you might remember. When you roll in a ball you can see his shoes and hands as he holds himself in the ball and animations for ruining and falling are well done. The game's levels are very well done and as mentioned feature many common series themes. The textures are sharp, the acts all have their own feel and music and never feel repeated or lazy. The game is also very distinct on the small screen with no muddy graphics or overwhelming backgrounds.
Audiowise Sonic 4 sounds very good. there are classic sound effects, like the sound for hitting checkpoints and killing enemies and nothing feels out of place. Musically the game excels with remixes of old school Sonic tunes, such as the bonus stage from Sonic 1.
Sonic 4 is rather short. Even with 12 zones, as well as boss battles you'll blast your way though the game's levels quite quickly.
Although the game does feature time attack and score attack modes it does not feature a "one after the other" mode where you start in Green Hill and end up in Scrap Brain, as you simply pick what zone you want to play. Bosses are unlocked after all three acts in a zone are completed.
It would be nice to have the whole game lined up in order and then unlock stages to play whenever you like as you beat them. Having most of the game available at the outset removes part of the feel of progression and advance that you get form reaching the last zone on your own in a Sonic game.
The game also has limited reply as once you finish all the zones there are no online leaderboards or achievements. A online list of the fastest times and highest scores would give something to shoot for and encourage replay. Sadly the game doesn't offer retina display quality graphics which keeps the classic style, but for $10 you would think you could get a beautiful looking game.
Sonic 4 is an excellent game, only brought down by its length and a lack of replay, but feels at home on the iPhone. It is a vast improvement over the no frills Sonic 2 iPhone port and feels like it was made with the platform in mind. The controls are sharp, the gameplay is sharper and the game proudly flaunts its lineage for all to see.
Welcome home Sonic!