Today’s Retro and Modern Games: Sonic 1 & 2 vs Sonic 4
Sonic the Hedgehog took the gaming world by storm when he sped onto the console scene in the early nighties. He propelled the struggling Sega Genesis console to mainstream stardom and completely unseated Mario as the reigning video game mascot.
Sonic’s game was a simple platformer, much like Mario; move left to right, avoiding enemies and obstacles to reach the goal. What Sonic did that Mario didn’t was the sense of speed and action. While Mario was trudging and hopping his way through the Mushroom Kingdom, Sonic was blazing through unique and colorful worlds like his feet were on fire. The Spin Dash move, where Sonic would curl up into a ball for extra speed, also lent itself to some unique level design and exhilarating loop-de-loops. And finally, Sonic’s “spin” on the health bar or lack thereof was a nice departure from the one-hit-wonder Mario. Instead of dying after one (or two) hits from an enemy, Sonic merely dropped all the rings he had collected throughout the stage. As long as you could hold onto at least one ring, Sonic was nigh invincible. Of course if the stage or boss level didn’t have any rings to collect, you were back to the one-hit-wonder.
Sonic 2 was the perfect sequel, improving on the previous game in almost every way. Sonic was leaner, meaner, and this time he brought back-up. Tails the fox follows Sonic through nearly every level providing minor assistance against Robotnik and his baddies. If you happen to have a second controller, a friend can drop in at any time and control Tails themselves. Sonic could also perform/charge his famous “spin dash” move while stationary so you wouldn’t get stuck if there was a steep incline. Sonic 2 also featured a massive variety of levels, many more than the original. From the traditional Emerald Hill and Chemical Plant to Mystic Cave and Flying Fortress, you never quite knew what to expect around each corner. The Special Stages also received a, in my opinion, much needed overhaul. Instead of the dizzying, rotating, float-y mazes from Sonic 1, your sped through quasi-3D half-pipe tracks, trying to collect the required number of rings to earn the Chaos Emerald. Also as an upgrade from Sonic 1, if you managed to collect all seven emeralds, they don’t merely unlock the “good” ending to the game, they give you the “ultimate” power-up in the game: Super Sonic. Once you have all the emeralds, as soon as you collect fifty rings within any stage and jump, you transform into a glowing, invincible, yellow version of Sonic that can leap to the moon and move at ludicrous speeds. No seriously, if you’re not careful when controlling Super Sonic, you could easily send yourself off a cliff and to your death. As a way to temper this power, you don’t get to keep it indefinitely. As soon as you transform, your ring count begins to drop one a second and when it reaches zero you become normal Sonic, with no rings. So rings not only become your source of life, but your source of ultimate power.
Ok, so Sonic 1 & 2 are incredible games, even today, but what about the recent Sonic 4? Originally heralded as “Project Needlemouse” this game was suppose to hearken back to the Sonic games of old. So how did it do? Let’s start with the graphics.
The visuals in Sonic 4 are beautiful HD renderings of the stages from Sonic 1 & 2. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certainly not for nostalgia, but for a game that is suppose to be a “sequel” seeing the exact same levels from the first two games is a bit odd. Enemies and bosses are also ripped straight out of the first two Sonic games. The design and layout of the actual levels is decently done, but there are several cheap “death traps” that serve only to frustrate and drain all your hard earned lives.
This game has all the makings of a good remake, except for one thing: physics. The physics in Sonic 4 are atrocious. Sonic runs like he’s trudging through molasses spread across black ice, he jumps like a lead weight and his homing attack, a carry-over from more recent Sonic games, feels clumsy and unreliable. Even the special stages, a direct clone of the spinning maze from Sonic 1, suffer from whacked-out physics.
While Sonic 4 has all the indications of an awesome remake/sequel, the blue blur ultimately falls flat on his face, surrounded by memories of what was and what could’ve been. As a devote Sonic fan, I have to say that the original Genesis Sonic games beat Sonic 4 to the goal by a long mile.