Going back to Sonic 1 after spending hours with its new sibling feels very strange. Sonic 4 handles very differently. It's more… bold. Clinical, even. Every movement seems more deliberate, and while the finer nuances of low-speed control have arguably been lost, it's at high speed that it reveals its true depths.
I mentioned that lock on attack can be used as a simple air boost. When running at speed, this has a noticeable acceleration effect, allowing you to reach speeds on open stretches that old Sonic simply wouldn't be able to do without a hill to help him. Jumps on hills still react as you'd expect, and landing a jump on a decline results in a welcome burst of speed, just like those loop-jumps of Sonic 2.
Above: Learn the physics and you can start speed-running levels. This isn't a bad time to kick things off...
The game was called 'Project Needlemouse' in its early days, a clear indication that this was meant to be what the team would have done with Sonic 1, had today's tech been available at the time. While it's clearly been held back by its multiplatform compatibility (and I still maintain that recent fan videos look more impressive from an observer's point of view), the game gets some crucial things that fans wanted absolutely right.
For instance, Sonic is mute. He doesn't even say 'Yeah, not bad' at the end of an act, which I actually started to miss. Also, the badniks are faithful to their original designs – none of that crappy humanoid robot stuff here. Just Newtrons, Moto-bugs and Asterons. Mario's always had his Goombas, so it's great to see the old-school enemies back in a Sonic game.
Above: "So, Sonic - we meet again. You can have this invincibility item, but you'll have to get through me first"
The soundtrack can grate just a little bit when you're restarting stages continuously for time trial, which I wouldn't say is true of the old games, but the mix of straight-lifted Mega Drive effects and high-quality 2010 MIDI works a treat. The new music shares tempos and musical styles with the old themes too, all adding to the feeling that this is a celebration of the old, just delivered in the higher fidelity of the new.
There is one concern, however. The game simply haemorrhages extra lives. The Casino zone in particular gives you so many bonus lives for doing nought but push forwards means you'll hit 100 spare Sonics in about two hours' play. Sure, Sonic newbies will have more of a struggle, but I doubt many regular gamers will ever see the Game Over screen… if indeed there is one.
Above: Get three Sonics in any five cards you pass (which is a lot) and you get another 1-Up. Er... 126 Sonics?
So how much game is there for Sonic experts? I was able to beat the entire game, collected all the emeralds and beat the secret zone in one evening. After that, there are separate score and time attack modes to try for every stage, complete with online leaderboards. These are split into all/friends categories, and scores attained with Super Sonic are categorised separately from regular Sonic.
Add in the countless hidden routes through levels and it's clear there's a truck-load of replayability. Finding the fastest routes and mastering them is going to take weeks, maybe months. Maybe years.
Above: Wait a minute... rings don't go through walls! I sense a secret room... oh, I've been squashed