Sonic the Hedgehog 4: How it REALLY plays

We've debated, we've nit-picked, we've doom-mongered and we've prayed. But now it's come to the crunch. Time to actually go hands-on with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and see if it really is a return to the brilliant, proper Sonic of our 2D childhoods.

It was a responsibility both exciting and terrifying, but one that I took on with gusto despite the many questions whirling through my mind. Would it be amazing? Would it be the final, disappointing death-knell for Sonic? Would Justin actually murder me for playing it before him?

There was only one way to find out. I played the first Act. I scrutinised. And I wrote down the things that I felt you should know about. And here, just below this sentence, are those things.

Sonic feels right

Above: Running through this corkscrew is about to feel juuust right

This is the simplest, but most important piece of knowledge I took from my hands-on. Sonic 4 feels like Sonic the Hedgehog 4. The next game after Sonic 3. Not a tribute. Not a reworking. The next game in the series. Yes, as Justin has gone to great pains to point out, Sonic’s jumping animation is a bit weird, but his handling is exactly as it should be. Jump height, inertia, tweakability, it all feels familar and welcoming. If you’ve played Sonic before, you’ll be right at home with the control mechanics straight away.

The homing attack makes things better

Worry not. While the lock-on homing attack was originally a device from the crappy 3D games to make the crappy 3D level navigation a bit less crappy, it works a treat in Sonic 4. In fact it actually makes the gameplay better. Rather than dumbing things down, it makes them even more hardcore.

Above: Homing attack enabled, ground unnecessary

Operating just like a double-jump, it opens up Sonic 4’s levels to even deeper exploration, a homing attack on a Badnik or distant in-game object being often the only way to reach the game’s more secret areas. And more importantly, it’s also the speed-runner’s friend, allowing Sonic to wipe out enemies faster and access previously unattainable, quicker routes through the levels, as well as quicker paths through immediately accessible areas.

Trust me, polishing homing attack reaction speeds is going to become a key element when the Sonic hardcore are looking to shave down their record times.

It fixes all the problems with 2D Sonic

I’m not bashing the first three Sonic games here, but they’re not perfect. Sonic’s low-speed handling can be a bit awkward, accelerating on even a slight incline is a grind without a charged spin, and there are ultra-cheap, pop-up enemies aplenty, who exist only make things artificially hard and extend the games’ completion times by ambushing you with unavoidable deaths. But these days we just remember the good times, and edit all of that inconvenient stuff out of our memories.


But Sonic 4 now seems to have edited all of that stuff out of the games as well, tweaking the gameplay in subtle ways that mean you’ll finally be playing the Sonic games you remember rather than the ones they actually were. Thanks to much smoother animation and improved handling, Sonic is a responsive pleasure to control at any velocity. And he accelerates more rapidly up hills, meaning an end to those irritating old breaks in intertia when one mistake would see you crawling back and forth for weeks to regain momentum.

And best of all, the aforementioned homing attack actually seems to dispel much of old Sonic’s cheapness. Even if an enemy jumps you with only fractions of a second to spare, a quick mid-air stab of the jump button turns the tables immediately.

The boss fights aren’t just rehashes

Having seen the set-up of the first Robotnik boss fight, we were worried that Sonic 4 might just be a bit too similar to the hedgehog hurling joys of old. Because basically, it looked exactly the same as Sonic 1's first boss fight, almost pixel-for-pixel.

Above: Robotnik will be here in a sec. He's just upgrading some stuff

But having now played it, we know that is not so. It starts out just like the classic swingy-ball-of-bright-orange-rib-cracking-death fight you remember from the end of the Greenhill Zone, but a few important things have been changed. First, Robotnik’s collision detection has been tweaked so that you can no longer use the old trick of hanging out in the top corner and repeatedly bouncing off his head for a three-second kill. You’re going to have to earn this one.

And just as you think you have, old concrete ‘tasche pulls the rug away by whipping out a brand new attack. By flipping violently towards Sonic, he whiplashes the ball and chain right over the top of his flying machine in an attempt to send the hedgehog the way of so many of his motorway roadkill brothers. It’s a fast and brutal shake-up of a classic battle, and should herald a whole load more twists and surprises throughout the rest of the game.

The little details are great

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is being made with a lot of love. The little unnecessary touches show that off all the time. Like the way Sonic and Robotnik have recently been re-rendered in a slightly more cel-shaded style, which makes them feel a little more like the simpler sprites of old. And the fact that in Sonic's case, that very sprite pops up on the loading screen and as the 1-up icon, Bionic Commando: Rearmed-style.

Above: Anything Donkey Kong can do...

There’s also a great little effect where the music (which is pure 16-bit awesome) speeds up as Sonic accelerates, punctuating any speed-killing crash with a painful thump back to a lower tempo. Basically, it seems like Sonic the Hedgehog 4’s developers really, really do love it. Which is pleasing to see, because right now, we do too.

So what do you think? Do you have faith in the Hedgehog's return to form now that you've heard my findings? How hyped are you about Sonic 4? Or do Sonic's past transgressions mean that he's already dead to you, no matter how well this one turns out? Let me know in the comments, or staple your opinion to our community notice-boards on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Joshin69 - July 14, 2010 3:15 p.m.

    Wonder how much this will be. On an aside, Im i the only one who likes sonic adventure on the DC?
  • axelgarcia1 - July 10, 2010 3:38 a.m.

    well lets hope they dont pull out some last minute crap like the werehog. i have faith in this title
  • Deef - July 9, 2010 11:19 p.m.

    Quite a well written advertisment.
  • ultimatepunchrod - July 9, 2010 6:07 p.m.

    3D sonic wasnt crappy. that is all.
  • Giinjii - July 9, 2010 5:59 p.m.

    Looks promising now, but this game doesn't have a story RIGHT...I just don't want Sonic doing a mission for one "Mr. President"
  • mentalityljs - July 9, 2010 5:13 p.m.

    If it's back to its roots, it's all good by me :) FIIIIIIIIIIIIIINALLY!
  • 8bitBaby - July 9, 2010 4:53 p.m.

    "whew!" * wipes forehead* sounds like sonic is coming out the other end unscathed and a little shinier. i was seriously worried, but this has renewed my confidence that sonic can be what he used to be. good.
  • Ravenbom - July 9, 2010 4:21 p.m.

    I always liked to think of Sonic Rush as Sonic 4.
  • Pytor - July 9, 2010 4:14 p.m.

    I can't wait!
  • MrDuracraft - July 9, 2010 3:53 p.m.

    2010: The year of Sonic's rebirth (and a possibly GOOD 3D Sonic game!!!1!one!eleventy).
  • db1331 - July 9, 2010 3:05 p.m.

    There's just something about the graphics that bothers me. I can't put a finger on it. I know that they are trying for a blend of old and new, which is an excellent thing to strive for, but it's like things just aren't, well, blending. I can say for sure that I don't care for the look of the blue trail he leaves behind.
  • waffledragon33 - July 9, 2010 2:58 p.m.

    thank god
  • OriginalJonty - July 9, 2010 2:57 p.m.

    The original Sonic was the first game I ever played and what turned me to gaming at the ripe old age of 6. 15 years later and I'm hoping Sonic will return to form. This preview gives me hope.
  • NotBraze - July 9, 2010 1:49 p.m.

    Looks fantastic! Now we just need to get a hands on preview of the mine cart level to see if it's as game-breakingly bad as it looks.
  • JohnnyMaverik - July 9, 2010 1:41 p.m.

    Bah, I'll believe it when I see it.
  • CARDYKEV - July 9, 2010 12:39 p.m.

    Im surprised Sonic doesn't run around like a cowboy will all the sodomy that has occured.
  • sternparez - July 9, 2010 12:30 p.m.

    sounds great! when's it out?
  • Cyberninja - July 9, 2010 12:12 p.m.

    thats always good news so this year we will have 3 good sonic games: colors for wii colors for ds and 4 for everything
  • GR_DavidHoughton - July 9, 2010 11:58 a.m.

    Mainman: The music is a really subtle effect. It's not like the beats are suddenly hammering along like a horse race. It's slight enough to be subliminal, but as soon as Sonic stops, the jolt is really noticeable. I liked it.
  • Mainman - July 9, 2010 11:40 a.m.

    The only major worry I have left about this now is the music; the instrumentation in the earlier preview versions was extremely low-quality, making for songs that sounded sub-Mega Drive in their depth and quality. The new part about the music speeding up as Sonic does doesn't sound that great at first, but I have no right to judge it until I hear for myself. Now, if only they'd return to updating the official website! The only recent additions were that YouTube contest and downloads for the (old versions?) of Splash Hill Acts 2 & 3.

Showing 1-20 of 23 comments

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