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Return to glory? How Sonic 4 can win back gamers’ hearts

March 7, 2010

Sonic 4 Slammer

Sega’s unveiling of Project Needlemouse as Sonic The Hedgehog 4, the stakes have never been higher for the franchise — figuratively and literally. The brand has long been in turmoil with game after game coming out in poorer quality than the last, including the infamous Sonic The Hedgehog released in 2006. Undoubtedly, this has left fans with a rather sour attitude, especially now that Sega-based studio Sonic Team is throwing around the Sonic 4 name.

With promises of the return to momentum-based gameplay that could be found in the Genesis titles, the title seems to be on track to living up to its name, though there are things the developers must do to ensure the title doesn’t become the series staple of hold right/forward to win.

Hit the jump to see what Sonic 4 has to succeed in to win back gamers’ hearts.

  • The level design has to be given special care. Here’s a subtle indicator of it: in Sonic 2, the first stages, such as Chemical Plant Zone, are rather speed-based, allowing the player to experience the game’s trademark slogan of “Blast Processing.” As the game progresses, the levels begin to slow the player down, putting more emphasis on platforming, such as in Metropolis Zone. A small detail like this goes a long way to make the game more interesting as it’s not just about blind speed.
  • The music needs to fit the environment. The music has usually been the series’ strong point, and despite all the flaws Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 has, as well as Sonic Unleashed, the two titles are still praised for having a great soundtrack. From initial leaked videos to the web, the music is attempting to be a hybrid of the old Genesis style with some modern twists. Splash Hill Zone, the first stage of the game, already sounds like a generic piece rather than something you may randomly find yourself humming, such as Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill Zone.
  • Don’t listen to the fan base. As much as they’re pitching the older fans that this is a return to form for the series, a phrase they’ve also used with every title since Sonic Heroes, this same fan base is extremely fragmented and hard to please. We already have people who are protesting the game by swearing to buying Sonic 1 on Sonic 4‘s release day. Why pander to these people?

Most importantly, just keep it fun. The modern meaning of a game seems to have been skewed to include all these online features and pretty visuals and music that would put major motion pictures to shame. In the end, though, this title needs to just bring back the sense of enjoyment the Genesis titles captured. Based on the list of achievements for the game, it looks like they’re attempting this, at least by allowing players the chance to go god-mode in the stages as Super Sonic.

What has been shown of Sonic 4 so far hasn’t given me that ridiculous child-like grin that the likes of Mario Galaxy 2 or Mega Man 10 has given me. At the same time, though, I’m not doom and glooming the project on the few media, official and leaked, that has been shown so far. For all we know, we could be in store for a pleasant surprise this summer. I just hope it’ll bring back that smile.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 has been Rated E by the ESRB with an expected launch date of Summer 2010.

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