Getting Hugs Is Cool: Sonic the Hedgehog 4

I love a console war.

Happens every generation, of course. PS3 / Xbox 360, PS2/ Xbox / GameCube, PSOne / N64 / that Sega thing I can’t remember the name of – all of them important conflicts, but they pale into significance next to the big boy, the Great Console War. It spanned two generations, but it was at its bloodiest in the late eighties and early nineties. The vast edifice of the NES locked in conflict with the curvaceous Master System, giving way to the clash between the SNES and the Mega Drive*.

But the fight wasn’t about hardware. It was only partially about the games. The fight was personal. Two cultural icons decking it out in every playground and classroom all over the developed world. Were you for Mario? Or were you for Sonic?

 

SONIC BOOOOOOM

 

You had to choose. You HAD to choose. Pick a side, get the duvet cover, then find the kids on the other team and smash their heads open and paint your faces with their cranial fluid (yeah, don’t let the Church of England status fool you – Northleach school was tough).**

Except, painfully desperate non-conformist as I long so terribly to be, I didn’t choose, not really. Well – I chose, but I was flagrantly disloyal. Yeah, I was Team Mario and had all kinds of Mario bumfodder, but I played Sonic. I liked Sonic. Sonic was fast. Sonic was really, really fast. He also had attitude. Sega stole a march there – they gave their character some character. He tapped his foot and looked angry when you weren’t playing. He was a really fast hedgehog, and he didn’t want to wait around for you to finish picking your nose – he wanted to be kicking Robotnik’s*** ASS, man! Although what the hell was with the finger wagging? You want to make a character cool – why does he always look sneeringly disapproving? Anyway.

Sonic the Hedgehog was quite jolly. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was extremely jolly, and Tails was silent and therefore bearable. They were simple, and they were different. Control in the early Sonic games was minimal, and, frankly undesirable. You were better off holding down right on the d-pad, running head first into the baddies, and then killing them in your brief invulnerable period. In fact, jumping at the wrong time often got you killed stone dead. But it was fun. It wasn’t complicated, but it was fun. Sonic, as I believe I may have mentioned, was really, really fast.

But then it started getting silly, didn’t it? Knuckles turned up in Sonic 3, then he was playable in Sonic & Knuckles, and then it all went straight down the plughole of poorly thought out 3D. Mario did it and reinvented himself in the doing – Mario64 remains utterly ace. Sonic made Sonic 3D, and that was the beginning of the end.

Sonic has been irredeemably, gruntingly awful for about twelve years****, twelve horrible, three dimensional years. What we wanted, what we really wanted was side scrolling. Really fast side scrolling. What we got was (hnnnngh) Sonic and the Secret of the Rings, Sonic vs the Black Knight, and Sonic the Absolutely Ridiculous Werewolfhedgehogwhatonearthweretheythinking.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was released on Wednesday. It is 2D, but prettier. It is still very, very fast. You still win by pressing right on the d-pad. All is well with the world.

It feels good having Sonic back. His only nod to evolution is that now, everything is in brand new spanking HD. It looks a lot like New Super Mario Bros., actually, and this is clearly where Sega got the idea – classic, back-to-basics gameplay with modern visuals, and the barest hint of A New Feature. Mario got the wall jump, Sonic gets the homing attack – press jump when you’re already jumping, and Sonic zaps towards the nearest baddie / jump-pad and pounds it’s ass with his spiky, superfast self. Smackdown.

That sounds like a much bigger change than it is, though. Hardcore Sonic fans (they still exist, the poor beggars) moan and whinge that it makes the game easier, but frankly, it doesn’t have a great deal of impact.

Sonic 4 is a lot of fun. The thrill of speed is one of the most bestest things to experience in a game, and Sonic 4 feels faster than death. Racing through a classically styled Sonic the Hedgehog level at (frequently) terminal velocity is still a joy. Yes, you still crash blindly into more enemies than you smoothly dispatch, but it feels churlish to complain about that. It would be like criticising Mario for having a moustache.

Mario does loom rather large over this game. Sonic 4 is an enjoyable return to form for the old blue duffer, but that’s all it really is – a nostalgic wallow in early 90s platforming jollity. Mario, in comparison, never lost his form. Mario has always been brilliant. Slow and fat, but brilliant. Mario has evolved and developed over the last decade, and he has grown deliciously in each and every game (with the possible exception of New Super Mario Bros., natch). Sonic 4 refuses to evolve. It really is a snazzier version of Sonic 2, with slightly rubbish music. Fun, but not much more.

But hold on! Wait there just a hot damn blue spikey goldarn minute! This is only the beginning. This is, after all, only Episode 1 of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and while it’s unlikely that later episodes will change the game very much, a strong beginning can only build Sega’s confidence in the pride of the Mega Drive. What’s more, there is also Sonic Colours.

Sonic Colours is coming for the Wii. Sonic Colours is big, brash, bold and colourful.

Sonic Colours looks completely fantastic.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*Apparently, the Mega Drive was called the Genesis in the States. Every now and then someone will talk about Genesis-era platform games on a forum and I’ll get right confused. But then, I remember. THANK GOD.

**I should point out that, even as a child, I never smashed someone’s head open to get at their brains. That sentence climaxed in lies.

***Can we stop this “Eggman” business please Sega? It isn’t half as cool.

****Sonic Rush excepted. Sonic Rush is extremely good.

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3 Comments on “Getting Hugs Is Cool: Sonic the Hedgehog 4”

  1. The Slag Says:

    That colours game looks like Sonic’s answer to Mario Galaxy.

  2. sonofwalter Says:

    It was the Saturn. The Sega Saturn.

    • Paul S Says:

      That was it.

      There was also the Mega CD, at some point, although I think that was just some bizarre mutant plugin for the Mega Drive. It had ‘The 7th Guest’ on it. Lucky old Mega CD.


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