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Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 preview

Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 has been one of the year’s biggest gaming surprises, alongside yet another Duke Nukem Forever resurrection of course. It’s not got a release date yet, but we’ve had a chance to play several levels of the blue wonder’s 2D return in HD. Has it been worth the decade and a half wait? Let’s find out.

To be fair to Sega, Sonic’s not been away from 2D completely for all that time: there were plenty of fun Sonic games to be had on the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s, and this year’s Sonic Classic collection for the Nintendo DS. But it’s fair to say that Sonic’s outings on home consoles since the days before the Sega Saturn have been, well, universally awful. Luckily, you’ll be pleased to hear that Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 changes that.

You can check out a trailer below to get a feel for what to expect: this is what we saw, and there’s been no smoke and mirror’s trickery like some game developers employ, mixing in non-game footage (Yes, we’re talking about all those Gran Turismo 5 trailers).

Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 is headed to Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii (Sega didn’t have the Wii version to show to journalists, but assured us that it would still be coming out at the same time). Visually, the Xbox 360 version we played and PS3 game we glimpsed were identical: both had lush backgrounds that still looked like the Sonic zones of old, though Sonic himself looked a bit washy.

What might set them apart is the controls: since Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 is a 2D game, the Xbox 360′s analog stick is somewhat irritating, and the time it takes to pull from all the way left to all the way right when he’s hurtling along at speed is irksome, not helped by the awful D-pad on the controller. We have a feeling this one’s going to be preferable on the PS3, or with Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 gamepad (Though buying it just for this would probably be overkill).

Still, the levels we played (The entire Splash Hill zone, and the first act of Lost Labyrinth) trod a fine line between retro nostalgia and inventiveness, and were a blast to play on the Xbox 360. The basics really are basic: just run, jump, hold down to spin yourself into a frenzy, and home in on enemies to bounce off them.

Tearing through the green loops and bouncing up the cliffs of Splash Hill while rescuing bunnies and bouncing off robot fish transported us back to our childhood, and seems like the ideal way to return to 2D Sonic gaming. That’s capped off by an old school confrontation with Robotnik, swinging his huge ball on a chain like he’s compensating for something – though he’s defeated very easily.

The Lost Labyrinth act in Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 we played however ramps up the learning curve a tad. Here, you’ll be dodging falling boulder, Indie style, or even rolling along on top of them (Which caused the only graphical glitch we saw), and as with older Sonic games, it becomes no longer possible to simply hold right and jump now and again.

While we saw some of the old Sonic features like the checkpoints, we didn’t get a chance to play any water levels. A Sega rep hinted to us that we might see some in the finished game, complete with the suffocation timer and need to collect bubbles to stay alive. We didn’t see any sign of Tails though, for better or worse.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 isn’t going to be a huge game. There are only four zones with three stages in each, plus a boss, and we raced through the first in perhaps five minutes. In fact, we’re left wondering what on earth’s taken Sega so long: we’re secretly hoping it’s finishing up later episodes at the same time. Regardless, Sega fans of old will relish these morsels of pure fun. Can we have a release date now please Sega?

Out 2010 | £TBC | Sega

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