Yesterday during Sega's iPhone Games Day, easily the most impressive and fun game that I had a chance to play was Sonic 4. It finally feels like the Sonic game that we've all been wanting for the past 15 years, with no gimmicks, unnecessary characters or outlandish stories. Just pure 2D side-scrolling Sonic goodness, with heaps of Blast Processing. We previewed Sonic 4 during E3 in June, where we had a chance to play an early version of the game. Yesterday at Sega I was shown a nearly complete build of the game that included the previously unannounced Labyrinth Zone, two exclusive iPhone levels, and the special Chaos Emerald bonus stages.

The best thing about Sonic 4 is that it's incredibly simple to play, to the point of almost rendering the virtual controls a non-issue. I say almost because it still can be tricky playing a platformer without tactile feedback, but with only an analog stick and one button to worry about it certainly simplifies matters. Sonic 4 plays similarly to the original trilogy where you can run down hills and roll through loops or perform a spin dash by crouching and mashing the button to build up speed, but one significant new maneuver has been added to Sonic's repertoire. After performing a jump, you can hit jump in mid-air and execute a homing attack that will send Sonic spinning into nearby enemies or interactive objects which get target locked automatically. This adds an interesting dynamic to the game and makes it far more playable on the touch screen, as you don't have to be quite as precise when trying to defeat enemies.

Previously, Sega has shown off the first area of Sonic 4 called Splash Hill Zone. This zone is reminiscent of the beginning stage in earlier Sonic the Hedgehog games, with bright blue skies, green grass, and plenty of loops and hills. Yesterday they revealed Labyrinth Zone, which is also akin to levels from the old Sonic games. It's an underground cavern area with moving platforms, boulders falling from the roof, and underwater portions. This is also where one of the iPhone exclusive levels is based, called Lost Labyrinth Zone. This level has Sonic riding in a mine cart that is controlled by tilting the device while negotiating maze-like caverns. Sonic 4 deviates from the linear level progression of the originals, and once you've completed the initial Splash Hill Zone all three areas in each of the four zones are made available to play in any order. The catch is that you will not be able to play the fourth boss area for each zone until you've completed the previous three.

Another returning feature from the classic Sonic games is the addition of bonus levels. If you complete an area with at least 50 rings in your possession, you'll have a chance to jump into a gigantic spinning ring at the end which will take you to a special stage and give you an opportunity to earn a Chaos Emerald. These stages are re-imagined versions of the ones from Sonic 1, and if you remember those stages you'll understand just how well suited they are for tilt control. Whereas you controlled Sonic himself as the stage spun around you in the originals, in this iPhone version you'll actually be controlling the stage by tilting and twisting the device while trying to get a stationary Sonic to the Chaos Emerald in the middle. Collecting a total of 7 Chaos Emeralds and completing the game will yield an alternate cliffhanger ending that will hint at things to come in Sonic 4: Episode 2.

Yes, Sonic 4 will be an episodic release. Sega couldn't comment on how many episodes will make up the entire experience, but have assured me that there is a definitive end to Sonic 4 and they won't just be releasing a new episode whenever they feel like adding a new set of levels. Sonic 4 is also looking quite stunning visually, and will be nearly identical to the console versions save for the 2 exclusive iPhone levels and tilt controls. Remarkably, the game runs at an incredibly smooth rate, and I didn't experience even one hiccup during my time with the game. Also of interesting note is that Sonic 4, the long awaited spiritual sequel to the classic original trilogy that fans have been clamoring for for years, will not be appearing on either the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. While this may have Marcus in a huff, it shows just how committed Sega is to this platform and its fans.

This hands-on video from our E3 preview in June demonstrates Sonic 4 in action:

I can hardly describe just how much I enjoyed Sonic 4, and I cannot wait for the final version to be released. Sega won't pin down anything more exact than “sometime this Fall” but the game was looking mostly complete and hopefully it won't be too much longer before we can all finally play Sonic 4: Episode 1.

  • RNF

    Wow. iOS devices only and no PSP or DS. Pretty ballsy! I like it!

    • Rollon

      But it is on 360 and PS3, so... not that balsy since they'll likely be superior.

  • Dolit

    They can make Sonic 4 run more smoothly than Sonic 1 and 2 on the iPhone? What an achievement, Sega!!

  • nizy

    I was wondering if you would have an update on this after the Chu Chu Rocket post. Sounds really good, so far. I'm quite surprised they went for the Sonic 1 style special stages and not the Sonic 2 "3d" ones, but then again both would work great with tilt.

    Also you didn't mention, but the video shows tilt as well as virtual d-pad for normal control of sonic. Is this still in there?

  • Corey

    personally im buying this for my ps3 1080p baby!!!
    but does anyone know if that was a iphone 4-Retina display would make this a day one purchase

  • GDSage

    You say no gimmicks and then...

    "This is also where one of the iPhone exclusive levels is based, called Lost Labyrinth Zone. This level has Sonic riding in a mine cart that is controlled by tilting the device while negotiating maze-like caverns."

    This level, by the by, is what was universally panned when the game was leaked months ago. People breathed a sigh of relief when it was later announced that such levels will only be in the iPhone version.

    "Also of interesting note is that Sonic 4, the long awaited spiritual sequel to the classic original trilogy that fans have been clamoring for for years, will not be appearing on either the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. While this may have Marcus in a huff, it shows just how committed Sega is to this platform and its fans."

    Not as interesting as you make it out to be as the DS has an exclusive of its own, that being Sonic Colors. It's just as true to the classic Sonic template as Sonic 4 claims to be, which is not very much at all. Sonic 4 has bloody homing attacks, homing attacks in 2D gameplay... both titles and indeed any future Sonic games will be as true to the originals as a ebay seller based in China. That boat sailed a long, long time ago. It won't come to be again.

    • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

      This is messing with your DS-loving mind, isn't it?

      • GDSage

        I'm not sure what your attempt to be clever has to do with my comments on yet more disappointing entries in the Sonic series. By the by, both titles are developed by Dimps.

        Any claim Sega (or others) tries to make about 'x game' returning to its roots is bull, because that Sega (the staff) doesn't exist anymore. Sega is a mess, to the extent that I don't think they could recreate whatever they had even if they grouped together the original staff again.

        I mean, it shows Sega doesn't have a clue when they are still developing mechanics and level designs for Sonic games that have little to do with momentum / physics. Having a homing attack in a 2D game (and have the level design require it) defeats the whole point of the originals momentum-based platforming.

    • jaytee

      Dude, you've got some issues. "A homing attack? WORST GAME EVER." You haven't even played it yet.

      I'm sorry all the best games have been made already.

    • Nintendo shill

      Just look at his posts on the forums. A Nintendo fanboy/employee with absolutely zero interest in the iOS platform.

      • GDSage

        Wow, so we're resorting to this?

        For the poster jaytee, a homing jump does undermine the original template because the originals were about using momentum and precision upon a 2D plane. The homing jump basically makes the requirement for momentum and precision redundant because it automatically directs Sonic to the nearest enemy / item (you can see it in the videos). In the originals one had to actually employ a level of skill to 1) find a section to build up enough momentum, 2) launch off at the right spot on this section and 3) be able to keep up your momentum to direct your landing with precision. This process really came into its own when one had to bounce off consecutive flying enemies in order to reach platforms. A midair homing jump makes much of this unecessary and it's not like the mechanic can be ignored as we can already see many parts requiring it.

        Let us not forget that homing jump was originally introduced due to Sega's inability of translating the core designs of Sonic into 3D. It was a get out clause for a move into 3D, but something that doesn't need to exist when moving back onto the 2D plane because in 2D we as players are able to accurately detect the distances between platforms / sprites, even at speed. Building up momentum in order to achieve speed and then using this with precision in order to overcome / reach platforms is what made the originals (and the level design) so good. Nowadays, 2D Sonic's focus on the speed part (with little to no momentum), leading to rather unambitious / lazy level designs (largely hold right play). The inclusion of a homing jump doesn't make the current issues with the recent 2D Sonic better.

        Also, the inclusion of the homing jump is only one part of many. The level designs still suffer from the same issues as other recent 2D Sonic games for the DS and GBA. Sonic Team / Dimps really can't recreate what the originals had.

        So, it is not "A homing attack? WORST GAME EVER." Rather it's "Homing jump for 2D play? Still the same lazy (largely hold right) designs? Dimps / Sonic Team? ANOTHER BLEH SONIC GAME". If you're going to boil down my comments to a single line, at least get it right.
        .
        .
        As for the other poster throwing out fanboy (how nice), hey it's not my fault that independent developers can outdo Sega when it comes to Sonic. For example, Hook Champ shares many principles with the original Sonic titles with regards to employing momentum and precision. When fans are able to keep true to those designs better than the actual developer, that says all that needs to be said. But hey, you keep playing that fanboy card instead of actually trying to contribute to a discussion.

      • John

        I hate both the iPhone shilling that this site constantly spews(and you guys make no mention of), and this guys obvious bias towards nintendo. But clearly he wouldn't even be here if the TA article had had less of a slant, so instead of attacking the commented, why not take issue with the route cause? Because you guys are just as annoying and "fanboyish" yourselves.

      • Mindfield

        Yeah, um ... not sure if you've noticed, but this is an iPhone gaming site. Exactly what hardware were you expecting people to tout? Likewise, why would you not expect an iOS-bashing Nintendo fanboy not to be ridiculed on a site dedicated to iOS gaming?

      • GDSage

        Wow, I must have missed a big event because surely it would be better off not resorting to grouping people under a particular name just because they pointed out questionable comments from an article. Stranger still, how that can be conveyed as so-called 'bashing' an inanimate object...

        ... Who knew.

        The only 'bashing' I have actually done is to the waste of space that is Sega. Over the years it's disappointing it has got to a stage where I would rather Sega port their back catalogue IPs to the iOS and the like than them develop new iterations of said IPs (with the current staff they have). The only departments of Sega that are worth any bother anymore are the former Amusement Vision and Overworks whom despite being absorbed and mixed in with the rest of Sega are still able to develop quality wares, those being the Yakuza series and Valkyria Chronicles respectively. Everyone else that used to worth bothering about either left / kicked out or relegated to stationary (my poor, poor Suzuki).

        Then again, Sega has improved a lot recently but only because they have decided to publish games made by a developer that is far better than their own (Platinum Games) - the first wise decision made by Sega in many years.

        So yeah, "Woohoo" at awesome decisions like porting over classics like Chu Chu and the like but not so much "Woohoo" at making new iterations of said games.

        ***I want Daytona USA next***

        ***Then Cosmic Smash (it's squash meets breakout, you'd love it)***

      • John

        Simply because this website caters exclusivly to iOS games doesn't mean the users and writers have to be agaisnt other systems, or exclusivley for the iOS. That is ridiculous.

        And I expect trolling and flaming on any website, that doesn't mean I accept it or won't comment on how annoying it is to see from both sides.

      • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

        Just to be clear (because I kind of got this started), my tongue was planted firmly on my cheek when I wrote the earlier comment. GDSage may sometimes come across a bit like a Nintendo fanboy (at least on the 3DS thread), but his posts are always articulate and thoughtful. A lot of us here at TA really appreciated all the stuff he dug up about Chaos Rings when the game was first announced.

        Anyway, I certainly didn't mean to start a witch hunt ;).

      • dream

        I don't know if he's trolling or not but anyone who thinks Sonic 4 looks good -- on iOS or consoles -- really needs to go back and play Sonic 1, 2, 3 and S&K again.

        Sonic 4 has pretty much been universally derided everywhere but TA.

      • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

        "Sonic 4 has pretty much been universally derided everywhere but TA."

        Really?

        GameSpot: "With that, our demo ended, and while we can plainly see that Sonic 4 will strike a chord with fans of the classic game"

        IGN: "If you loved the original Sonic the Hedgehog, it's safe to say you're going to dig this one. At least, the first two acts certainly suggest this."

        GameTrailers: 9.3 average user rating on game videos

        To paraphrase Andre the Giant: I don't think you know what the word "universally" means.

  • Brandon

    It just looks awesome. Finally... it's sonic.
    Though the DS sonic was good IMHO

  • Bagpuss

    Sonic Rush on the DS kicked serious butt. This looks close. I'm curious about the tilting though. I really hope it has a sensitivity option as it looked like the guy on the vid had to turn his device pretty far to get desired reaction.

    Anyway, looks great. Feel like a real twonker now for having bought that first Sonic app that came out.

  • Will

    Is there going to be an iPad version, or will I have to resort to good ol' 2x mode?

  • Stanley

    Looks wonderful! I'll pick up this beauty and its subsequent episodes without hesitation.

  • DeadCell

    I don't think I'll be getting this one. I honestly don't think it will run great on the iPhone, because it doesn't support Blast Processing.

    • Jman

      What are you talking about? Did you read the article?

    • GDSage

      ....

      Cant. Tell. If. Joking. (both the original comment and the reply to it)

      .... Sack it, I'll take the plunge.

      Blast Processing is a meaningless term, it never actually meant anything.

      • Jman

        My reply was in relation to him 'not thinking it will run well'.

  • dumas1000

    Retro gaming, no thank you. Hey, people like what they like; but I have no interest in playing a game that is basically a Sega Genesis sequel 15 years in the making. The Genesis is dead, dead and buried. Leave it there. I owned a Genesis, back when new games were on the shelves and cost $50 a piece. I have no interest in going back there. I cannot imagine why you would want to waste the power and potential of a ps3 in full HD on something like this. Seriously, this REALLY IS a brand new Sega Genesis game a dozen years after the Sega Genesis went out of production.

    • Rollon

      You're forgetting that age doesn't make something bad. Dated gameplay was still good gameplay, dated films are still good, dated music is still good. This is a NEW game with a retro style, and if you don't like it, perhaps the problem is with you and not the game.

    • Yrogerg212

      Thank you! This site is in blind love with outdated, unimpressive, ugly-looking retro games. Retro games will never reach the popularity of newer games... And for good reason. Take a look at the top 25.

      • Zonko

        Ah the top 25, because popularity is the perfect measure of how good something is. Just look at cinema, or the music charts. It's always packed quality releases.

        Maybe instead if knocking this before it's even released you might, you know, try playing it first. And I'll gladly take niche retro releases like dodonpachi over the mainstream dreck that litters the app store charts any day.

      • Noman

        Just think of how well New Super Mario Brothers sold...

    • george

      Erm power of the Ps3, oh please.

  • b

    If priced right, might buy. However, I'm not into this whole "episodic" bull shit.

  • klouud

    Can't wait. Instant buy! Instant.
    Great idea with the non-linear level mechanics. Makes it easier to go back and try again for the chaos emeralds.

  • sebimeyer

    This game truly looks like Sega finally go the clue that retro gamers, Sonic fans in particular, want their games to be just like how they remember. Took long enough.

    As I was watching the video and thinking just that, the Rep says "and we are planning some game changers for Episode 2..."

    Take a moment and think about that, Sega, will ya?

    • Alfred

      What's the point in releasing a bunch of games with identical gameplay, but slightly different content. Remember that Sonic 2, and 3 both added gameplay features while remaining true to the original concept. I see no reason they can't continue from there. New gameplay features aren't automatically good, but they also aren't inherently bad. I'll reserve judgement until I actually see what they're talking about.

  • Crunc

    The problem is, what I see in the video is a game that controls absolutely abhorrently. Either that or the person playing is one of the worst gamers in existence. Of course they are using the tilt controls. Still, I have my doubts that the virtual d-pad is going to be that good. At best virtual dpads have been little more then passible so far.

    • mike

      Honestly, I really like the virtual d-pad on Sonic 1 & 2 for the iPhone. So i'm thinking the virtual d-pad is going to be good I think.

    • Alfred

      They are using the tilt controls while simultaneously trying to keep the game straight enough to show to the camera. I would trust separate reviews on gameplay more than the gameplay demonstrated in the video.

  • russiaone

    In my opinion, Sega has done little right on the iDevice, so I'm a little hesitant to jump on the Sonic bandwagon. But this hands-on does bode well for the little blue hedgie.

  • BeefJerky

    Level design looks good. But the Sonic is Sonic Rush Sonic, not classic Sonic, and that brings with it all the faults of the modern Sonics - slippy handling designed for speed, not slow sections (which the classic gameplay required at many points for platforming) and, yes, homing attacks and other totally redundant 'features'.

    So it's Sonic 4 for level design and Sonic Rush 2 or 3 (whatever it is) for Sonic himself.

  • Zonko

    Can anyone who has played this confirm if it's 60fps, and if it has retina display support?

  • Ian

    This is great news but i'm more interested in iPhone versions of Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind Radio, and Seaman. I don't care if they are ports of their Dreamcast versions or new versions all together

  • Mekki

    Sonic has ale ays been a mediocre series at best and I don't see this changing.

    • Noman

      That's an unfair statement, I'm too young to have played the original sonic games on the genesis but they are regarded as being fantastic games (for their time)

  • omg

    begone the lazy rom emulator ports! :) looking forward to this, and chuchu rocket!!!! :)

  • Spinalc0rd

    I'm looking forward to this game on my iPhone 4.

    On screen controls will be used i'm not a fan of tilting.

    I think the homing attacks is a great addition to the Sonic 'skill' set.

    And i'm someone who had a genesis an used to play Sonic 2 for hours on end.

    Retro games really have my interest as well as games next gen games like crysis 2 an halo reach any day now.

    I hope Retro City Rampage gets a port to the iPhone, so far its only Wii ware :(

    But i hope the developers realize it would be much better sales wise on the IOS devices.

  • http://www.generationstarwars.com John Hood

    This could be a day one purchase!

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/ujnhunter Ujn Hunter

    You should all feel ripped off by the name of the game alone... "Episode 1" really? Charging per level? Nice! Anyone remember when games were made complete as a finished product?

    • krush96

      um... you are way off. This episode alone is going to have a total of 24 acts.
      Thats 4 zones with 3, not 2, but 3 acts, and a boss act for each zone, a final zone consisting of one boss, and 7 special stage.
      Thats about the same lenghth as Sonic 1 for only 10-15$ and all thats only one episode.