Sonic the Hedgehog was once one of the video games industry's most notable franchises. He stood toe to toe with Mario for years and in some people's eyes actually stood above him. However, with the advent of the 3D era, Sonic just couldn't keep up - Mario disappeared into the distance and Sonic was left with dust in his face and a slew of games which featured poor controls, terrible cameras and dreadful story elements. However, while it's probably too soon to say the future is bright for Sonic, Sega at least appear to be paying attention to their fans. What started off as Project Needlemouse has turned in to the game fans have been wanting for years, a true successor to Sonic 3 and a game that's in 2D - gloriously high-definition 2D.
Kicking off shortly after the end of Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic decides to take a break. Needless to say it's cut short and he's back in action to thwart Dr. Robotnik's latest dastardly scheme. This brings him to Splash Hill, a zone that looks like a merger between Green Hill and Emerald Hill - the perfect place to start off a new adventure with the speedy hedgehog.
One thing that's instantly noticeable is that while speed is still present within the game, it's not overbearing. If players want to go fast they can, but it's rarely necessary to actually progress throughout the level. On that note, it was also possible for players to stop dead at any time simply by removing their finger from the movement controls. It felt rather weird, as there was almost no forward momentum even if Sonic was running at an extreme speed. Hopefully this is something that's ironed out for the full version of the game as one of the great things about the older titles was attempting to quickly slow down and seeing Sonic slam the brakes on.
Most of the core Sonic mechanics are there, which isn't hard since there aren't exactly a lot of them. The spin dash makes a return, and so does the homing jump, which has been seen in Sonic's recent 3D outings. This allows players to target an enemy and move through the air toward the target. It can also be used to slightly extend Sonic's jump, like the Fire shield in Sonic & Knuckles, albeit a bit more useful. The addition of this also explains why the first boss in Sonic 4 has been slightly modified. Players of the original Sonic title will recognise it in an instant, but this time Robotnik has made some modifications to catch players out and keep them on their toes. The new jump feature is certain to help them do this, due to its evasive qualities.
From what was shown at E3, the first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (yes, it's episodic) looks like it will go down a treat with fans of the original. There are still a few question marks about the controls and Sonic's movement, but Sega have already stated that the game has been delayed until late 2010 so they can work on polishing and balancing out the game's mechanics. Here's hoping they can do that, and that Sonic 4 will signal a new chapter in Sonic's history - his revival.