When all this was green fields
Sixteen years after the classic platformer Sonic & Knuckles, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 4 Episode 1 is the direct follow-up to that adventure, and it's a heady return that will leave fans and newcomers alike dizzy with blue-phoria.
As Sonic quickly discovers, you really can't keep an arch nemesis down. No sooner had self-styled evil genius Dr Eggman had his space station (the Death Egg) destroyed in Sonic & Knuckles, than he was plotting a way to even the score. Cue the Badniks, Dr Eggman's diabolical contraptions based on Sonic's peaceful animal companions, and a dastardly scheme to swipe the powerful Chaos Emeralds from the heroic hedgehog.
The scene is set for a breathless journey through brand new levels inspired by some of the worlds that helped Sonic to superstar status back in the early 90s. Keep up with the hypersonic 'hog for a blistering run that doesn't so much take in memory lane as rip it up and lay the foundations for a sizzling new chapter in Sonic's story.
Blue sky thinking
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 4 Episode 1 lets you satisfy your competitive streak by allowing you to compare your scores and times with other players thanks to comprehensive online leaderboards. Cleverly, each level can be played instantly, just as soon as you successfully complete the very first Splash Hill level. This means that if you spot a friend's score for a particular level online, you can dive straight into the same level to post your own response. Fittingly for a game featuring a supersonic hedgehog, there are no barriers to break here.
Not that you'll want to miss anything out in keeping up with the online competition. The four main zones are a joy to whizz through. The lush greenery of Splash Hill, the mind-bending Lost Labyrinth, the crazy lights of Casino Street and the lurching mechanics of Mad Gear are all throwbacks to the unforgettable worlds Sonic raced through in the Mega Drive era.
There's plenty of replay value to be had too. As well as a comprehensive Trophy list, all of which evokes memories of Sonics past (like the Super Sonic Genesis Trophy), there are secret sections to be found that may have been missed first time around. Plus there's that leaderboard to consider – each run-through will increase your score and lower your time.
Best of all, this is vintage Sonic brought bang up to date with a pin sharp High Definition polish. Vibrancy and life leap out at you at every turn thanks to levels jam-packed with flippers, power-ups, loop the loops and more, wrapped up in retina-scorching visuals. Corkscrews, springs and chequered tiles are the stuff Sonic's best memories are made of. Now, you can add the delights of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 4 Episode 1 to that list.
Scream if you want to go faster
This is pure, adrenaline-fuelled platform gaming. The basic aim is to get your spiky speed demon to the end of the level as fast as possible, and with this in mind the control scheme is neatly streamlined. As well as moving left, right, up and down, Sonic can jump, and perform his faithful Speed Dash to build up a head of steam and take out a group of enemies. New to the Sonic series is the Homing Attack, which lets Sonic hone in on a target when in mid-air.
With such an efficient method of control, a fast and furious adventure flows. Sonic must navigate his way through a series of hidden tunnels and roller coaster loops, make seemingly impossible leaps and take out the numerous Badniks deployed by Dr Eggman, all in the blink of an eye.
There is a change of pace courtesy of the special sections that are accessed at the end of each main level (or Acts). If you manage to complete an Act with at least 50 gold rings, you'll be able to attempt a Special Stage. These take the form of mazes which you guide Sonic through, collecting rings to open gates to reach the all-important Chaos Emeralds. You can even tilt and turn the wireless controller to steer Sonic through these stages.
Challenging level design is backed up by Dr Eggman's Badniks, robotic creatures designed to slow Sonic's progress. These are based on the mechanical critters found in the very first Sonic games. Motobug, for instance, first used his metal claws in anger in the original Sonic The Hedgehog, while the locust-like Slicer, from Sonic The Hedgehog 2, returns to fire its own limbs at Sonic. One of the trickiest is Newtron, a robotic chameleon that blends into a level to surprise Sonic with a well timed rocket barrage.
It all makes for breathless action, in which timing, speed and reflexes are the keys to survival. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 4 Episode 1 is available to download from the PlayStation Store right now, so pin back your ears and get ready for one of the fastest adventures on PlayStation 3.