Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer developed by Dimps (in conjunction with Sonic Team) and published digitally by Sega for the the Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade), PlayStation 3 (via PlayStation Network), Wii (via WiiWare), and iOS devices on October 7-13, 2010. It was later released for Windows Phone 7 devices on January 19, 2012, the PC (via Steam) on January 19, 2012, Android devices on January 25, 2012, and the Ouya on July 3, 2013.
Designed to be a numerical sequel to the original 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Genesis, this installment brings the series back to its 2D roots (outside of the handheld iterations), as players control the titular blue hedgehog through four zones to foil the plans of Dr. Eggman yet again. Although the game features a limited amount of features and power-ups, the game makes heavy use of the "Homing Attack" system from the series's 3D offerings (for both attack chains and instant horizontal momentum). Additionally, the game features Special Stages based on those from the original 1991 game, with motion controls for the Wii and PS3 versions. Motion controls are optional in the PS3 version.
The game uses pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and a soundtrack (composed by Jun Senoue) that utilize instruments from the Sega Genesis hardware. Intended to be an episodic mini-series, this game would only receive one additional "episode". The concept of a 2.5D Sonic game would also be revisited in Sonic Generations.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I comes with 4 zones: Splash Hill, Lost Labyrinth, Casino Street and Mad Gear. Each zone has three acts plus a boss encounter.
Two acts are replaced with alternate version exclusive to the iPhone. They use the iPhone's tilting controls to control Sonic (see the "Leaks" section for more information on these acts).
Using the working title of Project Needlemouse, the game was unveiled on the 10th Anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast. The teaser trailer was made by Integrated Alchemy Media, who also worked on demo reels for Hudson, Ubisoft, and Sony products. Sega came to them to create a trailer that will "get Sonic fanboys excited over the game". The trailer was made in one week with no information on the game, rather than "it will bring Sonic back to it's roots." The trailer had 100,000 views in the first 48 hours.
As a bit of an in-joke to Sonic fans, Sega put up a listing of various characters within the series in early 2010 as possible playable characters. The list was set up in conjecture with a trivia contest, which promised to cross off names of non playable characters in the game as the community correctly answered trivia questions related to the franchise. By the end of the week all of the names except for Sonic were crossed off confirming that Sonic was to be the only playable character in the game.
The final title of the game, as well as a short trailer and an interview were released February 4th, 2010 on Gamespot.com. After then, official information on the game was to be sporadically released via Sega's official sites. However, a series of disastrous leaks forced Sega to change their plans. (See the "Leaks" section for more information.)
It's name given during development, Project Needlemouse, refers to the in-house working title for the first Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis(Megadrive) while in development. Although they wanted to feel like an original 2D Sonic game, the developers are planning to add a greater emphasis on speed.
I think one aspect to keep in mind is this game is truly a labor of love. A lot of us grew up on the Sega Genesis console; in fact, I remember vividly the first day I got mine with Revenge of Shinobi and Moonwalker. Ever since Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 has been a game classic Sega fans have always wanted to see. It was the right people, at the right time, getting together and finally making this game we've all wanted to see.
- Ken Balough, on why the game was named Sonic the Hedgehog 4.
The idea for episodic format came from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles.
When Sega released Sonic 3, ultimately it was the part 1 of a story that saw its conclusion in Sonic & Knuckles. In that same spirit, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a bigger story, and this is that first chapter.
-Ken Balough, on the game's episodic format.
Alton Towers, a UK theme park, will be renaming one of the roller coasters as "Sonic Spinball" to coincide with the game. The park said the "retheme" will be featuring Sonic's new "relaunch" design.
Sonic 4 was the victim of numerous leaks following the game's announcement. Leaks are nothing new for the franchise, as over the years, many websites have been dedicated to finding and highlighting uncovered footage, engine tests and beta code for various classic, contemporary and cancelled Sonic titles; in fact, the game's title, including the Episode I subtitle, had been rumored for weeks before Sega officially announced Project Needlemouse as Sonic 4. However, the leaks that occurred following the game's February 4 reveal were both numerous and unprecedented for a digital release such as this.
On February 16, 2010, 1UP.com received several screens and footage from an alpha build of the game from an anonymous tipster. This footage, filmed off a television playing the Xbox 360 version of the game, revealed the layout of the game, showing a level select screen with the four Zones (plus an option to play the Special Stages) and a subsequent Act select screen once a zone is selected, revealing that there would be four levels per Zone (three Acts plus a boss fight).
The footage then showed the first thirty or so seconds of Splash Hill Zone, Act 1. Though many suspected the footage of being fake, its validity would be confirmed when Sega asked 1UP to remove the screens and video later that day.
From late February to early March, various small leaks about the game's content were brought to light, including screens of the game's first boss (Dr. Eggman wielding the wrecking ball a la the first boss encounter in Sonic the Hedgehog) and a list of the game's achievements, revealing that the player could freely transform into Super Sonic once all the Chaos Emeralds were collected as in Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. However, some hoax leaks, such as the screen shown to the left, came out at this time as well, bringing the truth of these leaks into question.
Unfortunately for Sega, the floodgates opened on March 28 when Sonic 4's entire soundtrack was leaked in the Sonic 4 thread on Sonic fansite and fangame community Sonic Retro by a poster using the pseudonym "infinity." This leak provided two interesting facts for those following the game: that each zone would have its own unique musical track, similarly to how Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles presented a new version of the music from the first Act of a Zone in Act 2; and that the speculations on the content of the game since the February 16 leak--that the game would only consist of the four Zones shown and that the Special Stages were a redux of Sonic the Hedgehog's Special Stages--were true. Two days later, infinity leaked a play-through of the entirety of "Splash Hill Zone, Act 1." The next day, infinity released videos of the rest of the Zone. The rest of the game would follow shortly thereafter.
The footage leaked by infinity was from a later, possibly near-final build of the game that contained various changes from the footage leaked on February 16. These changes include slight alterations to the jumping physics from the first footage, an altered Level Select screen that added "Final Zone" and removed the ability to play any Special Stage, and the addition of a targeting reticule for the homing attack. infinity's leaked footage, like the February 16 footage, was taken from the Xbox 360 build of the game, though infinity's footage was filmed from a Standard Definition display while the February 16 footage was widescreen. Both leaks were the result of users pulling the entire game from PartnerNet, Microsoft's press- and developer-exclusive Xbox Live network for beta-testing downloadable content and Arcade games. PartnerNet is typically only available to those with Xbox 360 debug kits, meaning that the leaks either came from a press or developer partner, or (more likely) a user with a modded 360 who hacked their way past PartnerNet's security checks.
These gradual leaks continued until the last leaked footage - the final boss, the end credits and the reveal for Episode II that one is shown if they beat the game with all the Chaos Emeralds - was posted on April 3. With that last post, footage from every Act and one of the Special Stages had been posted for all the internet to see; most of the entire game had been shown months before it was even to be released.
This disastrous leak did not go unnoticed. Shortly after the final footage had been released, Sonic Retro put forth an ultimatum, threatening to permanently ban anyone discussing Sonic 4 on the forum in any capacity. Additionally, PartnerNet was briefly shut down from the night of April 3 to the morning of April 4. This led to speculation that Sega had threatened Sonic Retro, who had previously allowed the footage to be posted and even advertised the leaks on their main page, with legal action if they did nothing to silence the leaks, and that Microsoft had begun an investigation into discovering the leaker's identity. Sonic Retro officially commented on the matter on April 5 and made it clear that Sega had not contacted them about the leaks and that the extreme action taken was their idea alone. In a post on the home page of the site, site administrator Scared Sun commented:
Because the leaks we had experienced prior to this week fell under things we felt were non-damaging and potentially helpful (early video, text of achievements, pictures, music), we took no direct action. Nearly all of these leaks also originated at Sonic Retro and this was something we did not have a problem with, as we did speak to each person who leaked these assets privately. However, throughout this past week, one of our members decided to continue leaking videos to a point where essentially the entire game was shown, and we felt that crossed a line that we could no longer morally support and pulled discussion entirely.
-Scared Sun, site administrator of Sonic Retro.
Since this ultimatum, Sonic Retro has allowed discussion of Sonic 4 to recommence. An explanation as to why PartnerNET was taken offline the night of April 3 has never been given.
In the month-and-a-half following the infinity leaks, various livestreams of the entire game and higher quality footage leaks occurred, though nothing of any significance came out of those leaks and livestreams except for confirmation that infinity was not pulling an elaborate hoax.
Images and unlock conditions of the 360 version's two Avatar Awards - a Sonic costume split into a head and body portion - were leaked by Xbox Resource on April 4, 2010. See the "Avatar Awards" section below for more information.
On May 20, 2010, Sega finally responded to the Sonic 4 leaks (in addition to officially announcing the iOS version of the game), announcing that they would be delaying the release of Sonic 4. Instead of the promised summer release, the game would be released in the fall in order to give the development team time to fix elements of the game based on the "fan feedback" provided from the leaked footage. Sega outlined two areas in which the game will receive substantial changes:
- The game's physics would be further altered to bring them more in line with the physics of Sonics 1-3K and CD (see the "Differences Between Versions" section for more information).
- Two levels would be replaced. The leaked PartnerNET build contained two "gimmick acts" with radically different gameplay: "Casino Street Zone: Act 2," in which Sonic is placed in a small pinball area and the player must score 100,000 points to finish the level, and "Lost Labyrinth Zone: Act 2"--the infamous mine cart level in which the player moves Sonic's mine cart by "tilting" the world and occasionally making him jump. These two acts--"Lost Labyrinth Zone: Act 2," especially--were ravaged by fans and became cornerstone arguments in "the case against Sonic 4." These two acts would become exclusive to the iPhone version (and subsequent Android and Windows Phone 7 ports, which were based on the iOS release) of the game.
Sonic 4's Japanese website was updated on August 18, 2010, with a new batch of screenshots highlighting Lost Labyrinth Zone. Of these screens, three showed a level in which Sonic must carry a torch to light his way through a dark level and light dynamite. In the two months that followed, Sega "rerevealed" the game, issuing new trailers and screenshots for each of the game's four zones. Like Lost Labyrinth Zone before it, the information drop for Casino Street Zone showed a new level (this one involving Sonic running on a bridge of playing cards) that fans following the leaks would later discover was, in fact, the console versions' replacement for the score challenge stage that was originally Casino Street Zone's second act.
The game was finally released on October 7, 2010, launching first on the iTunes App Store. Console versions were released the following week, becoming downloadable on WiiWare, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade on October 11, 12, and 13 respectively. The Android version dropped the next month, releasing on November 8. Windows Phone 7 and PC versions followed much later, releasing on June 15, 2011 and January 19, 2012 respectively. No other leaks occurred between Sega's official response and the final game's release.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I was a sales success, selling over a million copies across all platforms within its first nine months of release. However, the negative fan reaction throughout the development sent Sonic Team and Dimps back to the drawing board. Episode II would ultimately be released eighteen months later with a redesigned graphics engine and co-op play. A third episode was planned, but ultimately cancelled.
Differences Between Versions
As previously mentioned, the mobile versions of Sonic 4 contain the two "gimmick acts" from the leaks that caused massive outcry: "Casino Street Zone: Act 2" and "Lost Labyrinth Zone: Act 2." Neither of these acts are found in the console versions of Sonic 4, while the replacement acts found in those two versions are not in any of the mobile versions released. The mobile versions also contain visual flourishes not found in the console/PC versions, such as causing the camera to "follow" Sonic as he goes through loops.
Earlier versions of the mobile release featured a level select screen identical to the one from the February 16 and infinity leaks, rather than the world map found in the console and PC released. Furthermore, while all versions of the game use pre-rendered sprites for background and foreground elements, the mobile versions, strangely, used fully-rendered (albeit low-resolution) polygonal models for Sonic, Eggman and enemy badniks instead of the pre-rendered sprites used by the console releases. Some have speculated that this proved that the initial iOS release was the beta version that would have originally been released had the game not been delayed on account of the leaks. However, perhaps due in part to the difficulty of comparing physics in a game controlled with a controller to one controlled with virtual buttons on a touchscreen, this has never been proved.
As of 2016, Sega has updated the mobile versions to be more in line with the console and PC releases, such as replacing the stage select screen with the world map; updating the graphics to feature the higher-resolution character models; and increasing the game's display to a "widescreen" 16:9 resolution from the initial release's 4:3 "standard definition" resolution. Though the initial release of the mobile versions is no longer available to the public, the stark differences can still be seen in comparing video captured from the game's 2010 release with video captured from the 2016 update.
The four console releases and PC version are identical with a few exceptions: the PlayStation 3 and WiiWare releases feature optional motion control for special stages using SIXAXIS and the Wii Remote's tilt control respectively. The WiiWare version, as standard for all Wii games, has a maximum output resolution of 480p while the other three versions can output up to 1080p.
Like many games, the Xbox 360 version has two exclusive unlockable award items that players can use to outfit their avatars. They are:
Sonic Costume - Head
- Collect all rings during the ending after the final stage.
- Available in Male and Female variants (though they look the same).
Sonic Costume - Body
- After collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, beat the final boss one more time. (This will not unlock on the first time through, even with all seven emeralds collected!)
- Available in Male and Female variants.