Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ4, Sonikku Za Hejjihoggu 4) is a 2010 episodic platform video game in development as part of the Sonic the Hedgehog series for the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare, and iOS. The game was first announced September 9, 2009 under the name Project Needlemouse, and its official name was revealed on February 4, 2010. The game is being developed by Dimps alongside members of Sonic Team and is intended to be a return to the roots of the Sonic series. As such, Sonic 4 is a 2D side-scroller using sprites that are pre-rendered from 3D character models; Sonic the Hedgehog is the only playable character in Episode 1.
The game will be playable in up to 1080p high definition on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and will feature support for motion controls on the PlayStation 3 and Wii. On May 20th, 2010, Sega announced that Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was delayed to late 2010 in order to spend additional development time on tuning and balancing the game.
The game is a 2D side-scrolling platformer reminiscent of the original Sonic games. Players will control Sonic the Hedgehog, using mechanics such as the original spin dash and power-ups including Speed Shoes, alongside the homing attack, seen in 3D Sonic games. Players will be able to use online leaderboards to compare level completion times and high scores. Special Stages based on those of the original Sonic the Hedgehog require the player to tilt the playing field in order to affect gravity. These sections can be optionally played with motion controls on the Wii and Playstation 3 versions of the game.
The iOS version of the game can be controlled with either the acceloremeters, or a virtual d-pad. There will also be two additional levels that make use of the device's accelerometers.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is set shortly after its predecessor Sonic & Knuckles; in the game, the main protagonist Sonic destroys Doctor Ivo Robotnik's space station, the Death Egg. With the Death Egg destroyed and Angel Island returned to the sky, Sonic decides it's time to take a break. After parting with Tails and Knuckles, he sets off to explore new territories alone; however, unbeknownst to him, his nemesis Dr. Robotnik has survived their last encounter, and has revisited and improved some of his "very best" robotic creations in another attempt to defeat Sonic.
The game's existence was first revealed at GameSpot on September 8, 2009, under the code name Project Needlemouse. The site published a brief teaser trailer, and an interview with Sega's Ken Ballough who acknowledged that "old-school Sonic fans have long asked to see Sonic return to a more 2D style of gameplay" and stated that "Needlemouse is that critical first step that brings Sonic back to his 2D roots". The codename is derived from the name of Mr. Needlemouse, an early prototype of Sonic the Hedgehog pitched to Sega by his designer Naoto Ōshima.
Character Countdown ChallengeEdit
On January 11, 2010, Sega of America began a "character countdown" on their blog. The countdown comprised an image of the silhouetted logo from the teaser video, superimposed with a list of Sonic universe characters that may have been playable in the game, and the proviso that "not all of them are going to make the cut". On each of the next four days, readers were invited to answer three trivia questions; provided enough replies with correct answers to each were achieved, an updated image with certain characters ruled out would be posted each day, until Friday when only those to be playable would remain. It was also stated that should enough posts above this threshold be achieved on at least three days, readers would receive a bonus in the form of information about the game.
On each subsequent day, Sega updated the blog with a new image, in which two more names were stamped as "rejected". First to be excluded were Charmy and Chip, followed by Tikal and Vector, and then Shade and Amy Rose. In Friday's final update, Shadow, Big the Cat, Froggy and "Sonic's new friend Mr. Needlemouse" were rejected, leaving only Sonic's name visible and thus revealing that he would be the only playable character as speculated. The bonus was revealed as concept art of Shellcracker, a badnik that previously appeared in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and would be returning. Also in the same blog post, Sega acknowledged fans' concerns about superfluous characters and the departure from the gameplay of earlier Sonic games: " Today, we are about to break the trend that has continued on for many years. To the thousands of you out there asking for a game where Sonic is the only playable character – rejoice. As of today, your wish has been granted. In Project Needlemouse, there will be no new characters – playable or otherwise. The focus will remain solely on one blue hedgehog. "
Concept Art ChallengeEdit
On January 27, 2010, Sega updated its blog with a second (and final) challenge, and another piece of concept art (Motobug, the first badnik encountered in Sonic 1). The challenge was in response to a fan-made illustration of another badnik from Sonic 2 (designed to resemble the official art), which apparently staff liked a lot. To this end, Sega stated that they wished to see more: the new challenge was for fans to submit over 100 pieces of their own art of classic badniks (from Sonic 1-3 and Knuckles, and any other game from that era) to Sega by the following Monday, to show them which enemies they wished to feature in Project Needlemouse. Sega stated that if this number was met, the following week they would reveal the game's real name, concept art from the first zone, and "a very cool extra bonus". The blog provided advice on methods of creating illustrations and how to submit them, and stated that the best submissions received would be published. Sega stated that this was the final community challenge, and one of the last times that the game's codename would be used. Finally, Sega left some parting words: " Speed is something that is not given; but rather earned through dedication. Speed is not found by simply pushing a boost button, but by building momentum. It is the reward for skill in the face of difficult challenges – this kind of speed is the most exhilarating, not only because it is fast, but because of the pure perfection such speed exemplifies. This is the truth of the original Sonic games – and this is the truth of Project Needlemouse. " In a subsequent blog Sega stated that over 350 pieces of artwork had been submitted within 48 hours, and in recognition of this achievement the following week would be "the Week of the Hedgehog" (beginning on February 2, "Hedgehog Day"): featuring further information and art, a merchandise giveaway, and a reveal of the game's actual name later in the week. As a footnote and to address some commentators' concerns, Sega stressed that despite featuring old badniks, Needlemouse would be an "all-new adventure" and not an HD remake of Sonic 1.
Hedgehog Day Week, Title Reveal, and WebsiteEdit
On February 2, as well as showcasing some more concept art, they updated the front page of Sega of America's website with a short flash animation which featured a sample of music from the game, reminiscent of old Genesis/Mega Drive sounds. The game's proper title was revealed on February 4, 2010, as Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, along with debut footage. The footage was criticized for Sonic's seemingly slow running animation, but it has since been clarified that there will be faster animation similar to that in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic CD.
An official website was also launched, featuring time-unlocked content indicated by countdowns obscuring certain menu items. Items revealed to date include story details, character information and concept art. All badniks revealed so far are variations of enemies from previous games, e.g. Newtron from Sonic 1, Buzzer from Sonic 2 and Bubbles from Sonic 3; according to the site, Robotnik is revisiting "the best of his creations", albeit with some "budget cuts". Likewise, boss battles with Robotnik resemble earlier encounters from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, albeit with the Doctor incorporating new strategies after suffering a few hits.
In an interview with Nintendo Power, project leader Takashi Izuka stated that the classic Genesis-era Sonic design would not reappear, despite some fans' requests: With so many other retro elements included, why not bring back Sonic's original pot-bellied character design? That's because Sonic 4 is a brand new title and not a remake. As you may know, all Sonic character designs were changed in 1998, so since then, all new titles have those new designs. In an interview with Game Informer, Izuka hinted that Tails and Knuckles might appear and be playable in Episode 2, as Izuka said that "fans would be very pleased with the cast in Episode 2". He also revealed of a new ability Sonic can use that is "yet unknown," and that the homing attack can be used to find "fun routes in the air." Izuka also replied you need to collect the Chaos Emeralds to get the "true ending" of the game.
Throughout late March and April, Sega put a hiatus on revealing new information about the game on the website. However, on May RubyEclipse announced that they would be revealing new information on May 20th, and they said that the new information would explain why there had been a hiatus on information revealment. Until then, RubyEclipse left a final comment: "Let the speculation begin."
On May 20th, 2010, Sega announced that Sonic 4 would be available for the App Store for the iOS (previously named iPhone OS), and that the game will be delayed to late 2010, to extend development time, as stated below: SEGA is incredibly happy at the overwhelmingly positive response to Sonic The Hedgehog™ 4 Episode I from both press and fans around the world. SEGA wants to ensure that we’re delivering the best Sonic experience possible. With this dedication to quality and the Sonic experience in mind, SEGA has decided to extend the development of the game and will now release Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I in the latter half of 2010. The additional time will allow the Development Team to focus on keeping the game high-quality, continuing tuning and balancing of levels and interface and overall maintaining the kind of polish that an important game like this demands, ultimately providing fans with an unrivalled classic Sonic feel. SEGA is also pleased to confirm that Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I will be coming to the iPhone and iPod Touch via Apple’s iTunes App Store. Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I is developed specifically for the download market and will be available via Microsoft XBLA, Sony PSN, Nintendo WiiWare and the iTunes App Store in late 2010. The iOS version of the game will feature exclusive levels, including motion-sensitive sections that were originally in the console versions of the game, but were reportedly removed due to negative feedback.
Not long after Sonic 4 Episode 1 was officially announced, rumors surfaced that the game was available to members of the Xbox 360's online game-testing service for developers, PartnerNet. On April 3rd, PartnerNet was shut down overnight due to the leaks. The service returned online the next morning.
The game is being developed primarily by Dimps, with some members of Sonic Team. The project leader is the current head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, who has worked on various Sonic games - notably as senior level designer for Sonic 3 & Knuckles, to which Sonic 4 is billed as a direct sequel. Music and sound are composed by Jun Senoue, also a mainstay of recent Sonic games, and are intended to be reminiscent of classic Genesis titles, via the use of drum samples from Sonic 1 and 2 and relatively lo-fi synth samples.
The decision to create the game using a 2.5D graphical style was made after considering old Sonic fans' possible reactions to the game versus those of younger players:
|“||This is sort of recognition that Sonic is a brand that has a wide variety of fans in a wide variety of age groups. We have a fan base that's very young, and they want a little more of a Loony Tunes-ish [sic] kind of gameplay ... But we also have an older fan base who liked Sonic as he was in the Genesis days. And if we want to keep that fan base happy, we should provide games that cater to them as well. So it's more of a splitting a little bit of the brand.||”|
—Ken Ballough of Sega
|“||A friend of mine who's a prominent executive at a major hardware company sat down with his kids to play Mega Man 9, as a Mega Man fan. He's probably about, say, 45 years old, and his kids just didn't get it – they didn't understand. They just looked at the graphics and instantly tuned out. Whereas he was just overjoyed and in little nerd heaven.||”|
—Christian Svensson of Capcom on Sonic 4
The announcement of the delay made in May 2010 was also accompanied by an interview with Sega's Ken Ballough, in which it was explained that Sega had taken note of fan reaction to the game and were incorporating said feedback into the development of the game. Areas specifically mentioned from fan feedback were a reworking of the "floaty" nature of the gravity and physics, and a redesign of some level design and elements in order to accommodate more of a momentum-driven gameplay that was a staple of earlier entries in the series; Sega also remarked that the new trailer released at the time does not incorporate any of the planned changes. Some of the changes were present at the game's appearance at E3 2010, with more to be made in the future.