Speaking of power-ups, there are a bunch available but they are not must-haves in order to get past the level. You can grab a ten-ring box, or an extra life, and those always help. The green shield lets you take one source of damage without dumping your rings, and the speed boost definitely helps when you need to outrun something like the impending doom mentioned above. In general, I liked that the power-ups were extra benefits and it wasn't necessary to figure out how to collect them all in order to get through the level.
The boss battles could have gotten a little more love. First off, I have no idea what Dr. Eggman (called by his Japanese name instead of the Americanized Dr. Robotnik from the early games) is doing. The story of most platformers isn't really the focus but I don't really know what nefarious scheme I'm trying to thwart. The battles themselves weren't crazy hard or inventive. You jump on him a few times and he's toast. That's it. The only deviation is after the Mad Gear Zone, where the boss battle is a chase scene with Dr. Eggman throwing random things to stop you from, you guessed it, jumping on him. The final showdown in the E.G.G. Space Station is one long extended boss battle, but it just rehashes all of the previous battles before you fight a giant robot. Fighting the robot takes a bit of trial and error to find the right strategy, but it wasn't satisfying enough to offset the easy retreads of the other boss battles.
Purists and difficulty snobs might have problems with the ease of Sonic 4. If you have a modicum of videogame skill, it won't be very hard for you to get past the levels and defeat Dr. Eggman. But the game does reward you for skillful replays and supports an online leaderboard where you can compare your best scores with gamers the world over, or, more importantly, your friends list. Each level, you can also unlock secret stages if you get to the end with over 50 rings. These little mini-levels were clearly designed for the accelerometer of the iPhone but they offer a small reward of some different gameplay if you are Sonically skilled.
Bottom Line: Sonic 4 is a throwback to the old school days when well-made platformers were the best-selling and best-designed genre in games. It works now though because of its simple design, even though the boss battles were a bit unimaginative.
Recommendation: The simple mechanics and controls warrant the downloadable price tag. Buy it if you want to go back in time for a few hours.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Developer: Dimps/Sonic Team
Release Date: October 17th, 2010
Platform: PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare, iOS
Available from: Xbox Live, iOS
Dr. Eggman just sounds like a psychedelic Beatles song.