Sonic Stadium Soundtrack Squad Review: Sonic 4: Episode 1 OST

Sonic Stadium Soundtrack Squad Review: Sonic 4: Episode 1 OST

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Epsiode 1 OST Review

by JezMM

With veteran Sonic composer Jun Senoue taking the musical helm for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, many interviews inquired into how the inspiration from Masato Nakamura’s works from the original games would be shaping Sonic 4’s soundtrack; fans of the classic era began looking forward to future, and the music that would inevitably accompany the title.

Generally speaking, almost every track uses a blend of old 16-bit style samples and synthesised instruments as appropriate, such as the jazzy horns of Casino Street or atmospheric pipes of Lost Labyrinth. This works well and is very appropriate, reflecting the way the game also uses a mix of old and new visually. In a rather different move for a 2D Sonic game, each act has its own melody, rather than traditionally remixing the zone’s theme. However each melody generally keeps in style which the rest of the zone with regards to instrumentation, with vague hints of melody shared between acts. Likewise, each act has its own unique and memorable gimmick, so unique and memorable melodies for each one is a great idea.

However, while there are a fair few ear worms (Splash Hill Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 1 are sure to stick with you) I found a few songs quickly forgettable, or just simply too repetitive, especially considering almost every act is between 3-6 minutes long. Repetitive music certainly reminds one of the old days, but I felt there are still certain standards to adhere to considering this is a modern game being released in a modern market.

Of particular offense was the downright dreadful Final Boss theme. In light of the episodic nature of Sonic 4, a ridiculously epic boss theme would have been inappropriate (well, not that it was a problem for Sonic 3), but frankly Episode One ’s grand finale is just boring sound-wise. The boss is long and difficult, requiring many, many re-attempts – a 20 second loop just simply does not cut it for these circumstances. This might have been forgiven had there been a more dramatic “pinch” version for when Eggman goes nuts half way through (as with the other bosses), but not even that happens. A crying shame as a great, memorable piece of music would have been just what this boss needed to smooth the frustration threshold after frequent failure.

The soundtrack feels like Jun tried too hard to capture the original soundtracks – including what little was wrong with them. Additionally, while several of his melodies have that classic almost melancholic Sonic 1 aura to them, several don’t quite pull it off for me. For example, Lost Labyrinth Act 1 and Act 3 really pull it off in a way that slightly reminds me of Marble from the original game. Meanwhile, I can clearly hear the Special Stage theme trying to emulate the Sonic 1 version’s melodic style, but it fails to grasp quite the same magical something the original had. I also feel that the classic Sonic 1/Sonic 2 tappity-tap percussion severely limited the potential “oomph” factor any track could have possibly had. Using some more modern beats – at least in a few songs – wouldn’t have gone amiss.

In my opinion, Jun’s style was hampered by his attempts at mimicry. When I think of other tracks of his, in particular Azure Blue World from Sonic Adventure, I think it’s very possible for him to come up with an enthralling melody that wouldn’t sound out of place in a classic Sonic game, yet using modern instruments for that extra edge. I’m hoping the reliance on classic elements was purely in celebration of Sonic’s roots, just as the game’s graphics and level genres were, and that we’ll have a much more exciting soundtrack for the next episode. In summary, Sonic 4’s soundtrack does its job. It is a good soundtrack. But being appropriate is the bare minimum a soundtrack should do, and to me that is all Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s soundtrack is – good and appropriate – when it could have been so much more. [6]

Thumbs Up: Perfectly fitting to the content of the game and theme of each zone.
Thumbs Down: Plays it a bit too safe, making for a wholly unsurprising aural experience.
Favourite Track: Splash Hill Act 3

Though it originates from a wholly god-awful source, (the game from which the soundtrack comes is, quite frankly, an absolute travesty) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s fantastic BGM is a monstrously marvellous electro masterwork, with fiery synth, rockin’ retro beats and a shining and prominent influence from the styles and moods of the tunes of the classic titles – it truly is a glorious flashback to the halcyon days of chippy-trippy MegaDrive music, and is an absolute godsend to anyone who’s been hankering after a taste of a fresh, modern, Sonic-style take on the genre since the series changed its musical fashions so dramatically when guitars took over the audio side of things in Sonic Adventure.

With blindingly awesome tracks such as Splash Hill Zone Act 3 (which truly is the alpha of the pack, sporting supremely catchy chord sequences and a massively memorable melody) and Mad Gear Zone Act 1, (a far jumpier, more dance-orientated affair, which contains more saw-wave licks and syncopations than you can shake a glow-stick at) the Sonic 4 OST is most definitely an album to be remembered and revered as one of the true greats that the Sonic series has managed to produce, and despite a couple of minor niggles, (the instruments aren‘t exactly what I‘d call “authentic“ in terms of their ability to re-create a realistic retro sound, and, right from the off, it’s crystal clear that the track entitled “Boss 1“ was booted from the final cut of the Sonic 3D Soundtrack for a very, very good reason) is the epitome of excellence in modern electronic video game music – it’s by no means perfect, but extremely good and wonderfully well-formed nonetheless. [8]

The stand-out quality of the Sonic 4 soundtrack is that they do a bang-up job of being reminiscent of the older classic tunes. The majority of the compositions are instantly synonymous with Sonic, and while not exactly replicating the Megadrive soundcard, there is a definite fresh, regenerated feel and pace. I’m particularly glad to see Senoue has borrowed from the later Megadrive titles to revive the evolution of each stage’s sound from one to the next.

While I disagree with any consensus that the classic kick-drum and snare is used too much (they were used in the original as frequently), they don’t seem to have been used with much originality ; for example, the Casino Street percussion is extremely similar to that of Casino Night from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having said this, I would love to see the Sonic 3 drum set utilised in future titles…but that’s personal preference! Mad Gear’s vibe lands itself perfectly at a transition point between classic titles and the post-Sonic Adventure style, a format I think sound be maintained for Episode 2. [8]

Thumbs Up: A vibrant new sound to compliment the new title.
Thumbs Down: You’d be forgiven to think you’d heard some tracks before.
Favourite Tracks: Lost Labyrinth Act 2 & Mad Gear Act 1.

When he isn’t busy being chased by flocks of beautiful woman, Jun Senoue composes music for SEGA. His latest soundtrack for Sonic 4 doesn’t disappoint, immersing you into sonic’s new 2.5D environment. I’ll start off by being completely honest. I LOVE the title theme to Sonic 4. It’s short, catchy and whenever I hit an invincibility box I hum along to it.

One of the things I love most about the soundtrack is that the music for each of the four zones is very different, but the acts all have a similar buzz to them. The Casino Street stages all have a little Casino Night charm in them but are distinctively different from the more Metropolis sounding Mad Gear acts. The album isn’t without its faults however, with the drum set being a constant annoyance. As much as I liked the throwback to the genesis/megadrive sound font, it quickly begins to stick out like a sore thumb and can really get on your nerves. The E.G.G. Station track is also disappointingly short and can begin to irritate your ears as it loops 5-6 times every time you play the level.
Getting the limited low points out of the way, it’s difficult to pick out a favourite track in Sonic 4 because the rest all have their own charm. I absolutely love the flute in Boss Fight and it helps give it an almost “Banjo Kazooie” feel. I am also a huge fan of Splash Hill Act 1. It’s such a catchy tune, and I think it is well worthy of being the next “First Stage” tune alongside the other classics like Emerald Hill and Angel Island. On a side note, be sure to check out the range of Sonic 4 Remixes sprouting up all over the place. Overall, the music is really appropriate for the game, and I hope Jun can hold back his huge female fan base long enough to produce some Episode 2 magic. [8]

Thumbs Up: Each acts music is noticeably specific to that zone and complement each other really well.
Thumbs Down: Drums can drain the brain, Egg Station really isn’t long enough
Favourite Tracks: Title Music & Boss Fight

A formidable collection of catchy beats that capture concepts of the older titles and blend them with the new.  Although there are many examples of memorable tunes, some fans will grow tired of the recycled drums and the shorter looped tracks.

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Published by

Adam Tuff

With a decade under his belt, Adam is one of The Sonic Stadium's most seasoned writers, with interests in the music and merchandise of the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. Adam is the co-organiser for the Summer of Sonic convention.


  1. Splash Hill Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 1 are the jam. Everything else: Buh.

    I don’t know why you’d bring back “Robotnik’s Big Gay Circus” as a boss theme when it was cut from 3D Blast. It was cut for a reason.

  2. I thought the soundtrack was surprisingly ‘meh’ for this game. Not bad like Sonic Chronicles, just not too memorable.

    They should’ve just gotten Masato Nakamura, but that’ll never happen.

    The only song in this game that I thought stood up to the classics was Lost Labyrinth Act 1. That track rocks.

  3. Soundtrack was pretty decent. Casino Street Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 3 were pretty forgettable tunes. Mad Gear and Splash Hill had the most ‘Sonic style’ music of them all. The music could’ve been better if the music didn’t loop so often, especially during the final boss. [8.5]

  4. Even though it was the more stranger track in the game, I actually like Roboniks theme at the starting of the boss levels the most out of the soundtrack.

    It just seems to fit the game in a wierd, yet good way; I dont know if its because its actually a track from the past or not.

    I actually believe that Sega/Jun got the inspiration to use the track from AoSTH since whenever Robotnik appeared on the show, the music in the background was always corny and funny to listen to.

  5. Ugh, I completely disagree! The soundtrack sounds really repetitive, unoriginal and far too synthesised.
    I understand that they wanted to get a classic feel but you can do that without using awful synthesisers or constant repeats. Sonic 3 had a lesser sound range and it sounds way better than this! I think Jun is a really good muscician but I feel he just got bogged down with the idea of making it sound “classic”. That’s not the way to go about it. Think about it with real intruments etc. but then see how you can convert it to 16 bit style.

  6. I thought the soundtrack was pretty decent but it feels somewhat like a poor imitator for the originals then something fresh. Each of the original games managed to shake things up each time while feeling distintly Sonic but Jun seems to have been trying to recreate rather than create.

    There are still some great pieces such as Splash Hill Act 3 and the Mad Gear Zones and the others aren’t bad at all but I feel it could of been better.

    7/10 is my take on.

  7. I actually love the S4 soundtrack, but I have a hard time placing it (like the game itself) alongside its predecessors… my problems range from what’s already been stated about the drums and short length of the tracks… to something that I think is a bit more of an issue. Most of the tracks are simply too simple. There’s little variation to the melody (although giving each act its own theme was a lovely direction to go), and even my favorite tracks feel just a tad… flat. Even moreso when compared to a lot of the tracks from previous games. Whenever I listen to the S4 soundtrack, I always find myself looking up remixes or covers, hoping to get a little more “oomph” out of the tracks. Most of them have quite likable melodies, but the whole soundtrack just feels a little too half-hearted.

    I’m reminded of Geckoyamori’s cover of Splash Hill. Whenever I hear it, I find myself thinking “now THIS what Sonic 4 should have sounded like”. It’s not just the Genesis instrumentation that makes his version so great, it’s the variation complexity and depth he adds to the track.

    The “big gay circus” was another huge mistake. I like the idea of introducing Robotnik with a cheeky theme like that, but every time I started a boss stage, I’d run towards the arena waiting for the fight music to kick in… The fact that there was no musical transition once Robotnik came on screen just made the whole thing feel cheap. In past games, the regular zone music would play until Robotnik showed up, and the music would switch to the boss theme, giving the player the message “IT’S BOSS TIME!”. Sonic 4 doesn’t give you that jolt until midway through the fight, and even then you only get that “pinch” music for a measly two or three hits before the fight is already over. Such a disappointment.

    To be honest, I liked many of the “throwaway” 2P mode songs from Sonic 2 and 3 more than I liked anything on Sonic 4. I agree with the initial review. The S4 soundtrack is passably good, but comparatively sub-par.

  8. I’d still prefer actual instruments.
    The songs themselfes are really good, but it really doesn’t grow on me because of the 16-bit imitation.

  9. Meh, I liked all the music except the boss music and Casino Street’s music was okay but didn’t really stand out to me.

    The instruments could’ve been better but it doesn’t mean the songs were bad. =P

    Though it would’ve been better to just make it actual music rather than trying to make it sound 16-bit. I mean, I get the classics were 16-bit cuz they were unable to make it better, but now the system and even graphics are better. The music can still be the classic-styled music without being 16-bit. I mean, there’s covers and remakes and remixes of the classic music themselves everywhere! XD

    I think the main reason I can’t compare the soundtrack to the originals, though, is because it’s not as upbeat as the originals. Lost Labyrinth did pretty well and so did Mad Gear Zone. But in the classics, none of the level music sounded scary, sad, evil, or too calm nor too excited. It was just upbeat and neutral for the most part.

    In the end, I’d say the Sonic 4 music passes. Could’ve used a more symbolizing title theme like the originals though. lol

  10. I agree some music was not as good as the classics but…
    I actually feel the good portion of the music is actually as good/ almost as good including

    Splash hill act 1-3

    Lost Labyrinth acts 1-3
    “seems like nobodys mentioning act 2 of LL, i personally LOVE this track it feels epic and lost. “in a good way.”

    Casino streets music is close

    I find mad gears tunes the most forgettable, but they are not bad at all.

    I actually love the new boss music taken from 3d blast, i actually like the wii version slightly better because it makes use of the floor toms on the DUN DUN DUN, part….if that made any since. Lol

    I also like the special stage music allot.

    One thing i like about allot of these tracks is they capture than innocent feel the Sonic 1 tracks have while borrowing elements from sonic 2 and 3.

    I think this is a good soundtrack for episode 1 because its Sonics journey back into 2D so a more Sonic 1 type soundtrack is understandable.

    I would also like for Jun to make use of the Sonic 3 and knuckles drum samples for the next game, as Sonic 3 and knuckles has the best music in the series in my opinion.

  11. Sonic 4’s OST was hit-and-miss to me. I adored the title song, Splash Hill Zone and Mad Gear Zone’s music (all three acts) and I think the Boss theme suits Eggman’s character (but fails as a “battle” tune), but Casino Street Zone Acts 2 (console version) and 3, Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 3, Super Sonic’s theme and the rest of the soundtrack suffer from what I like to call “Ad-lib Syndrome”, where the melody sounds as if it was made up as it went along.

    And what the fuck was up with that Final Boss track? A 10 second riff on a loop? Really?

  12. @ChaoticFox

    I totally agree that the boss music is a good theme, but shouldn’t have played at the start of the act. I get that same “cheap” feeling you do. =( The result is your initial reaction to the music is “oh this is music for running along an empty space collecting rings”, so when Eggman appears and it doesn’t change, it’s just kinda… jarring somehow.

  13. I like Lost Labrynth Zone Act 1, Mad Gear Zone Act 1, and Splash Hill Zone Act 3. Everything else is Meh. The Final Boss theme is cool, but the normal Boss theme? Feels like you’re fighting the Gay-In-the-Box from Sonic Advance 3. The “cut” Boss theme from Blast was cut for a reason. It sucked for a Sonic game.

  14. Couple songs seemed good, but then I compare them to almost anything from the Genesis days, and all of a sudden they completely pale in comparison. And no I will not judge the soundtrack on its own, it’s supposed to be like the old soundtracks, and it fails at measuring up.

    My biggest peeve with the whole thing is the drums. It’s like, the same two drum sounds from the old games, used in every single song. No variety. Always ends up sounding the same due to how limited the soundset was. And it was no one’s fault but the composer’s.

    Ugh I wish Sonic 4 was so much more.

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