I’ve been waiting to get my greedy mitts on Sonic 4 ever since it was announced. I was a huge fan of the Genesis-era titles, and the series’ return to glory is what I’ve been waiting for since the mid 1990’s. I finally got a chance to play it at Sega’s E3 booth, and the game is shaping up to be a fun homage to the classic titles.

Splash Hill Zone is the first zone of Sonic 4. We’ve already seen tons of screenshots (check out the media gallery below) from this Green Hill Zone-esque, but seeing it in motion I can say it looks gorgeous. Every tree, power-up box, and badnik looks beautiful in vibrant high definition. Sonic’s character model is slick, bright, and well animated. If you loved Sonic during his glory days, this game will immediately reel you in by presentation alone.

As soon as I picked up the controller my innate Sonic skills kicked in. Sonic 4 plays more like a classic Genesis game than any console Sonic title in the past 10 years. However, it’s not quite there yet. Developer Dimps is attempting to capture the old school feel without falling into the pitfalls that come with the dated physics. The new homing attack move fits into the Sonic formula wonderfully, allowing players to attack in mid-air at will. Hopping from enemy to enemy without leaving the air is a blast. Sonic 4 is also much more forgiving, allowing the hedgehog to trek up steeper terrain without always needing to spin dash.  Building momentum feels a little less rewarding in this early version, however, as you can no longer let go of the control stick and let Sonic rip. Players must hold the analog stick in the direction they wish to move in order to maintain speed. Sonic 4 is fun, familiar, and easy to play, but the controls still require tweaking.

Each zone is split into four acts. Each level feels pretty brief and breezy, a similarity to the intro stage of the classic Sonic titles. Each stage is well crafted, perfectly integrating fun platforming contraptions like swinging vines, springs, rip cords, and loop the loops. Players can still collect 50 rings and activate Chaos Emerald bonus stages, but the mode was deactivated in the version I played. Speaking of rings, when Sonic is hit it appears that every scattered ring is fully represented. Better yet, you can replay stages to get all the Chaos Emeralds to unlock Episode 1’s cliffhanger ending.

No doubt the ending will involve fighting Dr. Robotnik in some form, who returns as Sonic’s nemesis. Robotnik has taken a break from conquering the world in Sonic 4, instead turning his malicious energy on destroying Sonic once and for all. Splash Hill Zone’s encounter with Robotnik pays tribute to his classic wrecking-ball boss form. After dealing some damage he got pissed off and started slamming the ball aggressively, ramping up the challenge of the predictable battle. I can’t wait to see what the other stages and boss battles are like, especially considering a Casino stage has been confirmed.

At this point in development Sonic 4 is a very entertaining game. If the version I played was the final product I’d be happy. The fact that Dimps is taking every precaution to appease fans is testament to how seriously they’re taking this rebirth of the series. I can’t wait to see how the end product turns out when it releases later this year.