Sonic has had a fairly rough time as of late. Back in the Genesis days he was the edgy blue mascot that had everyone wagging their fingers and heralding Blast Processing, secure in the fact that Sega did what Nintendon’t. Moving into the third dimension with his Dreamcast debut Sonic Adventure, Sonic’s gameplay changed slightly.
Instead of focusing solely on pure speed and timing, adventure and exploration became the main attractions. Ever since this change, Sonic games have struggled to find balance, identity, and the throng of fans they once commanded. By adding often unnecessary new characters as well as strange new gameplay elements (guns, controlling multiple characters at once) with each iteration, the series has continued to stray further from the successful formula that longtime fans have adored. While Sonic Unleashed doesn’t completely right the Sonic ship, it does make some significant strides in the right direction.
Upon starting the game, players are treated to a downright gorgeous cinema that delivers the somewhat odd storyline of the game. After speeding through intense robotic opposition, Sonic finally corners Dr. Eggman who promises no more foul play. As one who rarely keeps his word, Eggman blasts Sonic and the entire planet with a beam of energy. This beam not only transforms Sonic and the Chaos Emeralds but also cracks the planet into pieces. Of course, it is then up to Sonic to find a way to undo Eggman’s treachery and return everything to normal.
Due to the blast received from Eggman, Sonic now has the ability to change between two different forms. During the day, Sonic is the speedy blue hedgehog that everyone knows and loves. At night, Sonic will transform into a lumbering, stretchy-armed werehog. However, the differences between these two forms aren’t entirely cosmetic, as each has its own separate levels and distinct type of gameplay.
Werehog levels move along at a fairly slow pace; focusing heavily on combat with some platforming, puzzle solving, and exploration thrown in for good measure. While traversing these levels, enemies will frequently pop into existence and start attacking you. Despite the combat’s repetitive nature, there are actually quite a few options when brawling. Aside from just basic attacks, the werehog can perform combos, unleash, grab and hurl enemies, and land critical hits.
You start off the game with a few basic combos, unlocking more elaborate and devastating ones with the experience you gain from defeating enemies. Downing foes will also net you energy that fills an unleash meter. Once this meter is filled, you can unleash the werehog, which basically amounts to making your attacks do more damage for a limited amount of time. Grabbing enemies can also often prove useful, whether just tossing them at other adversaries or using them as a melee weapon. Once you’ve done a significant amount of damage to an enemy you can also try landing a critical hit. This involves a quick time event that will either dispatch your foe when successfully completed or result in them regaining their health if you fail.
While it is clear that the developers tried to make the werehog’s combat fairly diverse, the fact remains that it still isn’t terribly interesting. Pummeling the same few creatures over and over again, no matter which method you use, grows tiresome quickly. These numerous fights can also get fairly annoying as there is no ability to lock onto specific enemies and you’ll often find yourself fighting with the camera for a decent view of the action. It is a real shame that these levels are so combat intensive, since the other elements managed to mostly work well and were fairly reminiscent of playing Sonic Adventure.
Fortunately, when playing as the hedgehog version of Sonic, the gameplay is completely different. While still taking place on what are essentially 3D tracks, these levels recapture the sense of speed and reflex heavy gameplay that have been absent in most of Sonic’s recent releases. Using an appropriate mix of a side view and a camera angle placed behind Sonic, the action remains cinematic, controllable, and frantic at all times. Each level starts off with Sonic shouting GO and from there everything is a blur of panic, excitement, quick button presses and even quicker reactions.
While screaming through these levels, Sonic can quickly dodge left and right, jump, homing attack, slide under objects, and wall jump. Dodging is reserved for when the camera is behind Sonic, allowing him to sidestep obstacles that would otherwise reduce his speed. Everything else can and will need to be used at all times, usually in quick succession. At no time does the action slow as you constantly hit tracks that increase your velocity; you can even produce your own bursts of speed. These bursts are supplied by ring energy which, as you may have guessed, is accumulated by picking up rings while barreling through these breakneck races to the finish. It is hard to describe just how fast these levels move but they are incredibly enjoyable and just feel right.
Besides the repetitive nature of the combat found in the werehog levels, the only other real downside of Sonic Unleashed is the way you are forced to progress. Each piece of the broken planet is host to an area or two that need to be explored. To find out where you need to go you’ll have to spend quite a bit of time chatting with locals. They usually have little interesting or useful to say and constantly seek out professor Pickle for more specific guidance. To play levels, you’ll also need to waste several hours scouring each area and its already unlocked levels for sun and moon tokens, which are collected to unlock other levels. All of these things become a real hassle when all you want to do is progress through the story and play more of the game.
Despite the game’s clumsy story progression and repetitive werehog combat, it manages to be the best Sonic game released in recent memory. This is thanks mostly to the excellent hedgehog levels that evoke memories of classic Sonic titles while still managing to feel fresh and new. While everyone’s pleas for a return to form for the series weren’t completely satiated, the hedgehog portions of this title are a huge success and give hope for the future of this franchise. If Sega can get the adventure aspects of the next Sonic working as well as these speedy hedgehog levels, Sonic’s next outing could be just what longtime fans have been longing for.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The game’s new graphical engine produces some great-looking cinemas, effects, environments, and characters. 3.7 Control
Occasional bouts with the camera and some platform jumping issues can arise, otherwise everything controls as you would expect. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music in the game is excellent, with some nice touches like a poorly played level complete song when you finish with an E rank. Unfortunately, there is also some repetitive and annoying character voice work. 3.4 Play Value
While the hedgehog levels are thoroughly enjoyable, the werehog levels focus too heavily on repetitive combat and finding/unlocking levels can often be a time consuming chore. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.