Review by lilithdarkstorm

"A decent Sonic package, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea"

Sonic has not seen the best of days since Sega dropped out of the console making business. Back in the Sega Mega Drive days, Sonic games were considered the cream of the crop, a rival to the famous Super Mario and a ‘cool' gaming mascot in an age where you couldn't make it into the industry without one. His Mega Drive games has been re-released plentiful times from the Sega Saturn to the current HD consoles, yet his ventures to the world of 3-D have been far from well received. Often full of glitches, cheesy storylines, bad voice acting and game play that is far from what made Sonic fun in the first place; fans and critics have often begged for Sonic's end or for Sega to bring Sonic back to his roots. However; Sega has never been the company to listen to the outside world, whether it was a good comment or bad press. As a result the Sonic games just keep on coming, both spin offs and main games, our latest release is Sonic Unleashed. Advertised as Sonic's return to form, not many people have agreed, so what did I think? A gamer whose first game was Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Mega Drive and has Sonic to thank for the reason she is a gamer today? Let's take a look...

My review will be based upon the Wii version but I'll include comparisons with other versions based on research I've done.

Sonic Unleashed stars our blue hedgehog friend as he goes to fight Robotnik in his latest scheme; however not everything goes according to plan. Robotnik (a.k.a. Eggman) manages to awaken Dark Gaia, an evil entity living inside the planet that is bent of destroying it. In the process, the world is torn apart with each continent broken from each other, all the Chaos emeralds lose all their power and Sonic adopts a strange persona of a werehog, the ability to transform into his ferocious alter-ego when night falls. Using his Super Sonic Speed at day and his werehog powers at night, he must travel to each continent to restore the power of the Chaos Emeralds and stop Eggman's plans.

The plot isn't going to win any awards, but plots around Sonic games were never exactly breath-taking. In Sonic games they are really only there to give Sonic a reason to go do the good deed; in previous games the plot reflected well in the levels the player had to endure, whilst the cut scenes did little to provide progress. In Sonic Unleashed, it seems to be completely the opposite. Cut scenes in this game are easily the best I've seen in the whole Sonic series; they're well acted, put together and actually have a point behind them, whilst previously there were lifeless. Levels on the other hand seem to have no purpose behind them; during the game Sonic visit shrines in the cities to re-power the Chaos emeralds. In the shrine you have various doors you need to access to reach your destination; what I don't get is why Sonic would need to run around the roof tops of towns to recharge an emerald inside a temple? It didn't make sense to me, if Sonic went through a portal or had to find the shrine within the town then it would've made sense to have town related levels. Fortunately the levels are fun enough to toss logic aside, but it would've been nice to have some thought behind it.

Despite playing the Wii version (often seen as a weaker console compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360), the graphics are stunning, nearly on par with Super Mario Galaxy. I was highly impressed with the attention to detail; during cut scenes when Sonic is in werehog mode you can see each of the individual hair strands. It reminded me of early Pixar films, all in all very nicely done. The engine for the game is nicely made as well; I saw one glitch in the game where I fell past a pole, and that was it. In previous instalments falling into your doom by gaps on the floor that shouldn't be there was a common annoyance.

The composer for Sonic Unleashed obviously took a page from the highly successful Super Mario Galaxy as the game is fully orchestrated, which strangely works well. You'll hear many big band sounds using string, trumpets and all sorts of instruments, but no electric guitar I'm afraid. The previous 3D games were composed by Jun Senoue who was heavily influence by heavy rock and often had his rock band, Crush 40, provide the theme song. This game goes completely in the opposite direction; all in all it works well (considering it's meant to be different from its predecessors) and all tracks are rememberable in their own right. Sound effects perform their duty and voice acting is some of the best from the Sonic series so far, overall it good to know that even if you don't enjoy playing the game it'll still be a treat for the ears.

The game consists of 2 types of game play; the day time and the night time levels. For both levels, once they are completed, Sonic is graded on his performance (S being highest, F lowest) and is given various medals for his efforts (Moon medals for day time levels, Sun medals for the werehog stages). For the Wii version these medals are merely for opening secret doors throughout the game, although for the PS3 and Xbox versions they serve a much more important purpose. All levels are accessed via temples/shrines with one on each continent, 3 levels in each (including a boss) and various other doors to hidden areas.

During the day time stages, Sonic is his normal self and his levels scream of nostalgia. The levels are purely running around, loop-de-loops and blasting at the speed of light to the goal ring whilst trying not to get hit by enemies. The game allows a smooth transition between 3D gaming into 2D. The engine used for the levels is well constructed and there are hardly any cheap deaths to make note of. The appeal of the levels I found was the multi path in each levels; depend on your level of skill, you can find all sorts of shortcuts and tricks to complete levels quickly and with style.

Controls on the whole were reliable, although take a while to get used to. Most of them used buttons to jump, perform tricks and the analog stick to move. The only niggles I found were relating to motion sensor controls. Shaking the remote performs various moves for Sonic including a homing attack (to defeat enemies), dash (to flash forward at top speed) and travel along the line of rings. Whilst they react swiftly the game can confuse what you're shaking the remote for. Several times I've shaken the remote with the intention of aiming at the enemy, but Sonic decides to dash forward instead. Often not a problem but when homing attack a chain of enemies gets me to a short cut, it's irritating when Sonic's dash make you miss your mark.

Despite being well designed levels, fun and the critics favourite; trying to get the S rank on most levels was not an easy task for the wrong reasons. To sound borderline stupid; Sonic moves too fast at times to absorb any of the level or to see what the heck is in front of you to avoid hitting. In addition you cannot see much ahead of Sonic (apart from his backside). The camera is stuck behind Sonic at all times (apart from in 2D mode – and even then it's not much better) so in order to perform well on levels, its mostly a case of trial and error. You'll have to know the level like the back of your hand to get anywhere near the S rank timings, some which I thought were difficult to achieve. When you're just running around and flying past the level, it's fun. When trying to aim for 100% completing, it's a nuisance.

When the sun goes down, Sonic becomes a werehog and game play drastically changes. Sonic's speed in stripped and is instead given stretchy hairy arms to bash enemies into pulp. Werehog Sonic must use his new powers to fight his way past enemies, climb various buildings and swing on various poles to reach the goal ring at the end. The levels are mostly structured the same way with various random encounters, certain amount of climbing, maybe a small puzzle here and there, and the goal ring at the end. The levels can get repetitive towards the end but I personally was fond of the werehog levels for 2 reasons. Firstly; I'm a big fan of RPGs, ever since I was a kid I'm fond of kicking enemy butt and exploring my surroundings, finding treasures/weapons/etc and being rewarded for my efforts. The werehog levels are somewhat similar (although nowhere near as advanced). In order to gain the best grades at the end of the level, you need to collect gaia energy (usually hidden from sight) and lots of rings (most in the path, but not all) within a reasonable amount of time. So using my RPG initiative help me to breeze through the werehog levels and gain good marks afterwards. Which leads onto my second reason I liked them, they were easy to get the S rank on. Shallow as it is but when achieving the high score on levels nothing can beat that feeling of accomplishment.

The werehog game play is the most developed on the game as at the end of each level, you don't just get graded on your level performance but you also used the ‘gaia energy' you've collected to level up Sonic. These include learning new moves, increase attack damage and health bar. Those who invest time will see werehog Sonic's power increase significantly, making later enemy battles a walk in the park. According to a review; this aspect is also included in the HD versions of the game for normal Sonic, sadly this was excluded from the Wii version.

Controls for werehog mode are a mixed bag and again it mostly relates to the motion sensor of the wii remote. You shake the remote to bash your enemies as well as swinging Sonic on poles to make your way across bottomless pits or pulling Sonic up onto platforms. Sadly it can be a bit too sensitive at times; for example you swing the remote back and forth when Sonic is swinging on a pole. After letting go and jumping forward, if your remote is not completely still whilst jumping, Sonic will either not move forward (often backwards) or punch the air instead; both resulting in falling to your doom. I also found that when trying to perform combat combos that they didn't always register when I wanted them, yet perform them when I didn't. Also, the buttons don't respond to command 20% of the time, this is mainly directing at the ‘climbing' aspects of the levels where you need to hold the B button grab onto the ledge, several times (despite holding it down for my dear life) the game failed to register, so off to the bottomless pit of doom I fell. Sure, 80% it picks it up, but there's a nail biting delay between pressing the button to Sonic grabbing the edge.

Sadly; the werehog levels will not be liked by all fans and critics have panned them. Not all Sonic players are a fan of RPGs (like myself) and this certain aspect of the game doesn't naturally fit into Sonic where the pace is meant to be fast and action packed. Some controls issues will infuriate most players and levels can easily be over 15 minutes long compared to the day time levels which are about 4 minutes maximum each. Unfortunately Sega has made two thirds of the main game werehog related; most of the levels use werehog Sonic and most of the extras outside of the levels mostly use Sonic in his werehog form. The best example to use is that there's 6 shrines in the game, and only one you enter with Sonic being his regular self. There are quite a few hidden missions and side missions that involve normal Sonic, but if you're not aiming for those, you'll find yourself ‘werehog-ed out' after a while.

In between levels, Sonic has to explored towns and find out the location of where you need to go next. You need to talk to townsfolk, a new character named Chip as well as several old characters (Tails and Amy make an appearance). Depending on which version you play, this section of the game varies between them. In the Wii version, the towns are laid out as a list; to talk to townsfolk you simply select your destination (with the wii remote) and you speak to them automatically. In the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions the world is your oyster. The town is fully 3D, you must walk yourself through the town to find people to talk to. Within the towns you can take on side missions as well as find hidden medals. Since the Wii version is not as interactive, the side missions and extra medals have been scrapped. Most critics of the PS3/Xbox 360 version often criticised the towns and their ‘tedious' side quests. I can't comment on those versions but the Wii version is ideal for players who prefer to skip the talking and head straight into the action (much like my brother). The townsfolk have no voiceover, their speech is purely text so it's easy on the ears and good for those who like to bash the A button until the good part starts. Although I would've liked to know what the side quests involved (again, speaking as a RPG gamer, I like quests!)

Unlike previous 3D games where there's usually different story modes plus the ‘ultimate ending' to uncover, this game doesn't have them. But there's still plenty to pad out the game. As mentioned before; the temples have various doors to access levels, but also have other doors that need a certain amount of medals to open them. These doors is where the padding comes in. Behind each door is an additional section of the temple where Sonic can complete puzzles to gain hidden items. Puzzles range from ‘place box here to reach higher platform' to others that actually require thought power, and hidden items can be anything from secret missions to extras lives to use for levels. I highly enjoyed the puzzle aspects as most of them require for the player to alternate between Sonic and Werehog form to complete them and get all the hidden items. The only downside is that Sonic can move way to fast to control and complete the puzzles smoothly – most of the time he speeds off the platform to his doom! If hidden temple areas weren't enough, from the very start of the game you can collect hidden pictures/movie files/documents and soundtrack files within each level and town you visit. On their own they're just for viewing purposes but collecting them all is rewarded with more content to play. So there's plenty to do once the game's complete

I personally enjoyed Sonic Unleashed a lot; but obviously not in the same way as most people have. Sure it became a less fun game once I tried to get an S rank on all the levels but overall this was a well put together game; with hardly any glitches, mostly solid game play and a much needed fun factor. If you're wondering which version to purchase; the Wii and PS2 have less content but are known for being less ‘broken' in terms of game play. The PS3 and Xbox versions are bigger games and have better graphics, but the levels suffer for it. I would recommend this game to any Sonic fan, although I know not all of them would agree with it.

The Good:
+ Fantastic Graphics
+ Nice variety of game play
+ Great music, voice acting and cut scenes
+ Decent length of game, with a few nice extras

The Bad:
- Levels have no purpose behind them
- Small control issues can make the 100% completion task daunting
- Werehog game play is over-favoured

In a sentence: A decent Sonic package, but it won't be everyone's cup of tea.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/19/10

Game Release: Sonic Unleashed (EU, 11/28/08)


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