Review by lilithdarkstorm

"A broken but playable mess of a game"

Sometimes, no matter how much people say that a particular video game, film or TV programme is bad, you just have to experience it for yourself. I knew that Sonic the Hedgehog got pretty much panned by fans and critics across the globe, but as Sonic is closer to me than my own father is, I have been given the cross to bare of trying every major Sonic title released until the end of time. After several weeks of battling the what can only be considered an unfinished should-never-be-released-to-the-public demo of the game, in between the hair tearing moments I managed to find ‘fun' hidden within its dark core.

To give a brief summery; Sonic the Hedgehog (also known as Sonic 2006, or Sonic Next Gen) was released back in 2006 with only 6 months of development behind it, this was because it was released prematurely to meet the Christmas rush. As a result the game was released unfinished, panned by critics and is known as one of the worst games in history.

Sonic 2006 takes place on Soleanna (what happened to Mobius?) during the Festival of the Sun where Princess Elise is suddenly ambushed by Dr. Eggman/Robotnik in hopes of finding the Chaos Emeralds for his evil plan. Cue Sonic to rescue to princess (turning into Mario are we my dear?) but before long, a mysterious hedgehog from the future by the name of Silver attempts to kill Sonic as apparently he will bring about the end of the world! Can Sonic prevents the dark future and keep the princess safe?

The plot itself doesn't hang around to get started, before you can admire the fireworks Eggman comes charging in. Although the plot moves at a steady pace there are ‘jumps' in logic characters make that Sega obliviously added in at the last minute to somehow make it all stream together. For example during Silver's story, after failing to defeat Sonic, he jumps to the conclusion that he'll find the speedy blue hedgehog with Eggman, even though no mention is made beforehand on Silver's story that Sonic is after him. There are also disappearing characters for plot convenience and sudden jumps in location and logic to somehow make it all fit, the plot itself is ok (hey it's a Sonic game, how serious do you want this stuff?) but the development and how it's told is clearly unfinished.

At first glance, especially during the opening pre-rendered cut scene, the graphics do look luscious. However upon closer inspection they fall apart; surfaces look rough when they shouldn't, they are no splash effects when touching the water, special effects are crap, characters hover above the floor and stairs instead of actually walking on it, and the game suffers from slow frame rate. There are plenty of instances where the game will crawl with no means of speeding it up again until the game catches up with itself a while later, making playing hard at times and going completely again Sonic's gameplay which is meant to be about speed. This isn't an HD experience at all. To make matters worse, the game doesn't run correctly when set up on a standard TV and scart lead, the cut scenes will jump consistently, so you'll need a HDMI cable and compatible TV to run the game smoothly.

Character designs are a mixed bag; Sonic and the rest of his animal friends all have the same smooth, colourful and cartoony edge to them. The humans characters however (including Robotnik) look like they have been designed for a Final Fantasy game! They're very realistic and go completely against the simplicity of Sonic and co's design. Just imagine Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII standing next to Super Mario...weird isn't it? That's the exact same feeling you'll get when watching Elise and Sonic interact.

Music is one thing I can't complain about though; Jun Senoue returns as composer with a delightful soundtrack. Although it's nowhere near as varied, polished or catchy as Sonic Adventure 2's or the Sega Mega Drive soundtracks, it's still pretty nice. You'll get plenty of rock and techno based tracks for the action packed levels and more mellow, authentic pieces for the world map. Crush 40 make a return as there a several vocal themes to go round. Sound effects are fine but Shadow's footsteps are very loud though. Voice acting, on the other hand, is awful; Sonic games are often criticized for their voices but apart from one-off characters (such as Charmy in Sonic Heroes and Tails) they're not usually that bad. However in Sonic 2006's case, only Sonic and Elise escape with a warning, everyone else sounds completely and utterly terrible, I'm not even counting the fact that none of the actors bothered to lip sync.

The game is set up very much like Sonic Adventure; you've given various ‘stories' to play out based upon a particular characters point of view (in this game there's 3; Sonic, Silver and Shadow) and the game is split between the ‘of the norm' platform levels and the world map, where your character will wonder around to gather information, buy stuff, play mini games (if desired) and go on to the next level. All 3 stories have their own control scheme; Shadow and Sonic share the same move set and level styles with a few minor differences. Sonic's gameplay still consists of super speed and homing attack anything that tries to get in his way, nothing has changed there. Shadow's levels are enemy heavy with his moves to compensate, instead of just homing attack the enemy he can stay mid-air and perform kicks on the robots, making it easier to defeat baddies with high health. He can also shoot Chaos Spears and other powers to do more damage. In addition Shadow gets motor bikes and cars to play with that can shoot missiles, should the player desire so, although they have a horrible habit of getting trapped in corners or being turned upside down. Shadow's gameplay is, arguably, the least broken has his levels rely less on doing acrobatics, wall running or other complex mechanics, Shadow simply kills bad guys (not necessary a bad thing). Sonic's levels are much more complicated and longer, and as a result suffer more. And last, but not least, is Silver's story, and actually he's pretty interesting in terms of gameplay. Instead of running fast and attacking enemies directly, Silver has psychic powers; using the buttons provided you can control boxes, enemy missiles and more to move at whim, whether its towards enemies to attack or to place on the floor as platforms. Silver can also hover, stun enemies and activate certain symbols to move bigger objects or open doors. Sounds cool right? Admittedly it is but Silver's moves cause the most drops in frame rate; you'll grind to a snail's speed 70% of time you use his powers, making you an open target for enemies and making it difficult to attack back. Also the aiming of his psychic powers can suck at times; even if the enemy is right in front of you the bolder you control can fly all over the place. On top of the 3 hedgehogs you'll also switch control to their friends; including Tails, Knuckles, Rouge, Omega, Amy and newcomer Blaze – since you don't play either character long enough to get the feel of them entirely, I can't really complain about them.

So that's the characters covered, what are the levels like? There's only 10 stages in the entire game, all characters visit the same levels (and in some cases more than once), this isn't necessary a bad thing as a similar thing was done in Sonic Adventure, however the levels themselves are badly designed. Problem #1 is lack of direction; they'll be plenty of times where you'll reach a portion of the level and not know where to go, either because there's multiple path ways to take (not all of them are safe to embark as some are designed for different characters) or the game offers no guidance on what the objective is. This also affects the world of Soleanna, lots of times I got given a generic task such as ‘Find the Princess', with towns folk offering little to no help and the solution being completely obscure. The second problem is everything can hurt your characters, not just the robots, but also corners of the checkpoints, speed ramps, boxes and more. It looks ridiculous when a super-speeder like Sonic gets grounded to a halt by a mini pole. Lastly the level structures are very fragile, there will be plenty of times where you'll be sent zip running down walls, flying across skies and so on, it's all fun to watch but the moment you try to push a button you'll most likely lose a life as the engine is that sensitive. And in other instances you'll need to interfere otherwise the speed ramp will lead you off the platform! Every level is a case of trial and error.

Sonic's levels also consist of ‘Speed Stages'; a fraction of the level where Sonic runs incredibly fast towards the goal. Sounds fun right? Don't be stupid, it's the most frustrating aspect of Sonic's story! You have minimal control over Sonic's actions; you cannot stop, jumping loses you even more control, you can barely see what's in front of you, and again everything can hurt you. If you get hit once you loose rings and Sonic is uncontrollable for about 5 seconds, if you get hit again during that time you lose a life! The speed sections also suffer the most from bottomless floors, making them easily the most dreaded part of the game.

This doesn't include the numerous times your character will get stuck on a edge of a level and freeze for a few seconds, camera issues where it can spaz out of control, jumps in level progress (this affects when you switch control of characters), new gameplay mechanics that aren't explained or don't make sense, the completely redundant life system, and the loading times. Oh the loading times; I'm a patient person, but this game stretched me to the limits! Imagine this; you go to talk to a person that's meant to give you a task to open up the next level, after you accept you're greeted with a loading screen, after it's over the person says 1 LINE and there's another loading screen, the task tasks you about 10 seconds to complete, more loading, person congrats you and you get graded, more loading, back on the map and more loading! Each loading screens lasts from 15 – 40 seconds each, you also have loading screens within levels, to loads the sponsors at the start of the game and more. Easily half of my record time on the game was devoted completely to waiting for loading to finish, it's incredibly annoying when you fail a mission and you have to wait for the loading to finish before you can attempt again.

Outside of levels you wonder around the world of Soleanna; a 3 part town with a forest, town and castle. It's quite huge and gives the impression that there's plenty to see but there really isn't, the whole place comes off with little personality. I'm sure if the game had more time behind it then we could've got hidden stages and such, but as it is there's nothing to admire here, and due to no ‘free mode' what you do get is very restricted. You can talk to the locals but why go to a Sonic game for that when RPGs offer much more interesting pointless conversations?

So if the gameplay is broken, loading times are unbearable and levels are disjointed, how can this game be any fun? Well here's a positive comment, the controls work. No matter how many times you may fall down a hole in the game or get killed by a baddie because the camera screwed you over; you can be sure that you inability to control the characters was not the problem. Buttons work fine and all moves perform when commanded to, even when the frame rate dramatically drops, the game will work hard to input your action. Despite my qualms, you will get burst of 10 seconds here and there were everything will run smoothly, mostly later on when you get the whole grasp of what the game is about and what to avoid. Sadly most players won't give the game that kind of patience (I don't blame them) and my time of ‘having fun' is about a fifth of the time I spent waiting at the loading screen.

If you can stomach the main game then there's plenty of extras to discover; including multiple side quests for all characters across their stories, a cut scene theatre and sound library to unlock, lots of hidden medals to collect, S ranks to strife for and if you happen to own the Xbox version you can also unlock Achievements...Playstation buyers get squat I'm afraid.

To describe Sonic the Hedgehog in one word is simple; unfinished. The game was pushed out far too soon and as a result we get a broken but somehow still playable mess. If the game had time to complete itself then 90% of my and everyone else's complaints for this game would be null and void. I did had fun in between the god-awful loading times, but as it is, this game should only be approached by the most forgiving and patient Sonic fans, or at least fans that have selective memory.

The Good:
+ The controls work
+ Soundtrack is nice
+ Game is of decent length with extras

The Bad:
- Long and frequent loading times are atrocious
- Game engine is broken, slow frame rate
- Unexplained objectives, disruptive level flow
- Incoherent graphics and character designs
- Voice acting is some of the worst in gaming history
- Game doesn't run correctly in standard definition

In a sentence: A broken but playable mess of a game

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 05/04/10

Game Release: Sonic the Hedgehog (EU, 03/23/07)

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