Review by Gridogn
"Sonic Unleashed Gets Hairy When You Turn Into The Werehog"
I remember my first foray with the Blue Hedgehog. It was on the Game Cube back in 2002 with Sonic Adventure 2 Battle at a friend's house. I knew about Sonic, I even remember sometimes catching the animated series, Sonic Underground, on television occasionally, but I had never played a Sonic game. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle wowed me! It thrilled me with it's (relatively) swift speed, great platforming, and great exploration.
Ever since that game, it has all gone downhill for the Sonic franchise. The portable games have been done exceptionally well, with the Advance and Rush series being really fun, but Sonic's console outings have stunk. Sonic Heroes was chalked full with poorly executed gimmicks, unnecessary characters, and too much fighting. Shadow the Hedgehog, while not featuring Sonic, too failed with it's laughable dark tone, gun play, and awful controls. Sonic 06, while trying to reinvigorate the series, felt like it's plot came out of a terrible fan fic, and had the worst technical issues in any Sonic game to date.
Huh...That's a lot of complaints! When Sonic Unleashed was announced, and when I heard that it blended 2-D game play with speedy 3-D game play, I was really excited! Did the game end up bringing Sonic back to fame, or did it fall flat? Well, let's find out!
Presentation (Setting, Plot): Sonic Unleashed has an interesting theme to it. Eggman uses an enigmatic creature from the center of the Earth to divide the planet in several pieces to aide him in his struggle for global conquest. Eggman succeeds in decimating the planet, and it is up to Sonic to restore the planet as a whole. The catch is that Sonic transforms into a Werehog when he ventures off during the night.
The game has a really good setting to it. The idea of Sonic traveling the world and playing through levels inspired by real life locales is pretty darn sweet! Sometimes certain settings aren't fully realized (a Greek stage without the Acropolis?), but it's still a great setting.
The story is not quite as good as the setting however. There are several flaws in Sonic Unleashed that make the game downright cheesey, or make it feel like it doesn't belong in a Sonic game. 1) The idea of the Earth being split up by a creature made up of dark matter from the planet's core is cheesey. 2) The creation of the character chip (a flying squirrel) is downright unnecessary. 3) The Werehog (and I'll get into this later). The Wii version also lacks several cut-scenes from the 360 and PS3 versions which certainly doesn't help convey the story any better!
The menu screens are pretty decent, and do a good job of not being to cluttered, and the temple hubs are pretty fun to explore and dick around in when you want to escape from the action. The Village part of the game is just a pain in the ass however. Before you can progress onto a new level, you have to go to a village in the form of a menu and talk to the most bland, and unnecessary characters to move on. I swear, these characters don't even move the plot along, they just tell you to go to the next level. The 360 and PS3 versions have fully-fleshed out hub villages that are more comprehensive than the Wii version which just has a menu. I'm sure the hub villages are fun to dick around in, but the agonizing conversations with terribly designed NPCs probably still exist!
Sonic Unleashed has a fantastic setting, but it falls flat in it's narrative. The menu presentation is good, and well designed, and is perfectly functional. Screwing around in the temples can amuse you for a while. The conversations you have with NPCs in between levels however is purely agonizing.
Sound: Sonic Unleashed ditches the guitar sounds of the previous 3-D Sonic games, and for some that may be a blessing. Despite what others say, I've personally enjoyed many of the guitar tunes from previous 3-D Sonic games like the final theme from Adventure 1, Escape From the City, Live and Learn, and Metal Harbor. Either way, the music in this game is still pretty sweet.
Since each level is based of a certain nation, each tune is too! These tunes blend in beautifully with the levels! The night time levels have more subdued themes, while the day time levels have upbeat, speedy tunes. The compositions are fantastic, and worth even listening to when not playing the game. The only flaw here is that whenever you encounter a horde of enemies during the night time levels, the same, repetitive jazz tune plays. It's not that memorable of a tune to begin with either. Then again, the night levels them selves are flawed.
VERDICT: The tunes fit each level and are inspired from the nations the levels are based on. The tunes beautifully fit the levels. The only flaw is the battle theme during the night time levels.
Graphics: This game was designed as a PS3 and 360 title, so it's no surprise that the Wii port will have inferior graphics. I wasn't expecting this poor of a decline though. The game looks really choppy most of the time, and you can clearly see the polygons at times. The 360 and PS3 version blow the Wii one out of the water in this category.
Artistically, it's actually really great! The game depicts each of the countries it includes, albeit it in a somewhat stereotypical way, really good. All the characters are designed pretty well (save for the Werehog).
Technically, the game is sound too! There are almost no frame-rate drops, and the game remains consistent throughout.
VERDICT: The Wii version suffers from being ported poorly. This Wii version's graphics look like they are being produced by the Game Cube. Artistically and technically though the game is great!
Graphics: 6.5 (this would be altered to 9.5 for the 360/PS3 versions)
Technical Design: 9.5
Game Play...Sonic: This game brings Sonic back to his roots! Sonic Unleashed is quick, fast, and it's exhilarating! Sonic packs some old and new moves in Sonic Unleashed. He brings back his homing attack and his tension dash (now renamed speed boost) from Sonic Rush. Sonic gains the ability to side step and drift in this game though. These techniques add for interesting strategies that can be used to make life for Sonic that much easier! Sonic Unleashed periodically switches to a 2-D game play perspective, which is just as fun and quick as his 3-D sections. These parts are meant to be nostalgic, and in a sense deliver!
Controlling the blue blur isn't as problematic as previous 3-D Sonic games. Rarely will a move not register, and everything is really tight. The only thing lacking is an adjustable camera. Since this game was designed with the Wii Remote in mind, and there is no second analog stick on the Nunchuk-Wii Remote scheme, the option of moving the camera was removed. This makes it difficult to foresee certain obstacles during the 3-D sections of the game, and will at times result in your flow being unfairly disturbed.
VERDICT: Sonic Unleashed brings Sonic back to his roots. There are no sections where you have to stop and fight, you don't have to wield guns, and you don't have to bother controlling any characters besides Sonic which makes for a game strictly full of fresh fast game play...Right? Well, we'll see about that. When you're blazing through levels is when this game is at it's best!
Game Play: 8.9
Game Play...Werehog: Now, this is where Sonic Unleashed falls flat on it's ass. Despite the issues I have mentioned above, they can all be over looked because the core game play is solid. But when you toss into the mix the fact that more than half the game is played as a deformed werewolf-hedgehog, things get hairy (pardon the pun). When Sonic plays levels that take place during the night, he turns into a beast that resembles a werewolf. When playing as the Werehog, the game play is entirely different...for the worse.
As the Werehog, you slowly creep around levels and fight uninspired baddies, jump from poles, and try to reach the goal ring at the end of each level. The very essence of Sonic is fast game play, and the Werehog throws the formula out the window. This game was supposed to have promise due to it only having Sonic playable as the developers promised. Sonic is technically the only playable character, but is the Werehog what Sonic fans bargained for?
I entered my first Werehog level with out any bias. Despite the fact that slow, combat oriented game play isn't something that should be found in a Sonic game, I tried approaching it with the best expectations. Just because the game play is Sonic-esque doesn't mean it's bad right? Nope.
The Werehog is terrible. First off, the combat in this game feels like it was whipped up in one hour. As you transverse levels as the Werehog, frequently, barriers will lock you in an area with enemies, and you have to defeat them to progress onwards. Beat-em ups aren't really my cup of tea to begin with, but I've enjoyed titles like Castle Crashers on XBLA. The Werehog fighting mechanics are brutal. All you do is go charging into a group of enemies and alternate between left and right punches. There is no skill involved. But I guess this was designed to match their target audience, inexperienced children under the age of 8.
The rest of the Werehog isn't any better. When you're not fighting, you're jumping from pole to pole. There is no inventive platforming. The stretching arms feature is also really weak, as it is over used even outside of battle. That's all there is to it. I'd go on a rant on how bad the controls are, but it would just detract from the anger I have towards the whole concept.
VERDICT: Sonic games should be played as Sonic (or as characters that play identically to Sonic), not a disfigured werewolf version of Sonic. If a Sonic game is going to feature alternative game play, at least make it deep and interesting (like the treasure hunting and shooting levels in SA2). Maybe one day Sega will make a Sonic game that's just like the day time levels of Unleashed. As for the Werehog, let's hope SEGA buries it along with the 5 million copies of Sonic 2006 that they have.
Game Play: 5
SONIC UNLEASHED OVERALL: 8
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 12/02/08
Game Release: Sonic Unleashed (US, 11/18/08)
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