Review by AK_the_Twilight
"Be Afraid of the Dark..."
What Sonic lacks in adaptive qualities, he makes up in persistence. Once known as one of the greatest platformer characters in gaming history, Sonic's record in the modern market has slipped. Despite starring in game after game, Sonic has yet to find that perfect formula that recreates the speed and action seen in his 2-D adventures. Though his handheld record has been excellent, Sonic's 3-D adventures have definitely been disputable in terms of quality. Though it's been nearly ten years since Sonic Adventure, Sega is still after that shining example of Sonic perfection. Sonic Unleashed is Sonic's latest attempt at revitalizing his franchise. Is it Sonic's crowning moment?
The story begins with Sonic and Eggman in one of their traditional battles in space, with Sonic laying waste to Eggman's most recent army of enemy robots. Locked in combat, the transformed Super Sonic looks to be the victor, but Eggman unleashes his newest plan. This time around Eggman is after the essence of the planet, the power of the energy creature Dark Gaia, tearing apart the planet in the process. After Eggman absorbs part of the Dark Gaia essence, Sonic is exposed to the energy, causing him to undergo a transformation from regular hedgehog to Were-hedgehog, generally called the Werehog. The Dark Gaia energy also drains the power of the Chaos Emeralds, which along with Sonic, are hurled back to Earth. After waking up, Sonic joins forces with a weird flying stuffed-animal-like creature who he aptly names Chip. Chip, surprisingly, has no memory, so the two begin their journey to save the world. Chip could well be the most unnecessary character to the Sonic universe since Big the Cat. In fact, the Werehog itself doesn't really make a ton of sense in the storyline either. The whole storyline feels all too familiar in the wrong places: an ancient creature whose power Eggman is trying to harness? Check out the Sonic Adventure games. Overall, however, it's an excuse for Sonic to run all over the world and explore different lands, and to that degree, the storyline keeps itself together.
During the day, Sonic is free to explore the world at high speeds, which is exactly what he should be doing. Sonic Unleashed is easily the best translation of Sonic's 2-D romps since the Sonic Adventure days. The game mixes the behind-the-back camera of past Sonic games like Sonic and the Secret Rings, with some clever camera angles, similar to those of Sonic Rivals. By collecting rings throughout the different levels, Sonic can earn Ring Energy, which can be spent on speed boosts. Sonic's levels are full of moments that will challenge your skill and reflexes. Gameplay aspects like quick-time events and multiple paths are common, as is the ability to find secret items throughout. The result is some of the most intense and enjoyable moments seen in a Sonic game in a long, long time. It's exactly what Sonic should be in 3-D.
However, the developers weren't content with simply revitalizing a struggling franchise. Why not put in something else? The most recent twist on the Sonic the Hedgehog formula is the Werehog. At night, Sonic goes all lycanthropic and the game slows down immensely because of it. You'll focus more on beating up enemies and conservative platforming than the high-speed reflex testing of the Sonic levels. Like the Sonic levels, these are reach-the-goal sequences. Instead of running through huge environments, the Werehog must blast through waves of generic enemies and go through some platforming in between the brawls. These sequences do have some interesting ideas; the Werehog's stretching arms are reminiscent of the classic Sega game Ristar, with grabbing ledges and climbing poles being mapped to holding down a single button. You can also earn ranks by collecting rings and Dark Gaia energy, along with reaching the end within a certain amount of time. These ideas are pretty experimental, but generally work well in giving the Werehog levels some longevity.
Sadly, the Werehog levels have some bad ideas as well. First off is that there's no camera control. Making jumps can be a serious pain when only relying on the set view, especially due to the high amounts of bottomless pits. Second is that the combat is shallow. The few combos that you can earn throughout the levels are mapped to the punch buttons (or in the case of the Wii Remote + Nunchuk controls, shaking either the Wii Remote or Nunchuk) but simply attacking with the same two commands usually gets the job done. Finally, despite having spikes on his shoes, the Werehog possesses movements that are far too sensitive. You'll see the Werehog sliding across platforms, especially when dashing. What's even worse is that these Werehog levels appear much more often than the Sonic levels, and usually last much longer. After three or four Werehog stages in a row, you'll no doubt long for a fast-paced Sonic stage. In all honesty, the Werehog sequences aren't as bad as I originally had assumed, but the end result still feels gimmicky and unpolished in a Sonic game.
The controls in Sonic Unleashed are different for the Sonic and Werehog levels. In the daytime, the controls are typical platformer fare. Sonic can jump and crouch with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk's buttons and triggers, with motion mapped to the Nunchuk's analog stick. By shaking the Wii Remote, Sonic can boost using Ring Energy or use a homing attack in mid-air. There's a ton of nuances and tricks that Sonic can do in the different levels, which adds plenty of variety to the stages. As the Werehog, Sonic can punch by swinging the Wii Remote or Nunchuk, with the buttons being used for jumping, climbing, and guarding. Though the over-sensitivity of the Werehog's movements hurt the game, the daytime controls are pretty tight. The game also supports Classic and Gamecube controllers. I found myself using the Gamecube controller for the most part, but the Wii controls are definitely an improvement over past Sonic games. You may get a little tired swinging your arms around when faced with enemies, but the controls overall generally work well.
Sonic Unleashed is a great looking Wii game. Although it doesn't reach the graphical caliber of games like Super Mario Galaxy, the game moves at a strong clip. Slowdown is extremely rare, even when facing a slew of enemies as the Werehog or exploring over-the-top architecture as Sonic. There are some great cutscenes throughout, though these are mostly overshadowed by scrolling text and still-screens of characters. Once Sonic Unleashed really gets going, however, it moves extremely fluidly and the entire world comes to life in brilliant detail. The sound design is pretty standard for Sonic games; you get the voice acting you expect from Sonic and crew, though the writing this time around will probably get on your nerves more than usual. An interesting change-up is the new orchestral themes that have replaced the hard rock of past games. This does give the game a larger scope, and while I personally longed for some intense guitar riffs during the different stages, the overall sound design manages to produce a truly epic set of themes. The presentation is actually quite impressive for a Wii game, both graphically and sound-wise.
+ Sonic sequences recapture a lot of what made Sonic games great
+ Werehog beat-em-up sequences aren't awful
+ Nice presentation
+ Solid controls
- Werehog platforming controls are too sensitive
- Werehog platforming has no controllable camera
- Strict imbalance between Sonic and Werehog sequences
- Some levels' designs aren't as strong as others
Sonic Unleashed is definitely a step in the right direction, but with each great improvement that the Sonic stages introduce, the Werehog comes in and creates a new problem. The Sonic stages are remarkably improved from past Sonic titles; the clever balance of speed and abilities makes them some of the best stages seen in a Sonic title since Sonic Adventure itself. The Werehog stages, on the other hand, feel tired and sloppy. The sensitive controls and non-existent camera are bad enough, but being that you have to play through so many of the nighttime levels to get to the daytime levels is just plain annoying. Deep down in the gameplay of Sonic Unleashed is a refreshing new world for Sonic to explore, speedy antics and all. If you can put up with stage after stage of the Werehog, you'll find some excellent high-speed action in Sonic's stages. Overall, Sonic Unleashed is basically two games in one: the excellent daytime levels and the average nighttime levels. This is easily one of the best 3-D representations of the hedgehog hero ever, though the Werehog levels will no doubt sour the end result. Sonic fans should buy it for the excellent daytime levels; anyone else should best rent it.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 12/26/08
Game Release: Sonic Unleashed (US, 11/18/08)
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