Review by DBean
A good day, a bad night
Sonic. You mention his name, and you're going to get a variety of opinions on what his games should be like. The ones that prefer the Genesis games will say this, the ones that loved the Adventure series will say that, and then you'll get even more opinions on where Sonic games should go, what they should be, what they should do, how they should play. It's become disappointing to see the fastest thing alive spinning in circles as he tries to find the game that will reinvent, or at least return him to his former glory. Sonic Unleashed is Sonic Team's most recent attempt at this, and it appears that while they have Sonic going in the right direction at last, they continue to slow him down with an unnecessary and unwanted gameplay elements.
As said earlier, Sonic Unleashed gets the Sonic part right. His levels, which will switch between the second and third dimensions with little problem have a real sense of speed, meaning you'll have to have good reflexes and memorization skills to get through his levels in one piece. The 2D gameplay borrows elements from both the Rush and Rivals series as you'll collect rings to fill up a boost gauge. As long as you have any ring energy, you can perform a super speed dash that will send you speeding through levels. You'll also come across some timed button sequences as well that will enable you to take shortcuts through levels. These also come into play in the third dimension as you'll be making rail transitions with a tap of the bumper buttons or even just changing lanes while you're on the ground. These will help you avoid any obstacles that impede your progress. Also for the 3D segments are a much more manageable form of the mach speed sections from 2k6. You'll run at blinding, but controllable speeds once you get a hang of the controls. Drifting through turns, dodging obstacles. . . It's a nice combination of speed, reflexes, and platforming. This is the section of the game that you'll enjoy for the most part.
Unfortunately, that's not the only part of the game there is. No, Sonic Team once again feels the need to force another gameplay style on its fanbase. When the sun goes down, and night falls on the world, Sonic transforms into what Sonic Team has decided to call a Werehog. Why? You can't have a Sonic game without some new gimmick being thrown in, of course. The gameplay shifts dramatically here as the game decides it wants to be a God of War knockoff. Whether this explains why the Werehog has arms that stretch for no reason or it's just because of how many directions the blue blur has been pulled in over the last few years is for you to decide.
I wouldn't have a problem with the nighttime sections if they either came close to the game they were trying to emulate or maintained the quality of the daytime stages. Needless to say, they don't even come close, and it's for a variety of reasons that the fanbase is all too familiar with. Bad camera work? Check. Uninspired level design? Check. It's not to say that every Werehog level is an abomination, but these levels can drag on for up to thirty minutes on your first playthrough. Even when you do know the routes and shortcuts you can take in these levels, it doesn't make them all that fun to play. Most levels have a gimmick that is repeated all too often, whether it be combat, platforming via help of enemies, or the absolute worst, tightrope walking on balance beams. Literally, these levels just don't have anything to offer other than a break from the part of the game that you'd rather be playing. There's a little fun to be had here, but there's twice as much, if not more frustration. Just wait until the final stage of the game. You'll be experiencing so many cheap moments in these sections that you'll wonder how this was even approved in the first place.
Also thrown in to the mix are town hubs and missions. At first, I despised these, as they reminded me of why Sonic 2k6 was so bad. As I actually played through them though, I noticed that they were harder versions of levels I had played. These actually became a fun challenge to try and go through these. It's not required to beat the game, but you'll find that if you can perfect these, you'll do all the more better in the actual levels should you choose to repeat them. Hot dog missions are basically the ultimate challenge in this game. Vendors will give you the option of trying to go through levels quickly, collecting rings, beating up a certain number of enemies to pass, and so on. The thing is you have to do an entire stage in one life. You die, you fail. Simple as that. Again, the Sonic challenges are in the fun category. The Werehog ones will make you shake nervously as you hope the camera won't swerve on you at just the wrong time. Thankfully, these are again optional.
Why would you want to do these missions in the first place then? Well, Sonic and his alter ego have an experience meter and every special hot dog you can get is worth quite a bit of experience. That's not to say it's the only way to earn experience as you also earn this from smashing, bashing, or dashing through enemies in your way, and let's just say that if you thought Sonic was fast at the start of the game, wait until you've cranked up his speed to eleven. The Werehog stages also become considerably more manageable should you level up his five categories ranging from strength to a larger health bar.
All in all, Sonic Unleashed does a good job of reminding people what makes Sonic games so fun in the first place. It's just a shame that it also does a good job of showcasing the series' shortcomings in full detail. It's a tale of two games. If you can stomach the Werehog levels, you can get back to enjoying the Sonic sections. If you can't, then Unleashed is better left untouched.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Sonic Unleashed (US, 11/20/08)
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