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Believe it; Sonic Team has finally created a Sonic title worthy of its heritage...
- Finally classic Sonic realised in 3D.
- Plenty of Sonic Team touches.
- Varied gameplay.
- Day/Night medal design a little clunky.
- Werehog may not be everybody's cup of tea.
- English voice acting is atrocious.
It's testimony to the staying power of Sonic and the perseverance of
Sonic Team that the iconic blue hedgehog is still around. We won't
even mention the travesty of Sonic's debut on the Xbox 360 and
PlayStation3 (let alone Shadow), but it's fair to say that the rare
flashes of brilliance such as 'Sonic and the Secret Rings' and 'Sonic
Rush' have been greatly exaggerated by the dross since the blue
hedgehog stepped into the third dimension.
Culminating in three years worth of work behind the 'Hedgehog Engine', Sonic Unleashed is the latest such attempt. Released on every home console available, Sonic Unleashed has been mooted as the reboot that the series has sorely needed - but then again, similar things were said before he slipped his way onto the Xbox 360 and PS3 and we all know what happened with that.
Once again Sonic and his chums find themselves at the peril of Eggman's latest attempts to conquer the world. This time around harnessing the power of the Dark Gaia that lies hidden within the world, Eggman's plans lead to the earth splitting apart at the seams and it's up to Sonic to save the day. It's classic Sonic material (i.e. unlikely to convince Gears fan to put down their Lancers) and in many ways the dialogue and characters you'll come across are at least unlikely to offend in a similar manner to previous Sonic games. Just remember to take our advice and opt for the Japanese dialogue, as the English option will soon test your will to live!
At the heart of the story and the gameplay lies the concept of Sonic transforming into the Werehog at night, which is served by a day/night mechanic that unlocks different stages accordingly. Sonic Unleashed uses this dynamic to set up puzzles revolving around the different abilities of each character, but it does cause one or two issues that we'll come to later in the review.
From the first Sonic stage it's apparent that Sonic Team is on the right track as far as establishing the iconic Sonic action goes. Taking influences from the Wii exclusive 'Sonic & The Secret Rings' along with the PSP 'Sonic Rivals' outings, the Sonic stages are what fellow fans like myself have been waiting long and hard for. Undeniably the finest example of Sonic in 3D yet, Sonic Unleashed takes the gameplay and largely restricts these particular stages to 2D in order to fully realise the one thing that Sonic games need - a blistering sense of speed. However realising that this might not be enough to entice today's fickle gamers, each stage is flourished with plenty of 3D camera pans and movements to ensure this is Sonic looking like he should do 17 years after first bursting onto the scene. It's not just a case of running from right to left either, as these stages brilliantly mix up the action with additional sections that put the camera behind Sonic and make excellent use of the shoulder buttons to sidestep.
Finally Sonic is back up to speed...
The level of respect Sonic Team has paid to the original 2D titles is manifested in virtually every aspect, it's unmistakably classic Sonic and exactly what the fans have been crying out for. At first playing a stage can be fraught with frustration as you bump into obstacles and jump into spikes. But like the original 2D titles perseverance is the key and soon you'll find yourself literally whizzing through the stages, memorising every little turn and playing by instinct - exactly what a Sonic title should be. The camera and controls during these sections are hard to fault, Sonic Team has absolutely nailed what Sonic should be about and definitely cured the identity crisis that the poor hedgehog (and the team itself) appears to have endured in the years since Sonic first jumped into the third dimension. Sonic Team has also expertly addressed the issues that have thwarted all previous 3D Sonic titles, ensuring that Sonic doesn't grind to a halt whenever he hits the smallest obstacle or needing to wrestle with the camera to maintain a reasonable view of the action. Equally the slightly weird feeling of constant movement that characterised Sonic and the Secret Rings has been addressed, resulting in the finest example yet of what Sonic should be.
The Blue, Spikey God of War
this is only part of Sonic Unleashed. As mentioned before, almost half
of the game consists of Sonic undergoing the werehog transformation and
undertaking challenges where the gameplay is considerably different.
Employing a free-roam open world design, Sonic Unleashed puts the power
of time at your fingertips with the ability to pass by day and night,
in turn unlocking the stages associated with hedgehog and werehog. At
first there's the feeling as though you're merely playing through the
werehog sections just to unlock the next Sonic stage. However closer
inspection soon reveals the classic Sonic Team touches that translate
what could have been a routine bash-em-up into something a little more
It's obvious that Sonic Team has decided that a true Sonic title wouldn't have enough going for it, and so has decided that a Western audience needs some action and combat. Immediately God of War fans will notice where the influence comes from. Sonic in werehog form has extendable arms that bear an uncanny similarity to Kratos' Blades of Athena; equally the turning evasive roll is eerily familiar and just as tactically effective as the God of War's evasive manoeuvre. Although we'll admit that these sections don't quite hold the same appeal as the classic Sonic stages, they're certainly not the disaster that we were first fearing and make a reasonable attempt at emulating the title to which it draws undeniable influence. Sonic the Werehog has got all of the moves and techniques that Kratos puts to practise, whether it's aerial combos, hard hitting punches, a variety of grabs and grapples, along with stunningly cinematic quick-time events for dispatching the bigger foes he comes across. The way in which Sonic upgrades with experience earned by defeating opponents, lends the werehog stages a suitable sense of progression, unlocking new moves and techniques that provides the draw behind the game. We could argue that at around 30 minutes in length these sections do take a little too long and slow the overall tempo of the game somewhat; but the challenge is surprisingly stiff and worthy of hardcore gamers.
To add even more variety to the already considerable diverse gameplay on offer, Tails jumps into the action with a handful of shoot-em-up stages onboard the Tornado. Even these stages appear to pay respect to a genre that SEGA once ruled supreme. Playing in a rythtym/action manner, it's a case of hitting the corresponding buttons that appear over enemies and missiles in a further test of your hand-to-eye co-ordination. As if that wasn't already enough, Sonic Unleashed also features a further Sonic Team trademark with a handful of memorable and challenging boss fights.
just when it seemed that Sonic Unleashed would easily be the finest
Sonic title since Sonic 2, one strange design decision hampers the
whole experience and occasionally brings the whole thing down to a
stuttering halt. Your guide throughout the whole story is an ice-cream
loving companion named Chip, who develops based upon the number of Sun
and Moon medals that you collect. In turn these serve as the key to
unlocking the Gaia Gates and temples that serve as the main game
stages. All too often we found ourselves advancing to the next stage
only to be turned away because we hadn't collected enough medals, which
in turn meant moving back to the free-form world map to replay through
stages in search of medals that you don't particularly care about.
around the intermittent stages that follow each village on the world
map for medals isn't exactly fun or enticing, whether you're in
hedgehog or werehog form. It occasionally hints at a compelling use of
the day/night dynamic to serve as the occasional puzzle, but the
overall dated and confused design bogs down the experience and serves
as little more than padding to the otherwise thoroughly engrossing main
stages. That said, the ample selection of side missions provide more
entertainment than they probably should.
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