Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: Q4 2008
It's tough being a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, particularly an older one. You've had to see a series you love slide into craziness. Broken cameras, unoptimized code, unnecessary characters, loss of vision and principle, angst and motorcycles … the list of missteps goes on and on.
At the same time, you get to see the series flourish with a brand and style of gaming that no other company on earth has been able to mimic yet. When a Sonic game gets things right, it really gets things right, and there's nothing else like it. One has to only look at last year's Sonic Rush Adventure, a masterpiece of Sonic gaming we haven't had since the days of the Genesis.
Never has the dichotomy of the Sonic series been put more on showcase than in this year's Sonic Unleashed. Take a new development arm of Sonic Team (we can only assume that much of the team behind Sonic 2006 got the boot from the franchise so fast they're still dislodging it), add a game engine that Sega's been developing for over three years (all in their mascot's name, it would seem — it's dubbed the "Hedgehog Engine," of all things), finally ditch a good deal of the gameplay missteps brought about by the series' jump to 3-D, and here we are.
Sega played Unleashed for us — we sadly were not allowed to touch it. It was somewhat understandable — while the Hedgehog Engine is clearly powerful, some optimizations were still needed when it was shown to us. Still, what was shown took this reporter's breath away. High-speed 2.5-D platforming action was the order of the day, and the action never stopped or let up for a second. One minute, Sonic's racing along cobblestone streets, and the next, he's wall-jumping, then loop-de-looping, and then sliding on rails a thousand feet in the air. He's dashing between columns and alleyways, he's navigating moving platforms (the camera shifts to a 3D overhead view for some of these), he's doing so many things that we haven't seen him do in years, but that we should have been. It was fast to begin with, but Sonic Team also cribbed the Boost mechanic from the Sonic Rush games, allowing him to go faster still. It brought a tear to my eye. Finally, Sega had understood what made Sonic fun in the first place, and brought it into the new generation.
Or so we thought.
That was when they showed us the Werehog — for "gameplay variety," Sega said. When the sun goes down, Sonic's new curse inflicted by Robotnik takes effect. Sonic hulks out, grown crazy fur, fangs and claws, and gets to go on rampages. You'd be forgiven for getting indignant upon seeing it. I'm still fighting the urge.
The thing is, the Werehog stuff actually isn't that bad. You fight lots of enemies at once with combo attacks. You do jumping and platforming puzzles. You climb, you punch, and you use brute force. They're one of the few times the game goes into 3-D, but slower action takes place in exchange. It's actually more Mario than anything else, with a tiny bit of Devil May Cry tossed in for good measure. The Werehog's a totally needless venture, seemingly tacked on because Sega may not have been confident that classic Sonic gameplay could stand on its own in the game industry of today, and that's a downright shame. Still, if they have to do it, I'd rather have Werehogs than Silver the Hedgehog any day. It looks like genuine fun. It's just not Sonic.
There you have it, then. This holiday's Sonic Unleashed is the Sonic series in a nutshell. Between this, the Wii/PS2 version developed by Dimps (the same folks who gave us the glorious Sonic Rush Adventure), Sonic Chronicles, and Sonic and the Black Knight (Secret Rings rocked, so I'm giving it a chance), Sonic Unleashed may be the first time in a long time where it's a safe bet to look forward to blue hedgehogs.
After two decades of ridicule and disappointment, to say that it feels good is an understatement.
More articles about Sonic Unleashed