Sonic Unleashed Xbox 360 Review
It’s seemingly impossible for SEGA to release a new Sonic game, without some sort of added gimmick to mix things up. Sonic Adventure introduced a ton of different playable characters, whilst Sonic Unleashed turns the blue hedgehog into the more bulky and less agile, Werehog. Fortunately, Sonic only turns into the Werehog at night, so during the daylight hours you can expect a much more traditional Sonic experience, something which is the sole thing that a lot of us are wanting from a game starring the uncharacteristically fast hedgehog.
So, let’s get the worst out of the way first. The Werehog sections can vary from the decent to the woeful; they’re also a sharp contrast from the speedy and stylish daytime stages, with a slower Sonic (the Werehog is well designed, basically being a bigger, furrier and meaner looking Sonic with stretchy arms) and one that relies on brute strength rather than speed. Combos are acquired as you level up your moves and on-screen button prompts allow you to strike down your enemies quicker if matched and timed correctly. Sonic, as the Werehog, also has an unleashed meter that powers him up, dishing out extra damage and not receiving any hits to your health bar at all, until the meter is depleted.
With a slower pace, some light puzzle solving and combat heavy levels, it’s instantly obvious that the Werehog stages are not what Sonic games are all about and what’s more, they suffer from design issues, are very repetitive and sometimes drag on a little too much. In fact you’ll be spending the bulk of your time as the Werehog and in the later stages of the game in particular, these levels can prove massively frustrating, so much so that many may just give up, indeed instead of beating the game, letting the game beat them.
Yes the Werehog stages can vary from the fun to the truly annoying, but most of us do actually play a Sonic game for its speed, and fortunately during the daytime stages the character will be more familiar to his fans. In fact for those without the knowledge, that Sonic title says it all, until they learn that he’s a hedgehog anyway, as most hedgehogs can’t run at all, never mind at such barrier breaking speeds as the blue blur.
The daytime stages are what Sonic is all about and never has a Sonic game moved like this one, 2D or 3D. The speed and momentum when Sonic is on the run is truly breathtaking (thanks to a speed boost and the new quick step, you rarely actually have to slowdown) and, in an excellent piece of thinking, the game regularly switches between 3D and 2D perspectives, making it a real treat that feels new as well as a little retro at times.
The daytime level design is certainly deserving of a mention, and traditionally contains speed boosts, springs, loops and rings. Due to the speed, there is a feeling that you aren’t always in control and stages certainly become something of a memory test, a case of trial and error (that‘s Sonic for you and, as a fan, I‘m not complaining). Levels are also very re-playable, not only to improve your ranks (no online leader boards at the moment, which is odd) but the structure of the game also actively encourages it.
Unlocking levels comes through gathering medals, sun medals for daytime stages and moon medals for the very un-Sonic like night time portions. Medals are found not only in the game levels, but also in the pleasant compact hubs that house them. You’ll be returning to levels to seek out medals that you may have missed on your first journey through in order to unlock specific levels, and with a total of 400 medals to find, perfectionists may be forced to squeeze some stress balls and down a lot of stiff drinks as they bid to completely conquer what can be a very tough game.
The difficulty may not be particularly pleasant at times, although the visual and aural goodness certainly are. SEGA’s brand new Hedgehog Engine was in development for three years, and it shows and shines. It moves briskly, without any framerate hitches to speak of in the daytime stages and can often turn into a blur, as Sonic (who looks better than ever) hits his stride, whilst the people are now more of a fit for Sonic’s world, very cartoon and appealing in their design. Aurally, the famous noise when Sonic picks up a ring is, as always, very much intact, and the wonderful music is a very pleasant accompaniment to Sonic’s speedy escapades.
Sonic Unleashed could have been very different, if only SEGA had stuck with traditional Sonic, but introducing the Werehog, whilst initially not too bad, actually begins to show through as a nightmare decision that does its best at ruining the game. As the daytime stages are such a joy to behold (they’re certainly the best that Sonic has ever been in 3D) and many of the Werehog stages aren’t actually too bad, the game isn’t totally ruined (rather, it manages to scrape through as average) by SEGA’s moment of madness, the time when they decided to suddenly make the game an absolute pain to play, courtesy of some terrible design decisions. Next time, I don’t want Werehogs, I want hedgehogs.