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Review: Sonic Unleashed

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While this latest take on a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game is supposed to be the return to the glory that was Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, it’s been met with mostly negative criticism. Almost universally panned by the ‘pro’ reviewers out there, is Sonic Unleashed really as bad as they say?

As you begin the game by with a slick looking CGI sequence, you will be treated to many such sequences. An excellent job was done with these sequences, full of high-quality, well animated scenes and characters. These sequences are really well done, so I want to make sure credit is given where it’s due!

As with Sonic Adventure, there are many interactive ‘town’ scenes/hubs. You can find some hidden coins, talk to locals, and so on. These areas don’t do much in terms of gameplay, aside from harboring a few coins here and there, but it’s nice to take a little time out to chat with people. You do travel to various locales around the world, which seem to be fairly well represented. Since I have not visited Africa, Italy, or Greece, I can’t say for sure, but I at least am given a good impression of what those areas might look and ‘feel’ like.

Throughout Sonic Unleashed, you basically have three gameplay elements, each with their own mechanics and styles. Without going into the storyline much, I’ll just state that Dr. Eggman messed things up big time (split the world apart from the core), which resulted in Sonic mutating. This mutation affects Sonic at night time, turning him into a Werehog. So, with that little bit of information, you can assume that you play as regular Sonic during the day and Werehog Sonic at night. As you progress in the game and revisit stages, either as part of the storyline or to go back and collect missed coins, you are given the option of passing time before you travel, so you know if it will be day or night when you arrive. These coins I mentioned are basically power-ups; there are Sun coins and Moon coins, which power up both sides of Sonic. This process is very similar to God of War, where you hold down the button to fill the various meters, until you build them all up. It’s nice to have a degree of customization, even if it does borrow from other games.

The first type are the traditional Sonic stages, which are third person/side scrolling. Ultimately, your goal is to run fast, defeat various foes, time your jumps/slides, and collect various items. Along the way, the camera will shift from behind the back to the side and back, all done seamlessly. While these stages are timed, you certainly don’t have to rush it, especially if you are looking to collect the coins. The action in this element of Sonic Unleashed is the fastest, though you won’t find any slowdown or hiccups along the way, which is very impressive. The sense of speed is well represented, taking me back to the old school Sonic games where, if you were going full speed, you simply won’t be able to collect everything, let alone know what’s going on until you hit a wall. A nice feature included in these stages are various sounds and icons that alert you to what’s coming up soon, such as a jump or a slide. I must add that, for those of us looking to grab all the coins and rings, you can slow down a bit and explore.

The second element of gameplay are the Werehog stages. Sure, it may not make sense or sound cool, but it’s an interesting change of pace. Even though it may not ‘fit’ with the typical Sonic game, I suppose the Earth still functioning after being split in several places doesn’t ‘fit’ either. Most interestingly, the Werehog stages play out similar to God of War/Prince of Persia, complete with doors that are opened by rapidly pressing a button and cranks that are turned by holding a button while rotating the thumbstick. While these stages aren’t quite as in depth as those of the aforementioned games, they are done fairly well. The focus is on smashing everything and climbing/jumping on walls and such. If you are looking for Sonic-paced stages while playing as the Werehog, you will be disappointed. Nonetheless, these levels are relatively fun, especially beating up the enemies with your vicious melee attacks and combinations. There are various secrets to be found by the observant gamer, so again, if you are going on a speed run, you’ll have to pass those up!

The third portion of Sonic Unleashed are the flying with Tails levels, which are third person, timing based levels. Basically, Tails flies his plane while Sonic works the gun. Rather than becoming a shooter, these levels are based on timed button presses (quick time events) as Tails flies the plane. As the enemy flies by or shoots, Sonic’s job is to fire the gun at precise moments, which are prompted on screen. Aside from timing, there’s not much to these stages, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing since the timing window becomes smaller and the prompts come faster and faster as you go. I’m glad Sega is willing to take risks and test out new elements in an old series, even if those elements are borrowed from games past. It’s hard not to use elements that have worked well for other games, so I’m not going to fault Sega for doing so.

Overall, the graphics/animations are pretty decent. The CGI is really well done, as I mentioned earlier, even though it’s not actual gameplay. The voice-overs are well done, with the option of choosing Japanese or English voice. The controls vary by stage, but each of the three aspects feel complete in their own regard. I feel that Sonic plays just like Sonic should in his stages (even if it is hard to be precise when traveling at top speed!), while the Werehog controls well enough, for a huge, lumbering beast with plastic-man type arms. I guess my only real gripe is that, if you do want to collect the coins and see the sites in a level (especially the day levels), then you will not get a good score at the end. This is not really a negative, as much as it is a deficiency in my own style of play (I typically get a C score because I take forever, trying to find coins and enjoying what each stage has to offer). The good thing is that you can come back and replay stages to improve your score or grab missed coins, so it’s all good.

I’ve read several ‘reviews’ on this game and nearly all of them left me scratching my head. Nearly all of these people that are supposed professionals bashed just about every aspect of this game. Is it perfect? No! Is it as bad as other Sonic games between Sonic Adventure and now? Not hardly! It’s almost like one site gives the game a bad review and other sites simply follow suit. The game plays a lot like Sonic Adventure and that’s a good thing. All these sheep that universally bash (or praise) a game are irritating and disappointing, especially when you know most of them get advertising dollars from publishers/developers. With all these game news/reviews sites popping up all over the place, you are bound to encounter this type of behavior. I just can’t believe some sites scored this game so low – 4.5 for IGN, 3.5 for Gamespot – it’s pathetic. This game is not even close to ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ and it’s a shame that these top-tier review sites. I don’t want to get drawn into the general negativity that has become game reviewing, so I’ll stop here.

Ultimately, if you liked Sonic Adventure, then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy Sonic Unleashed. There are different gameplay elements fused in with the typical Sonic style of play, but that’s not such a bad thing. If you are swayed by all the negative reviews, you might check a message board where comments are written by people who actually paid for and played the game a while (which are generally positive). Give Sonic Unleashed a try and cross your fingers that someday, somehow, reviewers will actually become lions instead of sheep!

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