Sonic The Hedgehog Reader Review
As I've stated before, I'm a big fan of Sonic. I loved Sonic Adventure 1, and I've been enduring the 3D Sonic's decline in quality since then because I just really love the universe and its characters. Sonic The Hedgehog - the latest game - was a big deal for me and possibly one of my most anticipated games this winter along with the likes of Gears, and after what I thought was largely a successful attempt with Sonic Riders I hoped that this would put THE back in Hedgehog.
Sonic THE Hedgehog
It's been a while since Sonic and friends had a game coming out that felt like a part of its main series. As with Mario, Sonic has had his share of Sunshine and Mansions in the way of Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog, and now we're back to the game that is most akin to Sonic Adventure since 2001 when the sequel came out.
What sets this game apart from the SA games besides the obvious name change and gameplay additions is the setting and story. Gone are the lush California styled adventure fields ripe with secret places and things to play with like the Chao Garden and the casino. In fact, Chaos are effectively removed with this game. Instead Sonic and pals reside in Soleanna - a monarchy complete with castles and sort of Spanish looking architecture.
...Which is why the story is a bit odd for a Sonic game. Princess of Soleanna is one Elise, a young girl that Robotnik seems intent on capturing - Bowser style. Why that is or what he wants with her is unclear, but Sonic doesn't need much more incentive than that to rescue her.
Over the hedge and into the game
And so he sets out to do so and you're immediately dropped into the adventure field of Soleanna. You'll notice right away how awkwardly big and empty everything looks, sort of like the environments in Serious Sam. There are some people standing around, but nowhere near enough to make it feel like a proper city, let alone give it any sense of homeliness and intimacy that was so prevalent in similar areas in Sonic Adventure. The reason for this becomes clear when you accept one of many optional missions from city folk. Often these include taking out massive amounts of enemies in the same area, and suddenly the extra space makes sense. It still doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable experience when you're just running around, though, and with no map, framerate issues and samey looking surroundings it's easy to get lost and downright frustrated.
Anyway, to proceed you need to purchase the light speed dash from a shop, so you undertake a mission and finishing it you're rewarded 100 rings which you then use as currency. The light speed dash for those unfamiliar with the Adventure games is Sonic's ability to travel across a line of rings, and this is required to reach the first action stage. If the game gives you a sour first impression, dumping you in Samey City, this is where it puts your concerns to rest. Modelled and sounding like a tribute to the first level in Sonic Adventure 1, this Emerald Coast lookalike plays really well at a blistering 60fps. At one point in the level, Sonic grabs on to the fin of a whale going for an open gate (presumably to swim out to sea!) and Tails is tasked to operate a switch in order to close the gate. During this brief period you get to control Tails, and again it's a relief to find he controls really well, and is back to his mech-less Sonic Adventure ways. about 30 seconds later you arrive at the switch, close the gate, and controls return to Sonic. This is the way all secondary characters in the game are handled, and it means that while none take a completely passive role, you aren't forced to play with them too much either. Not that doing so is a chore though, especially with the likes of Blaze, who's a lot of fun to play. Sonic stages also sometime have bits where Sonic just takes off like a nut. These high speed areas are usually extremely linear and just require you to jump in the right places. They're essentially equivalents of the running down the building in SA1 but instead you're running on the ground. They're very brief and kinda cool, but nothing to get overly enthusiastic about.
Finishing the action stage you return to the awful city bits again, and in order to proceed you usually need to talk to a lot of people with red markers over their heads - meaning they have info related to the next action stage. I gotta say, in theory I like it when the game breaks up the action stages like this, and I really liked it in Sonic Adventure, but it's just not fun here at all.
Guybrush Three-hogs !?!?
Playing Sonic, the story focuses mostly on the relationship between him and Elise, and not so much on the overall plot. This is essentially in line with the character of Sonic, not caring a whole lot about the overall picture, but rather what's just doing the right thing without thinking a whole lot. In order to fully grasp what's going on we need to turn attention to Silver - the new character. Apart from the speed of controlling the camera on the right stick, Sonic plays just like he does in the demo available on Xbox Live Marketplace, so go check that out for reference.
Silver shows up looking for the "Iblis Trigger", essentially the one who brings forth the end of the world. This someone, he's told, is Sonic the hedgehog. Playing as Silver gives the story a completely different tone, and the cut scenes get really, really good. So how does he play then?
Well, unlike Sonic, Silver isn't particularly fast. Instead he has the ability of telekinesis. this enables him to hover for a bit, use context sensitive bits of the surroundings to his advantage.. oh and hurl cars at people. He can also catch projectiles fired by enemies and shoot them back at them. There was some concern that Silver would be a complete bore to play, but that's not the case at all. Even though he's technically a slow moving character, the amounts of enemies he's tasked with battling keeps the action frantic. Silver can later also perform a kind of hammering move that stuns opponents around him. So, for instance, he's able to jump into the middle of a bunch of enemies, stun all of them, sweep them up with his powers and hurl them at another group of enemies. Unfortunately due to the frantic nature of Silver's levels, he's also the one character worst struck by slowdown. It seems confined to a certain few levels though, so it's not something you'll have to endure throughout. Overall, Silver is a well acted, mysterious character that's a great addition to the universe, and the nature of his origins gives Sonic a new tone and depth too.
Fan favourite Shadow makes a return here as well, with holstered weapons yet still a keen eye for vehicles. Luckily they aren't as laughably useless here as they were in his own game, even though they do occasionally feel superfluous.
What's proper different about playing Shadow is how ninjaesque the game suddenly feels. Shadow can use a kind of daggers to stun enemies one by one, in mid air and then attack them with a homing attack. After each attack Shadow actually stays afloat for a short time, which gives you time to seek out another enemy by spinning the camera, hurling a dagger at that one and setting after him without ever landing. This makes the game feel a lot like the PS2 Shinobi/Nightshade. You can also keep hitting the button after a dash attack to perform a combo that usually take out the big guys - that Sonic needs to hop around on multiple times - in a single flurry. All in all, Shadow feels like a more action focused character than Sonic, and while very similar, still refreshing to play. He also has his very own perspective on the story - getting to learn things that none of the other two even hint at. In fact, all three characters give you a huge incentive to play their respective episodes because of it.
I don't want to give away too much about the story, so I refrain from saying which characters are paired up with who, but rest assured they all meet characters that make sense in the context of their story. Oh and if you're a fan of Rush you positively need to see Silver's story through to the end.
Sometimes you're Blue-tiful!
From time to time this really reminds you what platform it's on. Character models for the most part animate and look really good. Some cutscenes are pre-rendered, but most of them are rendered absolutely beautifully in the in game engine. Action stages for the most part look good, too, but then there are also some incredible drops in quality. The forest stage is nothing short of absolutely ridiculous and looks much, much worse than the similar Sonic Adventure 2 stage. Where the game hits mind boggling lows is in the adventure fields apart from the city area, again with the forest bits looking unbelievably poor. I'm gonna say Turok for N64 and not even take it back. Konquest mode in Mortal Kombat Deception is probably the most accurate. Simply inexcusable.
Framerate also takes a hit mostly in the adventure fields, and never holding up properly at all in the city. It's like everything but the action stages was added as an afterthought, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they probably were.
Even though the action stages for the most part look good, with excellent lighting being its main strength visually, they suffer from some rather bland design and art direction. Nothing really jumps out at you the way Sonic Adventure 1 stages did, and while you prolly have a better ratio here of your usual lava/snow/lush/tech themes than in SA2, it's just a bit charmless and devoid of personality. Menus and such are reasonably exciting, and offer a sufficient front end to the action.
The soundtrack is absolutely awesome, even though it's a departure from the riffs of Sonic Adventure. Some of this sounds Phantasy Star-y, other bits sound Panzer Dragoony, some of it is classic Sonic synth stuff, and all of it is brilliant. Sounds are the usual Sonic fare with blips and blops and plongs and ka-chings. Voices are surprisingly endurable, probably thanks in large part to a script worth acting.
Waiting for some waiting for some more waiting
A technical issue that really starts to grate after a while is the game's insistence on slapping loading screens in your face. In the middle of stages you're sometimes catapulted away into another area, only to be treated a load screen killing all of the adrenaline you've built up. Funnily, some bits seem extremely short, yet a loading screen shows up before you know it, while others can go on far longer, making you forget about the issue altogether.
Also, accepting missions is a total chore. First you approach someone on the street and talk to them, you accept the mission and a loading screen appears only to load the same guy telling you the details of the mission and sending you another loading screen before the mission starts! What the hell!? The same is true for bosses. "Oh no a boss!" cutscene says -- loading -- boss gnarls -- loading -- you get to fight it. Luckily they're not very long, but more importantly - they shouldn't be there! This could theoretically be helped by putting the game on the PS3 hard drive I suppose, but it's unknown whether the game will support that or not.
All in all, Sonic The Hedgehog is a pretty big game, with Sonic's story seemingly a little longer than the other two 'hogs. After you've cleared all of their stages there's plenty to do to earn achievements, beating your best times etc, and in one sense this is a far less frustrating way to approach the game what with no huge city bits of awfulness forced on you.
I wrote this with in a deliberate order, because this is a lot like how I experienced the game when I played through it. It has to be the single most inconsistent game I have ever played in terms of production values and design focus. At the end of the day what you have here is an increasingly appealing story coupled with spots of really impressive visuals, and what's easily the best playing 3D Sonic to date, marred by the sloppiest brand of design flaws and lack of a soul. Ironically, the things even Sonic Heroes did right - wrapping everything in a likeable presentation, with colourful and memorable levels - this game stumbles on, ultimately rendering the thought and care that went into the core action and combat practically useless.
Sonic The Hedgehog harbours a pretty good game in there somewhere, so what you really gotta ask yourself is if you like Sonic enough to find it.
6 / 10