Sonic Unleashed Reader Review
A long time ago, in a small little corner of Bristol, a very young boy was given a treat - the latest video game for his beloved Mega Drive. It featured a spiny blue hedgehog zipping through glorious worlds, freeing his fluffy companions from being used as batteries for the metal monstrosities that plagued each level. This was a defining moment for this little child; whilst he had been playing games before, this little blue rodent was the moment that he got hooked. This is the defining memory that would live with him for the rest of his life. That sense of awe and wonder, the speed and skill, the gorgeous fantasy world sucking him in away from reality.
Unfortunately, that little child grew up and became me. I'm not sure where I got so jaded, but taking one look at Sonic Unleashed is probably as good a place to start as any. Why? What did my spiny blue hero do to deserve this? When did Sonic Team stop oozing that quality ambrosia from every orifice and replace it with grade-A horse manure?
And why oh why do I still retain that little tiny grain of hope deep inside that this time, this time it will be better? They'll get it right? That Sonic will instill me with the same child-like wonder that I've been searching for since I first made his acquaintance?
As things go, the past few years Sonic has been in a real rut. Heroes was clunky and frustrating. Shadow the Hedgehog was just a pointless diversion and still a mess. Sonic 2006 was so bad it broke my heart into a million pieces. Not to mention Sonic Riders, which despite being more advanced and superior doesn't feel like the old days of Sonic R (Why does Sonic racing need vehicles? Exhibit A, Sonic.) - Sonic, unlike his old rival Mario, has been on life support since the world moved into three-dimensions and the big 3D truck ran it over. Whereas Mario has grown, changed, evolved, Sonic has been dying - unable to change, adapt, grow with his audience or appeal to the new generation of games players.
Which lengthy introduction brings me to Unleashed, perhaps not the worst installment of Sonic's career, but more evidence - if any were needed - that it's a career that is hanging by a very, very thin thread.
Unleashed is at least better than Sonic 2006. That much I can state right away. Mind you, that's not hard, if it were worse I'd have said so by now and given it the thorough mauling such a corrupt entity would require. No, the best part of Unleashed is that it's not as bad as the last Sonic game.
And that's the only good thing about it.
The plot is the typical baloney and chips we've come to expect from modern-day Sonic. Robotnik (AND I WILL NEVER CALL HIM EGGMAN!) using the chaos emeralds for the umpteenth bazillionth time, calls forth a big ancient nasty of very large proportions and has screwed up the world in a very jolly and not-at-all cheesy way. Ahem. The job our spiky blue piece of roadkill has is to put the world back together again, defeat big ancient evil, smack Robotnik's bottom and send him to bed with no supper.
The game does try to go back to some classic roots, with some speedy sections and a hub-system, but it never feels natural. It's all very pretty, but this is the 360 version and if it didn't look pretty I'd have smashed the disc to pieces long before now. The speedy sections suffer from the usual problem of barely-existant collision detection, despite that it all seems smooth (hiding the fact for the most, you're not actually zipping through the stage - the game is doing it for you and STILL doing it badly), and the hubs are akin to the old Sonic Adventure - nice idea, but a bit of a pudding in practice. However, there is promise in the speedy sections and it does rekindle a small glimmer of hope...
Okay, I've been putting this off for long enough so I guess I have to talk about the Werehog sections. Which pours buckets of ice-cold water over that little glimmer of hope. In the opening scene, there's a terrible event that makes Sonic turn into a Werehog at night. Yeah, a hero with a dark alter-ego. Minus one point for lack of originality. In this form, Sonic is stronger and his arms seem to stretch like Mr Fantastic, although why this should actually be and how being a werehog makes this possible is never explained. Probably in part to ensure no plotholes, but partly because like every aspect of this game you just get the feeling Sonic Team couldn't be bothered in the slightest.
This means Werehog Sonic gets some action scenes - which is a given - and some platforming scenes, although these are taken from the "What Not To Wear" school of Prince of Persia-ripoffs. Combat is pretty much what you'd expect - basic, not complicated but as a result a bit boring. It doesn't fit right, and gets increasingly harder to tolerate. It's like giving Shadow a gun - why? They've got a very awesome atttack - the jump attack - so why move away from that? It's like giving Mario a water pistol... oh wait...
To add further insult to injury, Sonic Team also adds the medal/trophy system AGAIN. This wouldn't be so bad if it were something aside from the game but you actually often need to redo stages to get enough of these emblems to progress. And that's about the time you'll be throwing this game out of the window. When a game needs to resort to this level of cheating to pad out the pain and punishment further, that's the sign of a very poor game.
The problem with Unleashed is that it has all these ideas, but never once manages to make them all fit together. Take if you will, a great cheeseburger in a bun. The ingredients are not hard and we all know them. Some may not be to everyones tastes but the recipe is there. What Sonic Team did here was toast the onion, grill the lettuce, fry the cheese slice and serve the burger raw, and put the gherkins and condiments on the top of the bun. It's still a burger in a bun, but would you eat it? Trying to be different for the sake of it does. Not. WORK! And you know who I blame for this? Sonic Team - years of fans and their parent company SEGA tenderly puckering up to kiss their soft, plump back-cheeks has taken them away from reality. And now everyone is doing platforming and doing it better, they're trying to be different - and failing. Miserably.
Sonic Unleashed is a symptom of Sonic Team's total inability to get a grip on the series and move it on in any good way. There has been another example in recent years - Tomb Raider, where Lara was taken from a neglectful, abusive home at Core Design where she was forced by her parents to prance around to the paying delight of Nike and Lucozade, and put into the slightly more capable hands of Crystal Dynamics who have been nurturing the fundamentals and trying to ease the scars ever since - but will never be able to take away the hurt we all felt at Angel of Darkness. And to be honest, I similarly cannot see Sonic the Hedgehog moving on in any way until it is rescued from the neglectful home of Sonic Team and given to a more inspired, talented team who have a little more vision in mind.
The Wii version is, I am assured, slightly better but not enough to compensate for how bad this version is. SEGA, enough is enough. Disband Sonic Team, give the series over to some people who have some imagination and talent, and get Sonic back on track. Harsh? Maybe. But you don't need to be a long-term fan of Sonic like me to see the only direction Sonic has gone in recent years is down - and until Sonic is wrenched away from Sonic Team, Sonic is always going to live in the shadow of its own spinoffs, which are consistantly put into much more safe hands and continue to make a mockery of his main exploits...
Like an abused date, left alone in the restaurant again, with promises and sweet nothings, Sonic Unleashed has left me cold. I wish I could justify the love again, and try once more, but I can't.
Goodbye Sonic. I will remember you for what you once were... not for what you became.
2 / 10