Sonic Unleashed – PlayStation 3
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date (NA):
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Sonic has gone through many changes throughout his 20+ year lifespan. Possibly his most famous change occurred when Sonic helped launch the Sega Dreamcast in 1998 with Sonic Adventure. This launch-date game saw Sonic with less childish looks and more edge, which was a bold move for Sega. Sonic’s image and attitude was presented with a ferocity never imagined for the beloved gaming mascot, but the results were stunning. Not only was this Sonic’s first actual 3D exhibition on a home console,* but it would be the basis for how all future Sonic games would look as the 2D Sonic that we loved from the Sega Genesis was now a thing of the past.** While Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 were critically praised, Sega suffered through some truly horrific critical reviews on a few Sonic titles, namely Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). With Sonic’s prestige on the verge of becoming a cautionary tale, what direction would Sega take Sonic to turn things around? Enter Sonic Unleashed…. Maybe…
Sonic Unleashed‘s story begins with a radically similar look and feel to Star Wars Episode IV as we stare into space and watch spaceships enter the screen. The music is even similar with its orchestral score, but it was obviously not written by John Williams because it didn’t bring me to tears. One mega spaceship in particular is Eggman’s ship (or Dr. Eggman) and he is likely up to no good. As Eggman cackles with pride, bam, the Blue Blur appears out of thin air to save the day. Missiles, robots, badniks; nothing can stop Sonic as he zips his way from one end of the ship to the other. But Dr. Eggman is prepared this time, and he captures Sonic with tremendous robotic strength! Using the power of the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic unleashes Super Sonic and escapes! A chase ensues to another location on the ship where Sonic corners Dr. Eggman.
But getting cornered was Dr. Eggman’s evil plan all along, and this time Sonic can’t fend him off. Sonic is detained and stripped of his Chaos Emeralds, and Eggman drains them of all their energy. Using the power of the Emerald’s, he fires a massive laser beam into the planet below cracking the surface and splitting it into 7 pieces while also unleashing a giant creature from below the surface known as Dark Gaia. Sonic, still being held captive, transforms into a Werehog and is launched down to the planet to be forgotten. As Sonic tumbles toward the planet he collides with a tiny creature, which causes the creature to suffer a bout of amnesia. Together, Sonic and Chip (Sonic’s nickname for the tiny creature) decide to traverse the 7 continents in an effort to collect and use rare artifacts to restore power and energy to the Chaos Emeralds all while trying to discover Chip’s true identity. Oh, and to stop Dr. Eggman of course.
The story is pretty great, actually, and I found it quite refreshing for a Sonic game. Sure, it’s still Sonic vs Dr. Robotnik (now universally known as Eggman), but now we have a really deep story to help drive a moderately lengthy Sonic game. I can’t be alone when I say that my expectations for Sonic Unleashed were pretty high upon its release. Development on Sonic Unleashed started in 2005 when Sonic Team began development on their new game engine dubbed Hedgehog Engine. Other games to use this engine are Sonic Generations and Phantasy Star Online 2, proving that the engine was strong and worthy of driving future titles. The use of the new Hedgehog Engine resulted in the production of phenomenal graphics while using the already established physics engine by Havok, resulting in very smooth gameplay. It’s a good thing Sega chose to implement the Hedgehog Engine to get up to speed on the 7th generation of gaming.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics, animation, sound, and score are all beyond extraordinary and present some of the finest in the entire Sonic series. In fact, I haven’t been this blown away by a game’s graphics since September 9, 1999 when I first plugged in my Dreamcast and watched the opening sequence to Sonic Adventure. Not saying these are the best graphics I’ve ever seen, but it is much more than one would expect from a Sonic game. The power of the PlayStation 3 appears to be fully utilized with detailed animation and electrifying colors. The delightful graphics aren’t the only thing that will capture your attention as the soundtrack is truly a marvel in its own right.
Sonic Unleashed features a unique soundtrack that is almost entirely orchestral as opposed to the pop / rock tunes of nearly every Sonic game before or after it. In many Werehog stages, the music bounces around with a really upbeat tempo strumming along with the fusion of big band and some choreographed jazz! But no matter how enjoyable the music is, one track in particular queues up each time Werehog Sonic gets into a fight with the enemy. So not only do you hear the same song each time you get into a fight, but the song starts from the very beginning as well. So picture hearing the beginning of a song, but only 15 to 20 seconds of it, then it ends. But then it starts up again 30 seconds later when you get into another fight, playing for another 15 seconds again. This happened to me about 6 times in a 3 minute span once. It was awful. Some variety would have been nice. But this is a minor annoyance, as the rest of the music is pure genius and masterfully composed.
The gameplay in Sonic Unleashed is split into two entirely separate modes, one featuring a more traditional 3D Sonic the Hedgehog and the other featuring Sonic the Werehog. During the daytime, Sonic is… well… Sonic, and thus his stages are crafted to make use of his abilities. At nighttime, Sonic turns into a mixture of a Werewolf and a Hedgehog, making him a fuzzy Werehog with big claws and scary fangs. Sonic Unleashed is laid out so that more often than not you will alternate between day and night from stage to stage. Unfortunately, you do not get to choose which Sonic you will get to play with as the game follows a very linear progression.
Sonic Unleashed has similar features to Sonic Adventure as Sonic Adventure created the template for all future Sonic games. During the day, Sonic is his traditional self as he zips through green pastures and wooden bridges, grinding rails, collecting rings, and killing badniks. These 3D speed stages are downright breathtaking and will leave you damn near speechless as you marvel at the sheer speed and superb animations and colors! Grinding rails with Sonic has never been so beautiful, especially the first time you ride a corkscrew rail! During these stages Sonic can get quite a bit of momentum behind him making him near impossible to control his movements or collect rings. But by pressing L1 or R1, Sonic can do a quick side step left or right respectively. Sonic can also use his Speed Burst attack, which uses your ring energy meter and allows Sonic to blast through enemies without having to stop his momentum.
The daytime levels provide everything Sonic fans have ever wanted in a 3D Sonic game. Speed. Agility. Action. And more speed. That’s what the Sonic franchise is most famous for! And Sonic Team made an almost flawless experience in that right, but it all went to shit as soon as they decided to create the nighttime levels. Bringing Sonic to a screeching halt are the levels featuring the Werehog in which Sonic slowly tromps around a stage fighting enemies with hand-to-hand combat. Sonic’s arsenal is extremely limited, but the game does feature a small variety of attack combinations. Werehog stages feature some light puzzles such as moving boxes, finding switches, and more. But the puzzles are so simple they aren’t even worth putting into the game. The only thing that is accomplished by adding simple puzzles is it makes each stage take longer to complete. Overall, Werehog Sonic sucks ass.
Sonic Unleashed is such an odd addition to the Sonic franchise. I love Sonic Team’s ambition with this game, I truly do, but I can’t get past the poorly designed Werehog concept. It’s not a bad idea, but the execution sucks and they force you to play his stages every other level. Between levels, Sonic can roam around the town or city and talk to the townfolk, most of whom have absolutely nothing worthwhile to contribute. While the initial anticipation and excitement is high, that excitement quickly wears off once you are forced to start making conversation with random people just to hear someone say one single particular line of dialogue which then allows the game to progress. Being forced to talk to the townies feels a lot like filler and makes me think Sonic Team was just trying to stretch the game out and make it last longer when in reality it just breaks down the pace of the game considerably. Not to mention the extreme tediousness of having to talk to everyone in town for no reason.
I get what they were trying to accomplish by including all of these seamless world hubs and such, but something gets lost in translation and the reality of it isn’t as enjoyable as the idea behind it. There’s just no way around the Werehog stages, which are by far the least enjoyable in the entire game. The feel of a Sonic game is lost entirely during the Werehog stages instead giving the feeling of playing a really bad beat ’em up game with tedious elementary puzzles. There’s nothing challenging about having to slide a block on top of a platform that you push a switch to move. Furthermore, Sonic the Werehog has an exceptionally slow recovery time from his own attacks, making it difficult to attack and evade/block within the same 2 second period. It’s utterly frustrating to no end when you enter a room to face off against 4 large enemies, defeat them, and then 4 more identical enemies appear out of thin air. What the hell for?
Overall, Sonic Unleashed is a mixed bag of initial fun and excitement that will have you eager for more! That excitement vanishes rapidly when the sluggishness and monotony of the Werehog stages feel like they are just dragging on and on. But on a positive note, the graphics and sound are breathtaking, and the daytime levels are fun as hell. There is one unique stage in particular that is frustratingly difficult but exciting and uncommon for a Sonic game. While flying aboard Tails’ plane, Sonic and Tails encounter a bunch of Eggman’s goons. The game actually goes the way of a rail-shooter and uses quick-twitch reflexes to complete the button prompts on the screen to destroy missiles, enemies, bombs, and more. Very enjoyable.
Is Sonic Unleashed a game worth owning in your collection? Yes, but only if you’re truly putting together a collection. Is it worth the $15 just to play? Not at all. Sonic Unleashed does warrant a small amount of praise as the game does have considerable depth for a Sonic game with level up systems, collectible items scattered throughout levels, and much more. It’s not the worst Sonic game ever, but after a few hours of playing, you will be pissed off to the point of probably never wanting to play a 3D Sonic game ever again. Keep in mind folks that this is coming from a diehard Sonic fan.Save your money or wait about 3 more years for the price to drop even more. I’d say it’s worth $10 or less just to experience something new. Just don’t expect much from it.
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
*Sonic the Fighters was technically Sonic’s introduction into the third dimension.
**Sonic did make his way to 2 small download-only games with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 episode 1 and episode 2, both of which are in the classic 2D style.
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