Oh, Sega. What happened to you? We were totally BFF all the way up until 2001, but then only one of us was putting effort into the relationship. I was doing all the work, we weren’t friends now, you just mooched my cash. I knew when Sonic Heroes happened that it was just me, but you told me things changed with Sonic the Hedgehog. I knew better, I tried, but when I let you back into my life I was only hurt again.
And here I am again, with you knocking on my door, promising you’re not going to do it again. But you did.
Sonic Unleashed sure tries to be a good Sonic Game again, taking cues from the original 2d games and the Sonic Adventure titles. There are a score of 2d running sections which are unfortunately full of cheap, prescience-requiring pitfalls. Sure those have always been a small issue with Sonic, but in the 2d days he didn’t move so damn fast you couldn’t react, and now he does. Some ideas, like the ring energy taken from Sonic Rush, are fun. Others, like the awkward camera or transition from 2d to 3d, just make you die. A lot.
Both the 2D and 3D sections feel the same during play, and suffer from the same cheap deaths, many brought on by sluggish controls and awkward powerslides right into enemies. Granted this is an essential part of Sonic, but something which hasn’t changed except for one bad Game Gear port is going on. Players no longer spill all the collected rings on impact, instead they lose an arbitrary amount. Since its inception, Sonic the Hedgehog has been run fast, get hit, scramble to get all the rings back possible, resume. As long as players acted fast, it was easy to recover and continue on, exception for pits, lava, and crushes. Now two hits might be all you get. It’s practically a life meter, and that is NOT what Sonic is all about. Throw in a framerate that can choke sometimes and you get an even more frustrating experience, especially with Sonic placed too damn far forward in the frame.
Speaking of life meters and not what Sonic is about, there’s the new Werehog segments (yes, there is the complaint about werehog meaning man-hog, but let’s skip it beyond that mention). They are, surprisingly, a fairly capable brawler section, though the levels are too long and tend to drag. There’s a bit of the God of War feel (which I don’t always call a good thing), and the blocking mechanic is highly flawed. There’s also a glut of QTE finishing moves, which either are great successes or epic failures. When you screw up a special finisher enemies actually GAIN health. It doesn’t get much more epic than that, certainly. Otherwise though, it’s not bad. Decent mechanics, an alright move set, and a lot of thrashing enemies. Swinging them around and bashing them into each other is pretty great, I admit, and more brawlers could use that with tiny enemies.
Throughout most of the game’s levels experience is gathered to increase stats, though most experience is gained in Werehog levels, since the focus is on defeating enemies rather than zipping to the finish. Players can increase Sonic’s speed or ring energy(the better choice by far, more speed is the irony button to make the game even more frustrating), or WereSonic’s strength, life bar, Unleashed bar(rage/special/super mode), shield energy, or combat (more combos). Those are all fairly useful, excepting for the shield energy, as one hit can easily knock it all out, and you have to regain it via item pickups. Sadly, the melee does get fairly sluggish, and can get a bit overwhelming due to the same sluggish control that plagues the game at large.
The Werehog areas also suffer from a ton of bad platforming. Once again, bad control and bad cameras are the culprits, and a poor lock-on mechanism for grabbing edges. Perhaps most annoying is a tendency for small falls to prove fatal. One early section involves climbing up platforms in a tower, some 50 feet let’s say. Now, there are lots of times Sonic falls 20-30 in game, not including the opening cutscenes. But in this tower, a 10 foot fall is death. If you fall off the current platform set, and miss the one below you, it’s over, even if there’s one right under it to land on. The maximum height is completely insignificant by Sonic standards, and a quick way to lose 5 lives. Yes, there’s still a lives system in place, and it’s still pointless.
Getting to a level is an exercise in boredom. Two games have attempted to recreate Sonic Adventure‘s exploration, but neither manages to be fun at all. Cities are overly complicated and slow to navigate. You have to talk to a lot of people, they feel lifeless, and to get to a level you have to find a special area within each city, THEN find the level in that. It’s a lot of loading and no fun at all. Sonic Adventure‘s charm was partially by the wild feel of the open areas, and the ability to zip through an entire city area in 15 seconds, with lots of levels scattered about and interesting things to see. And amusing things, like Sonic being nearly as big as most cars. This, it’s back to stylized humans, but it’s still not interesting or fun.
The story itself is passable, but the acting terrible. The replacement actors brought in with Sonic the Hedgehog are back, and terrible. Sure they can’t all be Jaleel White, but Sonic is whiny and tails sounds like a two year old. I mean, I know he’s only eight years old in game canon, but Jesus. Yes, I actually know these things, no I don’t know why, it’s barely even useful on a professional level. Maybe if Sonic Team hires me for the next game.
It’s worth noting that the Sonic levels look pretty good, but you speed through them quickly. Lots of crisp, bright colors, good textures, good models. There’s some nice design on the Werehog levels as well, but there’s also a lot of bland architecture and a lack of color. Everything begins to look the same rapidly. This applies to cities just as much. Come to think of it, this applies to anything in the game that isn’t an actual Sonic level, but getting to those in the first place takes so much effort as to make it not worth it.
Sonic Unleashed gets 2 out of 5 canes. Some good moments, some idea of what made Sonic great originally, but not nearly enough of it, and too many new things that are just…just awful. And as has been the case since Sonic Adventure 2, there’s no damn Sonic in my Sonic game.
Damn it Sega, just put me on Sonic Team already. What you’ve done to Nights and Sega is simply inexcusable, and I promise not to go all Devil May Cry 2 on it. I’m taking it back to the game that came with my Genesis!