Sonic Unleashed review
Decent comeback, but could've been a lot better


Maybe there's hope for the little hedgehog after all...
After the abysmal game known as Sonic The Hedgehog - otherwise known as Sonic 06 or Sonic The Disaster - for the PS3 and 360, Sonic Team and Sega had to bust their balls to keep everybody interested, so with the first trailer of Sonic Unleashed, everybody was hyped up for it. However, that's the way they roped us into Sonic 06, and we all know how they turned out. Fortunately, when Sonic Unleashed finally arrived in stores worldwide and people played it, all - except Gamespot and IGN - thought of it as a huge improvement. But what do I, an amateur game critic, think of this? The best way to sum up my thoughts is this - it's okay, but unfortunately, for every good thing, there's a few bad things to screw you over. Sure, the graphics and soundtrack are well up to snuff, but the gameplay, controls, level design and voice acting...for every step those aspects took forward, everything else took a step backwards, and unfortunately, it just doesn't compare to the Sonic of old and won't be revitalizing the hedgehog anytime soon... hey, it's a hell of a lot better than Sonic 06, at least!

Ripping a couple of pages from the book of cliches.
Sonic Unleashed begins with Sonic on Eggman’s ship, destroying all of his robots and about to settle an unknown matter once and for all. Unfortunately, it was all a trap, as the little hedgehog gets trapped inside a tube, and Eggman absorbs power from the 7 Chaos Emeralds in order to split the world into 7 pieces and awaken a dark lord sort of entity known as Dark Gaia. The absorption also results in mutation, with Sonic turning into a monster... some sort of hedgehog-werewolf hybrid that is called a werehog, and then Sonic is ejected out of the ship and back onto the world.

There, he lands on a flying whatchamacallit called... real name unknown, as when Sonic lands on him, he forgets everything including his name. Sonic names him Chip, possibly because of his obsession with chocolate chip ice cream. From there, Sonic has to put power back into the now-useless Chaos Emeralds, stop Eggman, destroy Dark Gaia and restore Chip’s memory.

The story has some twists and turns amongst more characters to interact with, but it’s best for everybody to experience it for themselves, but I’ll say that the story is pretty good. Nothing epic or new... actually, I’d go as far as saying that it’s fairly cliché and overdone, though in execution, it’s well done, and one of the better Sonic stories out there.

Speedy revolutions per second.
The one thing that gets everybody pumped up about this game has to be the daytime or hedgehog stages. These are more reminiscent of the 16-bit games, but in 3D. So if you don’t know how they work, here it is – run fast to your goal while overcoming or destroying whatever obstacles get in your way. Simple enough, really.

It works in two different views – 2D and 3D. The views change abruptly, forcing you to adjust quickly, which is easily enough considering the simplicity of the hedgehog stages. While it feels nostalgic, simplistic, easy to pick up and whatnot, it also has some problems... a bit nitpicky, though they can be fairly annoying.

For instance, there isn’t enough of the 2D perspective, and I reckon that was the better view. Of course, it doesn’t help that I used to play the 16-bit titles to death at friends’ houses plus copious amounts of time with Sonic Advance, but nevertheless, the 2D view feels more natural for the style presented here. 3D feels a bit weird, with the camera just a little too close, making it hard to make immediate decisions when overcome by obstacles.

That gets to be a bigger annoyance when you actually progress through the game, as it adds in trial and error moments, like more pits and some more bullshit here and there. Oh, you can get past it, but you may need to sell your soul a few times just to figure out what the hell you’re meant to do there. This isn’t real difficulty if you haven’t grasped it. It’s virtually non-existent in the first few levels, but pops up a lot during the second half of the game, and coupled with the ever-so-loathsome quick time events, you’d wish for less trial and error, and more smart obstacles that kill you due to your own ineptitude instead of because Team Sonic is still crying over the backlash of Sonic 06. Not that it’s too common or anything, but can get very, very annoying when the fifth trial and error moment pops up... it just all comes up like morning wood.

To add more bitching to this section, while the controls are good, there are some decisions that were made that got on my nerves. For instance, why does circle all of a sudden become the homing attack button, while the jump button is still X? That’s just bloody stupid. We’re all too used to just the X button for both jumping and homing! Plus, both are jumping gestures, so it makes no sense for two different buttons. It’s also stupid to map the light speed dash to the triangle button, especially if the R2 and L2 buttons aren’t being used at all! GOD!

However, it’s not all bad. At least the movement controls are solid enough. Turning and skidding is handled well and not at all horrendous. At least it’s feasible to get used to them and admire them. Same for the quick turn buttons (R1 and L1), which allow you to quickly shift to the left or right. Plus everything else works well. I guess it was just the light speed dash and jumping controls they had a little trouble with...

As the moon turns, so does the quality of the game. What a horrible night to have a curse.
I'm all for variety in a game, provided that it's done well. You could either be like the earlier Mario Party titles and have a bunch of fun mini games, or be like Sonic Adventure 2: Battle where, while the Sonic/Shadow stages kick ass, the Knuckles/Rouge stages were a blow to the junk as they were uninteresting and sometimes a bit glitchy here and there. Unfortunately, Sonic Unleashed goes in the same direction as the latter, as when the moon pops up, Sonic morphs into the werehog, and as werehog, the pace of the gameplay slows down a fair bit and becomes incredibly redundant after ten or so minutes. Unlike hedgehog who likes to speed his way through levels, werehog prefers to jump across some platforms and beat the crap out of his enemies, much like Dante from Devil May Cry. Unlike Devil May Cry, though, the werehog stages are far from as fun.

To begin with, the werehog traverses through stages that are in similar design to the hedgehog stages. For many, that'd turn them off as the werehog is not a speed based thing, but rather, a berserker kind of guy. I'd kindly give you guys a big middle finger, as the werehog actually fits kind of nicely into it. You can actually admire the scenery and such. In the hedgehog levels, they go by so fast, and as good as they looked with a nice motion blur effect, the appeal of the designs really stand out in the werehog stages, with some nice dark shades and colors.

The only problem I have with this is that the levels feel a little too long. Each one seems to be about 9 or 10 times longer than the average day stage, and since the average day stage takes about 3-5 minutes, you're probably looking at 20-40 minutes a piece, and considering that the most werehog does is jump and punch, it's safe to say that these levels end up becoming redundant after a while.

But what is the lesser of two evils?
The second and final big problem I have with the werehog stages lies in the camera. At times, it's off. It focuses at the wrong places sometimes, and can really throw you off. Its worse that you can’t control the camera, so if it’s at a crap angle, you pretty much have to deal with it. It only really happens throughout 15-25% of the time you’ll spend in the werehog stages, so if you persevere through them to the average-good angled parts, it won’t become such a hassle. It’s just that when it is a hassle, it’s annoying and can get you killed unless you memorize the level a fair bit.

So what about Devil May Cry?
Werehog stages are your basic beat em up stages where Sonic can use his rubbery arms to beat the crap out of foes while doing some jumping here and there

Now, here’s where my first problem with the werehog stages come into full swing... like I said, it’s one to get boring after a certain amount of time. However, there is a second side to the problem that you may not know of... how shallow and derivative it gets. As a beat em up, you should be encouraged to do heaps of different combos and actually be threatened. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The enemies are bloody ridiculously stupid and timid – they hardly ever attack, if at all. Towards the end of the game is where they start to get dangerous, but by that time, you’d wish the werehog stages would go screw themselves six ways from Sunday with the devil itself due to how boring each of the stages end up becoming due to crap enemy AI. Adding onto this, the most you’ll ever do is square-square-square, or triangle-triangle-triangle. There’s hardly a need to mix these buttons up for different combos... because they all basically do the same thing!

In the end, though, the werehog stages are okay. If the enemy AI was to have improved more thus forcing different combos out of you, the stages trimmed down and the camera been controllable, this would be equal (if not better) than the hedgehog stages, but alas, one can only hope...

Know how to make grilled cheese with skunk feces taste good? Neither do they.
Within each of the levels, you have quick time events. Yes, these stupid things. I never liked any of them whenever they’re used, ever. It’s nothing but a cheap death. Quick time events are basically the diet sprite of gaming, and diet sprite is a crappy soft drink. Anyway, these things get littered throughout the game, and when you’re about to jump to a higher place or through some chasms or beating the crap out of enemies, buttons will pop up, and you have to press them quickly, before Sonic gets sodomized.

I mean, yeah, I guess they add a sense of urgency, but they also add a couple of layers worth of annoyance and they also like screwing with you there too, since you only have a short amount of time before you kiss your ass goodbye. Again, it’s just a cheap death because the game supposedly isn’t difficult enough (which is somewhat bullcrap, it is kind of difficult, though in the cheap way).

More collectables? Sure, why not?
There is one element of gameplay that's as appealing as grating your pubes - the medals. While the werehog stages were blatant plagiarisms courtesy of Kingdom Hearts 2 with a side helping of boredom, at least it just felt like banging your head on a metal pole. However, the medals, what can I say that probably hasn't been said a million times... Well, I can say this - it was a neat idea. Yeah, it was done a million times, but regardless, it's still a neat idea. However, the way that you do this, plus the constant cockteasing prior to all this and the juicy ass you get after, is a little bit on the tedious side. For the most part, they're hidden pretty well within the hub worlds and the night stages, and you'll probably be busting your balls to find them in often obscure locations, but that's not too bad.

During the day stages, however, is another story altogether. Looking for tokens while running at breakneck speeds is a ridiculous idea. As good as they are, having to repeat levels many times to get those last few medals is bogus, and you have to admit, it gets old after the third time, so to make us do it the seventh time because we mistimed one jump by about a quarter of a second is like asking to roll in a hamster ball through the slums. It's the ultimate sledgehammer to the face when you find out that you're short one medal while busting your balls to get a lot during each of the stages.

Too fast!
Graphically, the game can stand very well. While they are nothing special on a technical aspect, they are special in the sense that it was a passing test to see if Sonic games look better if they’re cartoony or realistic, and with its cartoon styled graphics, it looks much better. The color schemes used in each and every level works well for what its meant to portray... it’s aesthetically pleasing, really.

One effect that really stands out is the blur effect used throughout the hedgehog stages. When going at breakneck speeds, it has a sort of motion blur thing going on, simulating what it’s like to go at breakneck speeds, and it looks very effective. I don’t care that it’s not graphically superior to most titles on the PS3 or even PS2 – THAT BLUR EFFECT KICKS ASS!

But yeah, if there’s a graphical problem, it’s that compared to a lot of games released in 2008, Sonic Unleashed looks lackluster, not quite at 2008 standards. Even for the style, it just can’t find any way to compare to most titles released in 2008, or even most Wii and PS2 games for that matter... which would be fine if it was for them, but the version I’m reviewing here is meant to be the most graphically superior of the four it was released for – THE PS3 VERSION! A minor gripe I have, but it lets the score down a bit nonetheless.

Get out your iPods, kids.
I love this game’s soundtrack. Each level has a song suiting to its theme, and it gets bonus points for being awesome songs. It’s a soundtrack that you’ll most likely never get enough of. Even if you dread the werehog stages, you’ll at least be humming along with the tune... odds are, it’s the only thing captivating your interest. As well as that, with the hedgehog stages, it gives a feeling of speed like the motion blur effect does, meaning that you’ll feel more pumped for the stages than you would just reading this.

And am I the only one who actually thinks the voice acting is good? Well, in a “so bad it’s good” way anyway. It has a campy 60’s TV show sort of approach to it, where they overact, but at the same time, it never really gets on your nerves. And if you’re one of the unfortunate people who don’t like campy voice acting, there’s an option to switch to Japanese voices (PS3 and 360 only), and the Japanese voice cast sounds pretty good too.

Not even Stephen Hawking would know how to recommend this game to a mass audience! Maybe I might, though... Eh, one could always try...
Sonic Unleashed may be a return to form somewhat, but due to boring and painstakingly average werehog stages and the tedious-to-get medals, I can’t really recommend this game to many people. Maybe if you’re into trial-and-error gameplay, or bugger it, if you like Sonic, you should have a lot of fun with a decent amount of this game. If you’re like me and just want a good game, you may need to look out further, because this isn’t really what you’re looking for.

Unleashing stats:
Story: 7/10
Although taken from the big book of clichés, it’s executed well and none too shabby, especially for Sonic.
Gameplay: 6/10
Hedgehog stages are pretty good, if a little too trial-and-error based. Werehog stages, however, are nothing special and are just a poor man’s God Hand/Devil May Cry... And screw the medals!
Controls: 7.5/10
Hedgehog’s controls are quite good, except the stupid decision to map the homing attack to a different button or using triangle for the speed dash instead of R2 or L2. Werehog’s controls work well, except for the part where you’re constantly mashing the same button over and over.
Graphics: 8.5/10
Cartoon-styled graphics really work here, and the blur effect in the hedgehog stages, as well as the darker shades of somewhat bright colors, looks really impressive.
Sound: 8/10
The campy voice acting suited the visuals well, and sound somewhat nice. Soundtrack kicks major amounts of ass.
Other: -8
Unfortunately, I can’t really give this game anything over a 6/10. The graphics and soundtrack (especially the latter) may be awesome, but the rest of the game just isn’t that impressive, plus the fact that you spend more of your time with the werehog stages. Nothing that makes the game an 8/10 or more.

Overall: 6/10

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