Sonic Unleashed review
Developer: Sonic Team
Now here's a great example of how to get your audience into the game, and just as they're having the most fun they'll ever have with a game in this generation, BAM! You stomp on their hopes and dreams with extremely unfair level designs and hopelessly boring segments that are unwilling to pick up at any moment. That is how Sonic Unleashed works, my readers, and they're not about to give up until the hopes and dreams of every orphan is reduced to jello.
Sonic is on Eggman's ship, taking down his robot army as he zips through to Eggman. Having cornered him and turned into Super Sonic with the power of the Chaos Emeralds, Eggman takes Sonic's moment of distraction, and traps him within an egg-shaped prison. It saps the power of the Chaos Emeralds and fires a laser down at the middle of the Earth, splitting it into seven pieces and awakening Dark Gaia. However, as it's a premature awakening, the world isn't going to be entirely destroyed just yet. Instead, he'll send his spawn to do the work for him. On top of this, Sonic morphs into a werewolf, or "Werehog" as many people will refer to the transformation as, as he falls back down to Earth, lands on a flying dog-looking thing who just lost his memory because of Sonic falling on him that he calls Chip because of the chocolate chip ice creams he had a craving for, AND NOW, he has to stop Eggman from world domination and Dark Gaia from total destruction of the world.
You know what's harder than finding Jesus? Finding a Sonic game with a good storyline. It came as a surprise that this is... actually pretty good. I wouldn't exactly say it's a masterpiece in storytelling, but as far as a Sonic game goes, this is the best they've done for three reasons. One, the voice acting isn't deplorable. The actors have trained themselves to not be complete earsores, and have instead figured out how to be well in tune with the characters they're voicing, even Chip to some extent; two, it don't try to cram in too many concepts without expanding on them. When Sonic Unleashed gives you a story element or two, it will expand on it. It will explain it competently. It will actually give you a reason to care. It won't be the most well explained one, but hey, it'll be something, and it's more than what Shadow The Hedgehog and Sonic 06 could ever do; and third, the dialogue is actually competently written. No longer, is it so cheesy, so corny, that you want to kill yourself out of embarrassment. Instead, it sounds like what real people would say! It's just a huge relief after all these years of poorly written dialogue...
The game is split into two halves; one half is speedy and fun, whereas the other half is slow and boring. It's a commonly perceived opinion not just because all people want in a Sonic game is a fast and furious hedgehog, but also because, in hindsight, it's the truth. It's as if Sonic Team finally figured out how to work Sonic well into 3D, but slapped this mode on just... for shits and giggles, I suppose. Whatever the case may be, let's dive into why.
The daytime stages consist of running through a straight and narrow path really, really fast. Along the way, you'll have to jump across chasms, collect rings and take down Eggman's robots in an effort to get to the finish line. It's a pretty simple concept, but for a while, it's a fun one, nonetheless. Running as fast as possible to achieve the ultimate goal is like an adrenaline rush compressed inside a CD. Sonic also has a few new moves to play around with - the boost, which makes its return from the Sonic Rush games, and it allows you to run even faster, so long as you have some ring energy via collecting a lot of rings (which shouldn't be too hard, because they seem to be magnetized towards you when you're boosting); the quick step, activated by the shoulder buttons, to quickly sidestep out of harm's way; and drifting, activated by the triggers, to drift around a tight corner much like a car - in fact, Sonic feels like a fast car, but just shorter.
One cool perspective-related feature is the fact that you'll be able to switch between a 3D view and a 2D view. At times, you'll be able to move in a 360 degree angle, and at other times, you'll be restricted to left and right. The 2D view harkens back to the days where graphics were sprites instead of lifelike objects, and it's kind of unfortunate that there isn't much to experience with the 2D view, as at the most, you'll be jumping across a couple of platforms and run a few feet. I would've preferred that the 3D view was seldom used, mostly just to add some flavor to the game, and the rest be in the 2D perspective, but I can't fault the game for trying and at least doing a reasonable job. It could be a lot worse, too; perspectives would change in a blink of an eye while debris flies a million miles an hour, and Sonic would have trouble keeping up!
Unfortunately, this is where I must stop praising the gameplay, because I really couldn't find much good out of the rest of the game. The daytime stages practically go directly to hell without passing go when the levels start to incorporate instant death sequences. If you've played Sonic Rush, you'd recognize these segments as soon as Sonic Unleashed sucker punches you with them - you're hit with a pitfall you couldn't see from a mile away because you're too busy running at supersonic speed and not expecting such a delicate platforming route, or you run into spikes, or you fall off a grind rail because you expected to land, only to fall off the face of the planet, or something. Practically any and all hazards are put in awkward positions in a vain attempt to challenge the player. Here's the problem - cheaply shooting players in the head by killing them because you, an underpaid level designer, want to be an asshole is not difficulty. Designing levels so that they are actually challenging, like careful positioning of obstacles and enemies so that if I die, it's my fault - that is difficulty. Ultimately, it becomes too frustrating to play, so it's usually at this point that, if you have anger management issues, you may want to shut off the game and play something else, because from here on out, you'll be breaking controllers and cursing a blue streak against your TV.
At least the daytime levels started good, which is more than what could be said for the night time stages. The night time stages consist of extremely generic beat em up/platforming segments that make you wish you were playing either Viewtiful Joe or Devil May Cry. Basically, you go through each level, either swinging across poles and jumping across gaps, or fighting off legions of enemies in order to progress. Now, I'm not one of those people who, if there's even an inch of anything that doesn't resemble the Genesis classics in a Sonic game, will go off on a rant as to why it shouldn't be there - I thought variety was the spice of life, not violent diarrhoea.
But I suppose I'll side with the anti-Werehog party, only because these segments are dull and generic to the point where all of it feels like filler. I found it to be a joke when the score count at the end of the level says that it took 15 minutes to finish, because it honestly felt like I've spent about an hour on it. These levels feel like they take an eternity to finish due to the monotony of the gameplay! All you're really doing is mashing buttons, with barely any rhyme or reason, and this may sound and even be interesting at first, but after a while, it really loses itself. It's as if the designers, after a while, decided to merely go with the motions, which I didn't appreciate while playing through these stages. It's as if every single Werehog stage was a last minute addition to try and pad the game's length from a few hours to about twenty, and by the fifth hour, this game overstays its welcome.
There is another annoyance in the form of the various medals you have to collect in order to progress. Finding these can either be easy or hard, depending on the circumstances. Finding them in the hub worlds, which connect all of the levels, shouldn't be too hard, and the same for the Werehog stages, but in the Sonic stages, you'll always find yourself missing them time and time again, especially in the second half of the game. You'll need to collect a lot of these if you're planning on beating the game, so you'll need to inconvenience yourself a number of times before you finally get that stage's last medal.
As much of a trainwreck as the gameplay is, at least the production value is something to appreciate. The graphics are quite cartoony, with a lot of life and color put into each object and landscape. It's a breath of fresh air after either glossy colors (Sonic Heroes and Shadow The Hedgehog) or boring colors (Sonic 06) in this series, and by far, this is the best looking Sonic game in a while. It's quite unfortunate that there are some framerate issues. I recall this game slowing down during some chaotic moments, especially in the Sonic stages, which caused it to feel less like a speedy racetrack, and more like a slideshow of sorts. It really wrecks the mood, especially when you consider how good this game looks.
The music in this game is excellent, there's no doubt about it. You got a mix of upbeat tracks for the Sonic levels, and some smooth jazzy songs for the Werehog stages, and it all manages to fit in very well, accommodating to a correct atmosphere, as well as being a bunch of songs I love listening to on my MP3 player. Fun stuff. The voice acting... is okay. Jason Griffith finally managed to make Sonic sound good, and the rest of the 4Kids cast aren't half bad, resulting in some voice acting that doesn't make my ears bleed. The only issue I have is with Chip's voice acting, which doesn't feel right. It's as if the voice actor was supposed voice something else and Sonic Team's sound mixers accidentally put it on top of Chip's dialogue... I guess it's the best way to explain it.
In the end, Sonic Unleashed fails. The unfairly frustrating second half of the game, coupled with the bland and mediocre beat em up stages, doesn't really bode too well for many consumers, especially those with anger management issues, and the PS3, 360 and Wii controllers don't seem to appreciate being thrown around, which would be inevitable after the fiftieth plummet into the ground. If you have enough patience, I suppose this warrants a purchase, but if you haven't got time to deal with bullshit in your life, skip this one.
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