Sonic Unleashed
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-12-20 Wii Action/Adventure E10 (Everyone 10+) SEGA / Dimps

After 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog, which is widely considered a terrible and shoddy mess of a game, it was going to take a lot to regain the trust and respect of Sonic purists. By combining the traditional speed filled gameplay that has made this friendly blue hedgehog famous, with more traditional platforming elements, Sonic Unleashed is Sega's effort to regain their place in the good graces of gamers everywhere.

This time around, Eggman is still up to his dastardly deeds, and has positioned his space armada above the planet, ready to carry out his next plan. Sonic appears to spoil Eggman's plan, but even after taking out a large portion of Eggman's militia, is captured by the evil doctor and placed inside a massive machine where his Chaos Emeralds are stripped of their power, and subsequently, Sonic himself turns into a massive Werehog, complete with razor-sharp teeth and long, jagged claws.

Feeling quite satisfied with himself, Eggman fires a powerful beam of energy at the planet, breaking the crust into large, continent sized segments that hover miles above the planet's core. As the globe literally falls to pieces, an ethereal purple creature (later referred to as Dark Gaia), rises from the planet's core and later envelops all of the floating continents in its glow.

In Eggman's haste, he launches Sonic out of his ship, along with his now powerless Chaos Emeralds, and only realizes afterwards that he has given Sonic all the tools he needs to reconstruct the planet, thereby once again ruining his plan. It is up to you to travel around the planet's continents and with the help of friends both familiar and new, locate the secret Gaia Shrines, reenergize your Chaos Emeralds, and restore the planet to its former state.

Gameplay itself is split into two distinct sections: day and night. Sonic quickly realizes that during the day, he is returned to his sleek blue state, and that, appropriately enough, only the light of the moon can cause him to turn into the much more powerful Werehog.

As such, Sonic Unleashed's daytime levels offer the expected speed-filled romps through various ethnically themed neighborhoods, where you try to make your way to the level-ending goal ring as quickly as possible, all the while collecting as many rings, and defeating as many enemies as you can.

But it's not all a simple rush from point A to point B, as each level is uniquely designed to incorporate rooftop jumping, wall running, iceberg avoiding, and other elements which help make each level stand apart from the rest. Likewise, Sonic's daytime specific abilities must be utilized in each level in order to complete the level the fastest, thereby receiving the best grade possible at the end (S being the best, then A, B and so on as you decrease down the scale).

These daytime moves include the Quick Step (accomplished by holding down the Wii-Mote's B button and flicking the nunchuck's analog stick) which allows you to strafe and avoid both obstacles and enemies, the Sonic Boost (fling the Wii-mote in a downward motion) that allows you to surge forward at a break-neck pace, damaging any enemies who stand in your path, and the ability to drift around sharp corners by holding down the z button while turning.

Other basic moves include the ability to jump by pressing the A button, and to bash the ground, breaking objects that you're standing on, by pressing the B button. While most of these individual actions perform quite well, when combining them (say when you jump into the air and then swing the Wii-mote downward to bash into a faraway enemy), there is a disappointing consistency for the controls to fail, causing not only your combos to break and your progress to slow (sometimes to a halt), but at times can cause you to Sonic Boost yourself right over a waterfall or off of a cliff to your death.

These control problems not only follow Sonic into his nighttime Werehog stages, but are increased ten-fold. During said Werehog stages, which comprise more than half of the game's total running time, the game's pace slows down considerably, as Sonic's Werehog dash (done by double tapping the analog stick in any direction) is barely the speed of a daytime Sonic's jog.

This disappointing slowdown notwithstanding, the Werehog levels as a whole play like those of any platforming action title that one could think of. The most famous comparison would be to God of War, as Sonic's goal is to make it to the goal ring by following a very linear path, collecting rings and secret items along the way, but must frequently stop to defeat a group of Dark Gaia powered forces that ambush him in all-too-frequent intervals.

During combat, swinging the Wii-mote and the nunchuck causes Sonic to punch with his right and left fists (respectively), and by swinging both at the same time, or in particular patterns, you are able to launch enemies up into the air, physically grab them and use them as a weapon to bash other enemies and so on until the group is defeated and you can continue on your way.

But defeating enemies is easier said than done, as I frequently found myself swinging both the nunchuck and the Wii-mote in every pattern conceivable only to see Sonic stand there, motionless, as if spot-welded to the floor. After a few annoying seconds Sonic would suddenly burst back into motion, but by then, the damage to my patience had already been done.

If the combat system wasn't enough to have me literally screaming at the TV, the game's "grip" system definitely would be. By pressing the B button, Werehog Sonic will, in theory, grab onto poles (bother vertical and horizontal) in order to climb to high ledges, cross expansive gaps and so on. Furthermore, this B button grip system is also employed to accomplish everything from hanging by your fingertips on small overhangs to moving various levers and even lifting heavy barriers. But, like lots of things within the title, it falls short of its promised purpose, as I found myself extremely lucky to pull off even one or two of these B button maneuvers in a row before the game had another spasm and let me fall off of a pole or ridge to my demise.

All of this being said, I don't think I need to say how disappointing the controls are within the game. A game franchise such as Sonic's demands responsive controls, and the lack thereof was almost enough for me to put down the game as soon as I had begun, that is, until I read a bit deeper into the options menu and found that I could play the game with the original Gamecube controller, which gives the controls such a transformation, that it is practically night and day (no pun intended).

When using the Gamecube controller, all of my complaints vanished, save for one, that being the grip system, but with so many other problems resolved, it almost became a non-issue. In fact, after plugging in the Gamecube controller, not only did the Werehog levels actually become more fun and engaging than simply clich??d and redundant, but the daytime levels also received a boost, and allowed me to sit back and enjoy the insanely fast paced gameplay that comprises each level in the way that both types were truly meant to be played.

And once I was able to stop screaming at the Wii motion controls for being so downright infuriating, I was also able to appreciate the technical aspects that the game does well, with praise being deserved by both the graphical and soundtrack departments.

The graphics in Sonic Unleashed are surprisingly impressive, especially where the cutscenes are concerned, as they transcend the level of mere video game standards to reach the level of quality found in any Pixar or Dreamworks CGI film.

This appreciated attention to detail is shared by the vast majority of the game's levels themselves, as each is themed according to the continent that you are currently playing on, with levels for locals like Japan, China, Antarctica and even France or Greece. Likewise, the soundtrack throughout each level fits with the ethnic background, and is comprised of the same quality of songs that fans have come to expect from the franchise.

While Sonic Unleashed is definitely not perfect, if you have a Gamecube controller lying around, most of its faults can be easily forgotten, leaving you with a better-than-average gameplay experience. And while the Werehog levels as a whole are a bit unneeded, they are worth playing, even if only to unlock more of the familiar, frantic, and downright addictive speed levels that we've all come to know and love from the franchise.

Special thanks to Kyla Keefe and SEGA for providing a copy of this title.