Sonic Unleashed (Xbox 360) review
"It's not really going to surprise anyone when I make the claim that Sonic Unleashed is a bipolar title. The entire gimmick the game is built around is that half of the levels feature Sonic being the fastest thing alive. The games have always been about breaking the sound-barrier as you scream through cities designed by engineers who think that metal rails should go everywhere, and loop-the-loops are perfectly safe highway features. Nothing has changed in that respect, and it's good. "
It's not really going to surprise anyone when I make the claim that Sonic Unleashed is a bipolar title. The entire gimmick the game is built around is that half of the levels feature Sonic being the fastest thing alive. The games have always been about breaking the sound-barrier as you scream through cities designed by engineers who think that metal rails should go everywhere, and loop-the-loops are perfectly safe highway features. Nothing has changed in that respect, and it's good.
However, when the sun goes down Sonic turns into some kind of hybrid of the wolfman and Mr. Fantastic. He's an angry-looking giant were-hedgehog, complete with rendered fuzz and stretchy arms which he uses in levels that resemble God of War sometimes, and Prince of Persia at others.
A lot of people expect this to be where the game rears its ugly, fuzzy, head. But it's really not the case. Sure, there are some problems. The werehog levels are slower than the Sonic levels, for one, but they tend to focus on more acrobatic platforming, so it works. As the werehog, Sonic dangles from ledges and swings from poles, using his stretching arms to reach things that would normally be too far away. Some of the platforming is actually very memorable.
Combat, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. There are a number of combos and abilities to use, enemies can be thrown off cliffs or beaten till they stop getting back up, and most can be brought into a quick time event that kills them instantly if you succeed. It's almost varied enough to stay interesting, except for that there are maybe five types of enemies throughout the entire game. The levels quickly fall into a pattern wherein you bash your way through a flock of redundant foes as quickly as possible, simply because the next platforming challenge is much more interesting. The game makes up for this a little by including some really fun boss fights.
He may not have Sonic speed, but the werehog makes a better interlude than that emerald hunting nonsense from Sonic Adventure.
No, the werehog isn't the problem. Where Sonic Unleashed lets you down is in the filler. Every level requires you to have a certain number of these day and night medals before you're allowed in. This means a lot of backtracking and fetch questing when you suddenly don't have enough medals to continue. It's probably not necessary to explain why it's frustrating to look for small, often hidden, tokens in a game where simply holding forward causes you to run 600 miles per hour.
And then there are these mind-numbingly terrible levels where you ride on the back of Tails's signature biplane the Tornado, and shoot down enemy aircraft. Those levels have been awesome in the past, but the way they were utterly ruined here is awe inspiring.
Enemy robots appear on the screen with a button next to them. You push the corresponding button, they explode, repeat for five minutes. It's like Sonic the Hedgehog Teaches Typing, except you aren't learning anything because you're using a controller, so there are only four buttons. And you aren't having fun, because if you screw up and die, you start the whole level over again.
It's extremely frustrating that, in a Sonic the Hedgehog game where your greatest foe actually Dr. Robotnik and not the camera, the devs seem to have dropped the ball on simple things. The kind of design blunders made in this game are analogous to a professional football team getting penalized for being offsides. It's a mistake in fundamentals that just shouldn't happen, and it leaves the fans shaking their heads in stunned silence when it does.
Even so, this is closer to blue-spiky paradise than we've been in a long time. When it gets going, Sonic Unleashed is poetry in motion. In the old games, Sonic was fast, but none of that will prepare you for what's to come in Unleashed. Imagine that Ferrari unveiled some kind of ridiculous new prototype car built entirely out of rocket engines. Now imagine that those rocket engines were powered by some wonderfuel distilled from cheetah fur and red bull.
It's the kind of speed that makes you lean closer to the screen so you don't miss anything. It's the kind of speed that makes you unconsciously grip the controller more tightly. It's never felt so right to just run. You run down the sides of buildings, you run over water, over whales, and basically anything that is big enough to put a foot on. All the while the camera shifts back and forth from a nostalgic 2d perspective to the more recent 3d, allowing for some dramatic presentation without taking the control away from the player more than necessary.
Perhaps the best thing about Sonic Unleashed is that it's proof that Sonic isn't necessarily dead. The speed levels demonstrate that, when done right, Sonic can be as much a thrill as it ever was. The werehog levels show that, when done right, Sonic can be fun even when you aren't playing as Sonic.
The worst thing is undoubtedly the fact that in spite of the above, the game still wasn't really done right. It's as if Sonic Team looked at the reputation that Sonic has gotten over the past years, tried to fix it, and then got scared of what would happen if they really made an amazing game. Any Sonic fan, or anyone who has ever been a Sonic fan, can probably forgive the flubs simply because at their best, the speed levels are nearly divine. It's unfortunate that you can't run away from the game's shortcomings as easily as giant killer robots.
Community review by dragoon_of_infinity (January 31, 2009)
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