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Sonic the Hedgehog (Xbox 360) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog (Xbox 360) review

"Sonic The Hedgehog has been run into the ground by his creators as fast as he once ran along it. That was not a retrospective comment about recent Sonic games generally, that was a comment about Sonic '06, referred to as such to prevent any of the following comments from being associated with the original Sonic the Hedgehog, a memory Sonic fans must cling to now more than ever. "

Sonic The Hedgehog has been run into the ground by his creators as fast as he once ran along it. That was not a retrospective comment about recent Sonic games generally, that was a comment about Sonic '06, referred to as such to prevent any of the following comments from being associated with the original Sonic the Hedgehog, a memory Sonic fans must cling to now more than ever.

As with everything else to do with Sonic, much fuss and hype surrounded the development and release of Sonic 06. Going to revive Sonic, it was. Starring Sonic - and only Sonic, they said, it would make a mockery of previous titles, return Sonic to his roots, and become a shining beacon for Sonic titles of the future.

Of these ambitious claims, two failed, and two were lies.

Sonic is not the only playable character. One of the first actual, true, details about this game that emerged following its announcement was that he was to be accompanied by long suffering friendly rival Shadow, and also by newcomer Silver (he's telekinetic, by the way), all hedgehogs. It was then revealed that each of these would be followed around by buddies ("amigos") and that these amigos would regularly feature in mandatory playable segments. It quickly emerged soon after that that the game would feature such "classic" ideas as vehicular combat, treasure hunting, and telekinetic abilities.

Bad start.

We'll get the good stuff out of the way first - splendid graphics (the in-engine cutscenes are almost as good as the prerendered ones), quality animation, brilliant music. Is that it? Yep, I think that's it. Well, we could go into more detail on the animation, but that would involve detailing how the game lags when many enemies are onscreen, and I think that with the amount of rubbish to be found elsewhere, we can have pity on the poor animations, and allow them to quit while they're ahead.

You may notice, that for all the other lies that were told about Sonic returning to his roots, he IS, to give credit where it's due, back to running really fast through vivid colourful environments. This should be a good thing, but evidence suggests that even just plain old running is beyond him now. See, Sonic fans like to talk about speed, but what tends to be forgotten is that the Genesis games were not entirely open to just blazing right through. Sure, Sonic had a high top speed, and there were moments when he did find himself running really, really, REALLY fast. Even so, the emphasis was first and foremost on level design, encouraging the player to explore, to learn where the obstacles were, and THEN allow him to blaze through them. It was a game about calculated speedrunning, not about speed. Act 1 of Green Hill Zone (and its 3D recreation in Sonic Adventure 2) can be beaten in 30 seconds if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, it might take much longer (like, a minute). Breaking that barrier produces a palpable sense of smugness. Likewise, how many players ran through Sonic Adventure 1's Emerald Coast (Sonic's version, obviously) in 4 minutes, only to gasp in disbelief when required, in an optional mission, to beat it in 2? How good did it feel to clock 1:59.xx for the first time? And how straightforward does it seem in retrospect?

This is what's changed about Sonic between now and then. Back then, the Shuttle Loop - that iconic obstacle - was an object designed to encourage anticipation. If you don't get a good run up, you will fall off and have to go back. Today, Sonic runs along ever bigger and more intricate and more gravity defying loops - because there are always boost pads in front and you can't fall off even if you come to a complete stop while standing on a ceiling. This seems to be lost on Sonic Team.

Sonic is now about simply moving along a set path and taking occasional breaks to jump across platforms. This holds true for the game's supporting characters, too. Tails and Knuckles, in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, had different abilities to Sonic but had a similar gameplay ideal - learn a level, run through it really fast. To facilitate this, they could run just as fast as Sonic. Now, though, no one besides Sonic (and occasionally other characters during prescripted loop de loop areas) gets to satisfy the need for speed. And when he is running fast, you'll notice how badly the levels are designed; where they're not boring, they're punishing, and when they're not punishing, they are brokenly difficult.

Nearly every aspect of the gameplay brings trouble. The controls are never right, either - always too tight or too lose, depending on your situation. Expect trouble turning when at high speed, but don't be surprised when you veer right off thin bridges. Sonic's notorious camera is back, not quite as legendarily bad as before, but still pretty bad. The accuracy of Sonic and Shadow's homing attack has been tightened a little, but don't be surprised when it misses the mark. Expect stuff to go flying every which way when you try and throw something using Silver's telekinesis. This goes on.

Sonic's stages, unsurprisingly, tends to focus on speed, but will often have you stopping to fight or unable to run fast due to fear of being screwed by the controls. Sonic will also occasionally enter Super Speed areas, in which he will run super fast, and as a result be super screwed by the controls. Oh, and it gets better - during Super Speed areas, you are unable to stop or even brake, you can only steer, and unless you steer perfectly, you will die. An example of what can cause you to die in a Super Speed area is crashing into a small rock which would ordinarily cause you to stop (and thus a maybe-decent gameplay idea is ruined). Sonic can also buy gems over the course of the game which impart all sorts of game breaking abilities such as slow-time, teleportation, infinite shields, and infinite jumping (I am entirely serious about all of these), all fully available during all levels and bosses. On occasion, Elise (who we'll talk about in a little while) will intrude on Sonic's levels by jumping into his arms and demanding to be carried around, in return granting Sonic the ability to walk over water and sand (because apparently he can't walk over sand in this game). For old times sake, Sonic can still use the Light Speed Dash to run along paths of rings, and has regained his (admittedly quite cool) bounce attack.

Shadow tends toward combat, having basically the same moves as Sonic, but with little differences, like being able to tack a five hit kick combo onto his homing attack, and being able to hurl stun-projectiles over pathetic distances. He will also find himself piloting vehicles fairly often, often vehicles with machineguns and homing missiles attached. As a result of not featuring Super Speed areas, and being faster than Silver, Shadow actually has some of the most fun stages available in the game, and yes, he is quite fun to play as (probably the most fun) if you can get over the vehicle sections.

Silver is much slower, and has stages focused around his telekinetic abilities, which means that instead of using springs and pressing buttons, you will be psyching objects into position to form bridges. Cool, huh? Much more fun is Silver's ability to use his Special Meter to pick up nearby objects (mainly crates, with the occasional car) and hurl them at foes. He can also stop bullets, missiles and so on with his mind, which brings his respect up a tad. Unfortunately, you will have few opportunities to really play with this ability, though it won't stop you from appreciating its coolness. This is as fun as Silver gets, though, because as fun as mind-hurling boxes around is, the novelty wears off fast, and you remember just how slow Silver is.

The fun doesn't stop there, though, because at many points during the levels of Sonic, Shadow and Silver, you will have to stop and take a moment to play with some other fan favourite characters. During Sonic's stages, expect to be hassled from time to time by Tails and Knuckles. When playing with Shadow, you will be bugged by Rouge and E123 Omega (both with worse voices than ever). For his part, Silver will be followed by Blaze and (for many stupid reasons) Amy. This was an attempt to add variety, but it falls flat on its face as a result of how completely useless some of these characters are. Tails can still fly, but is limited to a single very slow, very ineffective attack. Knuckles, once a punching powerhouse, is near impossible to punch with and has had his once useful glide trajectory thoroughly nerfed. He will also get stuck on walls occasionally due to a glitch. Rouge combines Knuckles' rubbish gliding and wall climbing with Tails' slow attacks. E123 has a very dodgy and unreliable lock-on missile system, only it won't show you where you're aiming. Amy is slow as hell, has a wasted double jump that kills all movement, and out of nowhere can turn invisible. Blaze, in a surprise break of tradition, is probably the most fun character of all to play as, as she can run fast enough to qualify as a Sonic character, and has some fun moves, most of which involve fire and speed, a winning combination. The most fun in the whole game can be had during the level entirely dedicated to Blaze, which says a lot about the efforts of Sonic Team in the creation of their latest Sonic game. One memorable stage, crucial to the course of events in this "Sonic" game, will see you playing as every character in turn except Sonic and (of course) Blaze.

There is, though, a limited capacity for learning a level and playing through it again, faster, even if only because you know in advance the route you couldn't see because of the terrible camera. As you play through the game, you may notice scores and rankings materializing. You may initially feel motivated to go back and replay levels to improve your rank, but will find yourself quickly discouraged once you gain an understanding of how the scoring and lives system works. Sonic games continue to cling to the dated system of limited lives and 1-ups, which have no place in home console use today. You get 5 lives, and lose one every time you die, thereafter being ejected to the title screen. Of course, none of this matters during high score attempts, because when you die, you also lose all of your points, regardless of how many checkpoints you've touched. Even this was forgiveable during the short stages of Sonic's 2D outings, but not during the 5-10 minute epics of Sonic '06, and especially not during the glitch filled later levels, which become drawn out coin flipping contests as you race through hoping that each of the game's many, many, glitches (things like falling though floor, homing attack screwups, camera problems, etc) can manage to all "not happen" at once.

Put bluntly, the gameplay sucks.

There is one other issue to consider - load times. Lots of them. Many, many, very long, load times. Your typical boss fight, for example, will consist of a load screen, followed by the boss taunting you while its name appears onscreen, followed by another load screen, followed by the fight. You will also encounter several short "side games" - little tasks to do in the game's overworld (which connects the stages), most of which are less than a minute long, but all sandwiched by double load screens resulting in roughly a 50/50 loading/playtime balance. You will also encounter load times frequently during levels. Apparently, this is what the next gen is all about.

The plot, for what it's worth (and admittedly expectations are low for Sonic games of late) is as convoluted as ever. There was a time when story wasn't even needed in a Sonic game, but Sonic Adventure and its sequel did an acceptable enough job of plotting a series of events and even managing some character development. Now, however, we have time travel (yawn), generic evil entities named after devil like characters from mythology (yawn), and the gradual development of love (the yucky kind) between Sonic and Princess Elise (who?), a human (what?). All the Sonic favourites (Tails, Knuckles, Amy, etc) return to join in the "fun", though all are thrown in as afterthoughts, with too much gameplay and not enough justification as to why we're being forced to play as people other than Sonic. The worst thing about the plot is that it seems someone went to a certain amount of effort to bring the plot outside of the Sonic norm, and in doing so, made matters worse. To say that Sonic fans ever really cared about plot in the first place would be mistaken, but even the classic recyclable Sonic plot (ie, Dr Eggman is after the Chaos Emeralds, stop him) would have both made more sense and worked better. Instead we have this mish-mash of uninspired cliche and hedgehog-human relationships, which is so many different kinds of wrong.

A note on voice acting - pretty much all of the main characters have bad voice acting and terrible lines, except Dr Eggman, who has a good voice but wastes it on really bad lines.

And yet, would you believe, under all this crap there is a game. A game that just might have been worth putting a few hours of your life into, if only there wasn't so much rubbish in the way. On paper, this should've been one of the greatest games of the new generation, had any of the claims made upon announcement been true. Sonic, and only Sonic, running through vivid polygon-filled environments and jumping on stuff, fighting Eggman's many mechanical creations from time to time - brilliant. Time travel? Telekinetic hedgehogs? Human love interests? How did this happen? Even so, even with such a rubbish plot and a saturation of characters, the theoretical makings of a great game were still there - plot can be ignored, and characters reduced to their movesets, after all, and these basic things can still work wonders (recall that Tails and Sonic had identical movesets in Sonic 2) - and yet still they decided to make all but one of the secondary characters useless, boring, and slow. The rest is just lazy developing, simple and straight.

Too much effort went into creating pretty graphics and composing awesome music (which, to give credit where due, was done very well), and not enough into, say, reducing load times and fixing glitches. Pointless afterthoughts like Sonic's game breaking gem moves and the little minigames that you are sometimes forced into feel like they came from nowhere and acheive nothing. The end result of all thse problems is a game that for all its attempts at impressiveness continues to underwhelm and fails to really accomplish anything. Load times, glitches and bad characters should not ruin a game, but given sheer numbers, they can collectively force a sense of sheer neglect on the best of games, an effect which Sonic 06 has clearly fallen victim to.

If you can find it within yourself to battle through the main plot and achieve top ranks in all levels, you might find some value in additional content that comes in the form of added hard modes (friendly reminder: difficulty only becomes fun when the rest of the game is perfected) and entire levels for "amigo" characters. But in my honest opinion? Don't bother.

Verdict: 3/10

+ Excellent Graphics
+ Excellent Music
+ There's some fun to be had just playing through the game

- Flawed controls
- Return of the exceptionally bad camera
- Far too many glitches
- Load times too frequent, long
- Saturated with characters, unnecessary new characters
- Nonsensical, convoluted, cliched, problematic plot, even with suspended disbelief
- Completely fails to live up to basic expectations
- Lack of focus on Sonic, or on Sonic style gameplay
- Too unbearable to make one want to bother with extra content or achievements

Is Sonic dead? Not just yet. It has been demonstrated that Sonic games can still work in the new generation (see: Sonic Rush, Sonic Advance). But making Sonic work in 3D is going to take much, much more effort than Sonic Team seem willing to put in at the moment. But even if Sonic is alive, trust in the series is at an all time low, and it's going to take something roughly twice as spectacular as the second coming of Christ to restore the franchise's credibility amongst gamers to what it once was.

Truly, no character has fallen so far, and so spectacularly from grace as Sonic the Hedgehog. If you believe that there is justice in the world, or that God exists, or anything in that vein, you are advised to hope with all you have that Sonic '06 represents the bottom of that fall.

Fedule's avatar
Featured community review by Fedule (December 05, 2008)

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