Finally, Sonic reclaims his glory…mostly
How long has it been since we could honestly say we’re glad to play a console Sonic game? Sonic Adventure? SA2? Some people may go back even further than that to the Genesis days. Well, the long drought is over folks: Sonic Unleashed is actually good, and you’ll actually want to finish it.
First though, let’s clarify: The Wii version is not the same as the 360 and PS3 versions (the latter of which won’t be released till next month). Those versions were designed entirely by Sonic Team while the Wii was given significant treatment from Dimps, the software house behind the Sonic Rush games on DS. I think many would agree with me that this is a good thing, because Sonic Team has been…lacking of late, to put it mildly.
The first thing you’ll notice about Unleashed, aside from the impressive graphics (great fare for Wii), is that the production value is very high for a Sonic game. There’s a ton of cutscenes, telling a story that won’t win any awards but feels more fleshed out than usual. Essentially the game starts with Sonic busting up Eggman’s (aka Robotnik for the old-schoolers) doomsday device in space as Super Sonic, only to find out that it was a trap. Eggman uses a gigantic dark energy beam to split the planet apart, freeing a mysterious evil entity named Dark Gaia. Sonic gets caught in the beam, causing the Chaos Emeralds to lose their power and turning him into the infamous Werehog at night. From then on Sonic and his new pal, Chip, go on a quest around the world to restore the Chaos Emeralds’ power, put the planet back together, and teach Eggman and Dark Gaia a lesson.
Like I said, the story isn’t anything special, but it really shows that more effort was put into telling it this time around. This is done in part by making a decent portion of the game involve visiting villages in different continents and talking to people to get directions or items for the next place you need to go. While I like this idea because it gives the game a more “adventure” feel, I think too much time is spent going back and forth between villagers and clicking through text bubbles. I’d have appreciated it being toned down a bit so as not to cut into the gameplay as much. Still, the game overall has a much more epic feel than typical Sonic, and for that I’m very grateful.
As for the gameplay - yes, it is a mixed bag, but there isn’t nearly as much to gripe about with the Werehog levels than some people might have you believe.
Of course, the game shines brightest in the daytime levels. Zipping along at breakneck speed hasn’t been this much fun since the 16-bit days. The controls are solid and simple: other than using the control stick to move, A to jump, and a shake of the remote to do a speed boost or homing attack, there’s very little else you need to know. The stages are thought out very well, with lots of shortcuts and different paths to take that are reminicsent of the original 2-D games. Speaking of 2-D, some sections shift into a 2-D side view that really channels Sonic’s roots and complements the rest of the level perfectly. There are just enough of these 2-D areas to mix up the action and keep things fresh.
But then come the night levels - they’re not as fun to play as the day ones, that much is blatantly obvious. I’m not going to sit here and rag on them endlessly though, because they’re not atrocious or unplayable like you might hear from others. I don’t even think they’re that bad. The only problem is, compared to the stellar day levels, they’re lackluster, repetitious, and uninspired. The werehog is surprisingly fast - not nearly as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog, but tolerable. The controls can sometimes get frustrating, however. Combat is as simple as swinging the nunchuck to attack with your left hand and Wiimote for your right. While intuitive, this also makes the fighting degenerate into a flurry of hand movements until all the enemies are dead. It can get a little tiring (there’s also an option to use the Gamecube or Classic controller if you want), but the repetition is the more annoying part. Each level consists of moving forward (which involves some very basic puzzle solving and platform jumping), fighting enemies till the way forward opens, and moving on until the next batch of enemies. There’s nothing inherently broken with this system - it just ends up being bland all around.
But I don’t believe it detracts much from the experience of this game. This is the first console Sonic game since SA 2 that I can say, with confidence, is fun for me to play. It’s the first time in over five years that I’ve actually looked forward to playing the whole thing and finishing the story, rather than feel like I’m slogging through a remarkably flawed product. If you love Sonic, this game will be a very welcome breath of fresh air, despite the Werehog half. Here’s hoping that Sonic Team learns a lesson from the day levels and focuses on expanding them into a full game for Sonic’s next outing.