Wii Review: ‘Sonic Unleashed’ (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

Wii Review: ‘Sonic Unleashed’ (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

It seems that Sonic the Hedgehog has always had a tough time navigating the third dimension. While most games featuring the 2D form of Sega’s blue blur have been warmly received for their high-speed take on the classic side-scrolling genre, the hedgehog’s forays into the 3D realm have been hit-and-miss. Case in point: the 2006 […]

It seems that Sonic the Hedgehog has always had a tough time navigating the third dimension. While most games featuring the 2D form of Sega’s blue blur have been warmly received for their high-speed take on the classic side-scrolling genre, the hedgehog’s forays into the 3D realm have been hit-and-miss. Case in point: the 2006 attempt, simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was critically panned for frustrating game play and poor controls. The good news is the Sega mascot’s newest venture, Sonic Unleashed, is a massive leap in the right direction and shows that steering the physics defying hedgehog in three dimensions can actually be fun. The bad news is the brief moments of euphoria that Unleashed offers are tiny islands in an ocean of mediocrity.

The game casts you in the role of the hedgehog himself, opting this time not to offer a full roster of playable characters. Here’s the lowdown: it turns out that Dr. Eggman has yet another world destroying plot that only Sonic can foil. This time the rotund cyborg has corrupted Sonic’s chaos emeralds, using them in combination with some kind of giant space ray to shatter the entire planet into seven chunks. If that wasn’t bad enough, the ray also awakens Dark Gaia, an evil being that had been slumbering in the planet core. And finally, as a side effect, Sonic turns into a hairy, toothy were-hog with stretchy arms à la Mr. Fantastic. Seriously. So, naturally, he’s off to save the world and cure his lycanthropy as best he can.

If the premise sounds a little thin, you’re on the right track. The game, unfortunately, goes out of its way to emphasize the story, which doesn’t do much but remind the player of how half-baked it really is. To be fair, some of the cinematic cut-scenes are action-packed and beautifully rendered. However, some unintentionally comedic voice acting offsets the good impression the movie segments make. The music runs into similar issues – it’s original and fully orchestrated, but for every good tune there are a couple of others that will either go unnoticed or draw negative attention.

The game play is just as much of a mixed bag as the presentation. Unleashed feels like two different games tenuously stitched together. At night, Sonic brawls his way through the levels in his were-hog form, moving at a deliberate pace as he beats up a host of generic enemies with his extendable limbs. Sonic’s strange affliction disappears in the daytime, though, when the stages become high-speed roller coaster rides that he blazes through while maintaining his regular, sleek hedgehog form.

As far as actual game play goes, the two halves of the game are utterly unrelated. The daytime stages provide the moments at which Unleashed temporarily elevates Sonic to his former glory. They’re beautifully depicted and are a blast of pure adrenaline from start to finish, even if the style of play admittedly squelches freedom of movement in favour of a linear on-rails approach. The night levels, on the other hand, are rarely as exciting. They typically involve lengthy brawls with crowds of enemies, performed by button mashing and combo moves, which are strung together by exceptionally bland platforming sections. Making matters worse at night are a finicky camera that often isn’t where you’d like it to be and a frustratingly inconsistent lock-on system for the stretchy were-hog arms that allows Sonic to fall into bottomless pits far more regularly than he deserves. And, on the technical end, the daytime stages are almost always fast and smooth, while the frame rate at night gets choppy whenever the action heats up. The day/night split is glued together by an overworld, which, while serviceable as a means from getting from one stage to the next, is unnecessarily filled with a bunch of additional required tasks and side quests that feel pretty much irrelevant in the context of the game.

Sonic Unleashed is sometimes a blast to play. It’s really a shame then, that, had developers opted to excise all of the parts that weren’t much fun, the game would likely be a quarter of its current length. If you don’t mind drudging through the unremarkable contents of the other three quarters, the game’s better moments are certainly worth experiencing; but those who don’t have the patience to take of lot of bad with a bit of good might as well just stay away. While it’s far from the glorious rebirth that some fans were hoping for, Sonic Unleashed proves, if anything, that Sonic needn’t hang up his shoes just yet—he just needs a chance to save the world from Dr. Eggman without being bogged down by gimmicks and filler.