There’s a rather self-destructive quality to being a Sonic fan: a deluded hope that he’ll somehow end up on top again. You know, with Mario’s head on a pike. This path is littered with broken dreams and broken controllers. We’ve been shielded from the dark side of the hedgehog by a line of not-bad efforts; Unleashed reminds us why the non-Nintendos look at us funny when we fail to compulsively vomit at any mention of his name.
The big question: the name on the box is Sonic, so why is two thirds of the time spent as his lycanthropic alter-ego, the Werehog? The game’s built around a day/night system, so you get to leg it along Sonic tracks in the sun and play a limp God of War clone under the full moon. Presumably the Werehog levels are easier to design (give Jimmy the chimp three peanuts and off he goes) as they outnumber the race tracks three to one. This wouldn’t matter if the Werehog had an ounce of fun in his body. He has ounces of something, alright – we know because he plummets to death on every bit of platforming like a furry pebble. Technically, his acrobatics copy Prince of Persia’s, only the Werehog will release his grip if you take your finger off the button. Pressing the jump button while pressing the grip button? Sega, you’re spoiling us with these intuitive controls.
Or at least that’s the case when playing with the GameCube controller. We would tell you how it works with the Wii’s waggle tech, but flailing around to fight, climb, swing and open doors hurt our wrists so much that they ended up talking the rest of the body into drop-kicking the remote into the nearest furnace. Hammering the GameCube’s shoulder buttons to fight isn’t much better – our index fingers now resemble two tiny muscular arms – but it had to do.
Then the sun comes out, Sonic becomes Sonic and we all live happily ever after. Not so fast. Or rather, quite fast, but not so good. Daytime levels are infinitely better in every regard, but there’s still something missing. The idea is to use a few skills – such as skids, dashes, jumps and homing-dashes – to uncover new routes, but so barren are these tracks that weeding out the quickest time takes all of two runs. Visually sparse (although smoother, they lack the detail and ideas of Secret Rings’ Arabian jaunts), it’s not hard to see lines of rings marking obvious routes, and hiding springs is tricky to do when your only level furniture is, erm, springs. The age-old complaint that 3D Sonic games play themselves is as silly now as before; mainly because there’s practically no level for the game to play.
To bump up daytime playtime, developer Dimps add bonus challenges built around each stage. A similar idea gave Secret Rings massive scope, but here it seems rushed – as if someone realised in the last few days of development that there were only 20 minutes of Sonic in this Sonic game. Grab X number of rings, don’t get hit, don’t touch a pot – they’d be okay if we hadn’t achieved most of these tasks in our initial run-through. They’re way too easy.
Ultimately, the buzz around Unleashed stemmed from rival formats getting excited about having a half-decent Sonic again. And half of this game is decent, if way too simple and more akin to one quarter. But that doesn’t matter. On Wii and DS we’ve got a Sonic to be proud of – no Sonic Anonymous for us – so shrug off Unleashed and wait for the release of Black Knight. After all, Werehogs weren’t invented in Arthurian times.
Dec 9, 2009