- slide 1 of 8
Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Nintendo Wii met with mediocre reviews. Sonic the Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 was almost universally despised. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, the highly touted Nintendo DS RPG project that teamed up SEGA and BioWare, was generally considered to be a disappointing effort (and, for the record, this reviewer felt it was a boring disaster). So now Sonic Team is at it again, once again attempting to resuscitate the once-respected blue hedgehog's gaming career with the newest title in the franchise, Sonic Unleashed. Does this November 2008 release for the Nintendo Wii (as well as the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360) manage to break the ongoing Sonic slump?
- slide 2 of 8
Graphics and Sound
The game certainly gets off to a good start, as the first thing you'll see when you fire up the Wii version is an incredible cinematic intro sequence that rivals even Super Mario Galaxy in terms of visual quality. The in-game graphics are quite solid as well, as the game seems to sport an enhanced version of the Sonic Adventure 2: Battle graphics engine. The character models are sharp and the effects are suitably impressive. The voice work is a pleasant surprise as well. I'm not 100% certain, but I swear that the core cast of characters (Sonic, Tails, Amy and Eggman) sport their voice actors from the Sonic X animated series, and the new additions are solid performers as well. Even the music is a big step up from past Sonic Adventure games, and the score feels far more epic and orchestral in scale than previous titles in the series. There are some mighty impressive sounding fanfares in this game, let me tell you. The lone black mark, in this reviewer's opinion, is that the nighttime battle music that plays tends to get rather repetitive and annoying. Other than that, this is a fine effort.
- slide 3 of 8
Now, if you'll go back and look at the previous section carefully, you'll see I refer to "nighttime battle music." Longtime Sonic fans might be confused by that statement, so allow me to explain. Basically, Sonic Unleashed is like two games in one. During the day, Sonic races through levels in typical Sonic Adventure fashion, trying to complete a standard objective like racing from the start to a goal at the end or attempting to collect a certain number of rings in a preset amount of time. He has a few cool new moves to add to his arsenal as well, including the Quick Step and the Sonic Boost, plus there are a handful of sages that feature vehicles and even some old-school side-scrolling bits thrown in for nostalgic Genesis fans. For the most part, these levels will be familiar to anyone who has played at least one Sonic game in the past decade or so, only they are at times much faster than even Sonic veterans are used to, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Once the sun goes down and the moon comes out, however, everything changes as Sonic morphs into a beast called the Werehog. Once this happens, the game itself undergoes a transformation of sorts, shedding its high-speed adventure skin and evolving into a slower-paced, action-oriented beat-'em-up in the vein of another classic Sega series, Streets of Rage. In this mode, the emphasis is on combat, as Werehog Sonic attacks using punches, combos and special moves, fighting a set amount of enemies in an enclosed area before being allowed to advance. By successfully defeating enemies, he levels up and can learn new skills and abilities, which ultimately turn Were-Sonic into an impressive warrior who can string together massive combos and thrash hordes of enemies with panache. While the normal-style Sonic stages have received a fair amount of praise since its release, these brawling sections have been somewhat panned by critics and fans alike. Unfairly so, in my opinion. Yes, they can get a little repetitive at times, but they do control well and are at least more fun to play than, say, the Big the Cat fishing levels in Sonic Adventure DX.
- slide 4 of 8
As someone who has, in the past, championed the cause of the Classic Controller for games like this, I am absolutely thrilled to report that the Wii version of Sonic Unleashed allows gamers to choose from one of three different control schemes: one using the Wiimote and the Nunchuck, one using the Classic Controller and one using the old Nintendo Gamecube controller. Seeing as how there are extensive in-game tutorials that will teach you all the basics, I won't go into great detail explaining specifics in this section, but know that the controls are solid and intuitive, and if you're anything like me, you'll prefer to use either the Classic or Gamecube controllers in this title.
- slide 5 of 8
- slide 6 of 8
You may be asking yourself, "How in the world did Sonic become a Werehog in the first place, anyway?" Well, in order to explain, I have to take you back to the very beginning of the story. During the opening cinema, we see Sonic (in his Chaos Emerald-powered Super Sonic form) chasing down his nemesis, Dr. Eggman. He finally catches up with the villainous doctor and is able to corner him when Eggman begins to plead for mercy. Sonic hesitates just long enough for Eggman to spring a trap and capture him in it. A tremendous amount of energy is released as a result, causing the continents on the Earth split apart and Sonic to undergo his beastly transformation. As it turns out, this is all part of Eggman's grand plan to unleash some sort of evil being that dwells in the Earth's core.
His trap sprung, Eggman sends Sonic crashing back down to the planet, with the now black Chaos Emeralds in tow. The hedgehog winds up landing on a strange flying fox-like creature, who as it turns out has amnesia. The two agree to travel together, and eventually they learn that Sonic needs to visit different temples to recharge the Chaos Emeralds. Doing so will restore the planet and hopefully cure his own condition. But what of this monster Dr. Eggman intends to free? And what role will Sonic's new ally, who earns the nickname of "Chip" early on, play in the events ahead? These questions can only be answered by playing through the game. Rest assured, this is one of the better written Sonic stories to come along recently, and it manages to deftly mix comic relief (Chip's obsession with food, particularly chocolate, for example) and poignancy (Sonic's melancholy after Amy fails to recognize him in his Werehog form was particularly striking for some reason).
- slide 8 of 8
Back in the introductory paragraph, I posed a question that asked whether or not this game would be the one that could at long last break the Sonic the Hedgehog slump. If you listen to most critics, the answer is no. I, however, must disagree. While I still don't feel it's quite on par with Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Unleashed is a nonetheless a solid effort and a definite improvement over other recent games in the series. I appreciate the attempt to add a new twist to the classic Sonic gameplay, especially since it kind of harkens back to one of my favorite 16-bit Sega Genesis titles. For the most part the beat-'em-up aspects of the game work nicely, though I freely admit that they definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea. Furthermore, the development team deserves kudos for the excellent writing and the unexpectedly high-quality production values in the Wii version. Their efforts are most appreciated. The mainstream video game media may disagree, but I can confidently say that this is one game that is likely to put a big smile on the faces of Sonic the Hedgehog fans everywhere.