Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2 Release 28th November 2008
- I've previously talked about Sonic Unleashed and how much I hate this game. But what many of you may have either forgotten or maybe just didn't realise was that Sonic Unleashed was released across all major home console platforms on release in 2008. Since I need not point out the massive difference in hardware clout that the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 possess over the Nintendo Wii and the Playstation 2, these versions of the game were bound to be different. In-fact, they're so different that really, they're completely different titles sharing the same name and story. Unfortunately, whatever route you take with Sonic Unleashed, you end up with a crappy game which is neither a Sonic title nor a decent game by any stretch of the imagination. Let's take a look.
Oh come on, it has little balls around the top of it and all.
Sonic Unleashed starts out with a rather familiar series of story scenes taken from the more powerful versions of the game. This is a common occurrence, any story scene in the game is lifted from the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 versions of the game, which can be a little jarring, but more about that a little later. Sonic is busy wrecking Dr.Eggman's space armada for no given reason other than implied wrong-doings by the good doctor. After a mildly entertaining 2 minutes of CGI, Sonic, now transformed into Super Sonic has Dr.Eggman cornered and trapped and instead of kicking his blubbery mass of a body into space at the first chance of submission, Sonic instead decides to hear out Dr.Eggman's pleas for forgiveness. This gives Eggman a perfect opportunity to spring his well laid trap, using Super Sonic as a catalyst to fire his evil, phallic orbital space laser into the Earth. By doing so, the Earth's crust is shattered into large chunks and the rupture awakens a sleeping evil beast that lives in the Earth's core. Fortunately, the beast; named "Dark Gaia" isn't powerful enough to sustain it's form and breaks apart. Not only this, but by using Sonic as a source of renewable energy it caused him to inexplicably turn into a Werewolf... Or as the game likes to call him; a Werehog. Eggman immediately flushes the now furry hedgehog into space and leaves him to die in the vacuum of black emptiness.
I wonder if that is a plot element he just muttered? (Spoiler: It is.)
As you may have already guessed, that old chestnut of a story arc is recycled for the millionth time already; Dr.Eggman awakens ancient evil, ancient evil turns out to betray Dr.Eggman, Dr.Eggman doesn't ever get blamed for the mess he caused. Eggman is obviously out to use Dark Gaia to destroy the world so he can build Eggmanland upon it, despite the fact that over the course of all the game's he's seen trying to make his supposed mega city, he's constructed giant futuristic towers, massive bases and space armadas
... Why exactly does the man need a giant city to call his own? I liked it when evil dudes with nonsensical evil motives just wanted to "conquer the world"... Anyway, when Sonic awakens, he finds that he landed on a little gerbil-like creature which he comes to name "Chip" for some reason. Chip has lost his memory after a reject from Sesame Street; Were-Sonic, landed on him. When daylight strikes Sonic he turns back into his hedgehog-self and he and Chip set off to restore the world's continents back to their original resting place and seal Dark Gaia back into the Earth's core. Along the way, Sonic meets several racial stereotypes presented in rather poor taste. Ultimately it turns out that Chip was some sort of guardian which got sealed away with Dark Gaia, so that if they were ever freed Chip would just re-seal them back. The game then ends with a giant stone golem fighting against Dark Gaia, Dark Gaia looses, Sonic loses the ability to turn into a Werehog and I slowly go mad as the game's credit song is so painful to sit through I nearly set myself on fire.
Press X to Jason, Sonic.
Once the game starts up proper, you're greeted to a bunch of tutorials which drag on forever and are unskippable. What makes these tutorials really bad is the fact that each part of the tutorial is broken up over several "courses". Simple things like "Press b Button to Jump" has it's own section, rather than joined onto another part which perhaps informs you about the homing jump attack. Or even if it was part of a course which told you about how to make variable jump heights, like tapping the jump button (which varies depending on what controller layout you use) will cause Sonic to do a slight hop, where as pressing and holding the jump button will make Sonic perform a large jump. These get rather irritating, mostly because Chip will appear on-screen, bringing the whole game to a standstill while he tells you obvious stuff which perhaps could have been better illustrated with on-screen prompts, but that would probably take effort to implement, so here's some monotonous text bubble to tell you instead. Each tutorial "section" is separated with a loading screen, complete with these "Mission Complete" messages and the acquisition of "Moon Medals" which we'll get onto a bit later. So prepare to look at the Loading screen and the "Mission Complete" screen an awful lot. I'm not joking, the tutorial section goes on for 6 minutes
, six agonising
minutes of hand-holding through a control scheme.
Finally, after boring you half to death, the game finally starts properly. You're Sonic in what we'll call "daytime stages", these are the parts of the game where you're playing as the hedgehog-version of Sonic through 3D and 2D segments of the game. These parts of the game are like other 3D Sonic games, there are a few alterations now. The homing jump is perhaps one of the largest changes that those familiar with 3D Sonic games will need to adjust to. SEGA started moving away from a 'free and wild' Homing Attack with this game and started implementing a "lock-on" homing attack, whereby you need to be facing an enemy to lock on, so even if the enemy is right next to you, you wont attack them unless you're looking directly at the enemy and there's a red target over them. Sonic has a persistent "Boost" mechanic now, which works very similarly to Sonic Rush's boost mechanic. As you collect rings and defeat enemies, your boost gauge increases in size, the gauge is split up into incremental segments which are used when you boost, rather than one single gauge which depletes as you boost as you hold down the boost button. what is perhaps most frustrating about the boost mechanic is now the game punishes you for using the boost while you have no energy in the bar. If you try to boost and have no complete
gauge left to boost, Sonic trips up, killing whatever speed you had in the process. So even if you have most
of a full bar in your boost gauge, you can't use it unless it's actually full. Well, how nice of you it was to omit that from your lengthy tutorial, game. New additions to a Sonic game includes the ability to strafe at speed to avoid obstacles when in a 3D perspective, a drift mechanic for getting around tight corners and the ability to pound the ground. Unlike the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game, the Wii version of Sonic Unleashed doesn't have an upgrade mechanic implemented for Sonic, so what you start with is what you have for the rest of the game. Which is nice, but at the same time depressing since Sonic controls like a tank and nothing about the daytime stages feels polished or fun.
Incase you're confused, yes, that is Sonic sliding sideways across water using only his feet.
During many of these daytime stages, you'll have these intermittent "boss" battles where a giant robot will start chasing you. You must dodge the attacks using the strafe ability you have and when you're able to get behind the robot, boost into it. Do it enough times and it explodes. Of course, if you defeat the boss too early, you're left on passageways full of nothing
until it ends. If you leave the robot and don't attack, you have a much more interesting, if not frustrating time with this semi-boss battle. This happens far too often and it's always the same boss. Some of these encounters are just down-right unfair as well, some of them take place on walls and if you get hit by the boss for whatever reason, you fall and you die. Not sure what the thinking behind these parts of the game are, really...
Boost gauge gets increased...
The main problem with the daytime stages is that they're so empty and void of any difficulty. You'll find yourself running through empty stretches of road with somewhat nice scenery, rings and speed boosters all over the place urging you to simply ignore the parts of the game where the level designers had to abandon due to time constraints as their deadline drawn near. I think you saw where I was going with this game already, this game doesn't look or feel finished in any way. It's so rough around the edges. I've played in-development, prototype video games before at the beta testing phases and how this game looks and feels is generally what I would expect. These daytime stages are short, not very entertaining and feel tacked on. Which is amazing, it blew my mind when I got about half way through the game and made that realisation. That a Sonic the Hedgehog game was more focused on something which was completely not Sonic the Hedgehog
in any way. Instead the game is far more focused, far more insistent in pushing what should have never been included in a Sonic game, ever. I mean, even if you're like me and realise that Sonic the Hedgehog isn't all about speed and it needs to be offset by solid platforming, what I'll get around to explaining will sound bizarre to you. The "Night-time Stages".
See? I don't suck at this game. This game just sucks.
Being so short (usually about 4 minutes in length), the daytime stages need to be "bulked up" a bit and by that I mean they need to be padded to hell. Not only are the stages so large that the designers didn't know what to do with them, but also you have a set number of missions you must complete before you can move on with the game. Since apparently the people behind this game thought that Sonic and the Secret Rings was onto something by forcing you to play asinine missions after you complete a stage. Missions like "Collect 100/200/300 Rings", "Defeat __ Enemies" or "Get to the goal in ___ seconds" are regular mission types. All are set to a timer and become increasingly infuriating as you progress through the game. You'll see why they went through all this trouble to make your blood boil once we start talking about those night-time stages.
Remember, up and down don't work as you would expect.
But before we move onto that, let's explain how the "town hubs" work, these hubs are places where you go to progress the story. In the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game, you roam around a fully rendered 3D environment asking towns folk stuff which is somewhat relevant to the plot in hopes that one of them will have the information you need so you can move on and continue your quest through the game's stages. In the Wii version, this has been boiled down to it's component parts with the hub being transformed into a menu system. A menu system which is extremely awkward to use. If you are using the control stick at all, it's damn near impossible. A quick tap on the stick is all you need to go to the next option, but more often than not, you'll see the selections go all crazy as the game doesn't accommodate for using the analogue sticks when using the hub. So you have to use the D-Pad, not a problem if you're playing on the Wii using the Wii Remote setup, but if you're on the Classic Controller or Gamecube Controller control schemes then good luck. These menus are like DVD menus, damn near impossible to get through. they circle around in one way, either "backwards" or "forwards" by pressing the left and right directions on the D-Pad. This may cause some completely understandable confusion for most people, as the layouts of these menus aren't uniform in a line or anything of the sort, instead they're laid out in non-linear formations, logically you would think that pressing "up" on an item which is underneath another item would take you to that upper item... It does not. It just moves onto the "next" item in the line, be that below or next to that current item. Did anyone playtest this at all? Well, silly question I suppose.
Oh thank whatever Diety is looking fondly upon me. Let's get out of here.
The point of these hubs is so that you can find information to move on, however other than a "New" icon which flashes over the top of places which have "New" content which you haven't seen before, there's no telling what's in each location other than the name of the place you're going to see a static screen of with people talking infront of it using speech bubbles. Some of these places you visit have no-one there, so even if they say "New" above it, they could be completely empty. Sometimes the game forces you to speak to everyone in the town just so you can trigger someone whom you've already spoken to, to say something different. There's no indication of what you're supposed to be looking for, you just blindly enter each area and hope that someone will talk to you and make the "Temple" for each continent appear. Hubs are different depending on if you're there at day or night, so not only do you have to go through this pain once... You go through it twice. Sometimes even multiple times over. You know you're going to the temple when you're given either a Sun or a Moon Tablet or Tablet Fragment. What gets me is that they try and bring in some level of interactivity when scrolling through the menus with the occasional "yes", "no" option. Usually this means "yes, give me the temple" or "no, I want to sit on these menus a little while longer". What's the point of all this? Just spoon feed me the story and get on with it. All these little pointless conversations with locals all speaking in round-abouts which is just dragging out the game's playtime artificially.
Opening the door...
Once you get to the Shrine, it's basically pot luck which Sonic you play as. Sometimes it's Werehog Sonic, sometimes it's Hedgehog Sonic. Most the time it's Werehog Sonic... And there's perhaps good reason for that too. I'm not joking when I say Sonic controls like a tank, in the confined spaces of the temple's innards, Sonic can barely get around corners and his turning circle is enormous. It makes navigating these temples a real pain. Once inside the temple, you use the Moon or Sun Medals which you collect by completing stages in the games to unlock bonus stages and use Sun, Moon or Star tablets to unlock stages to advance your progress through the game. Each time you use a tablet, you go through the same animation over and over of Chip opening the door, going back to Sonic and they both watch the door slowly rise. Then you walk through, a new stage begins.
Pow! While it's down.
So, this is the part where I moan about the night-time stages. Now first thing's first; what the hell is this doing in a Sonic game? The Werehog, night-time segment of Sonic Unleashed is nothing but a cheap, poorly made Dynasty Warriors
knock-off, no escaping that. These segments of the game just dominate the whole experience, by the end of the first Warehog stages, yes, stages
, not a singular, you've already played three times as much playing as the Werehog than you have normal Sonic
. And I think that sums up Sonic Unleashed. It's not a Sonic game with a tacked on fighting component, it's a fighting component with a tacked-on Sonic game. I mean, they even went so far as to distance any notion of "Sonic" from these segments that they removed the robots, changed how Sonic looks and even how Sonic controls. The only thing that is Sonic-like in the game are rings which you collect to restore health. If you removed the rings from the game, replaced them with, I don't know, gemstones and then shown the game in action to someone who's never played Sonic Unleashed, they'd never suspect it was a Sonic game. For their sanity's sake, I wouldn't tell them it was.
These are the only robots you find, these fan things.
So what makes me hate these stages so much? Well, other than them being between 5 and 12 minutes
in length, they are so tedious and I mean, really tedious and laborious. You swing away attacking enemies but it does barely any damage. Navigating the stages in the game are awful, you are often moving along abstract "ledges" in the game which make no sense, occasionally dodging enemies in the process. The progression in the game is short-bursts of platforming, short-bursts of fighting. In the fighting segments, you're often bottled inside an area and forced to fight a certain number of enemies. You'll know when enemies are around as a upbeat jazz tune will start to kick up. The same song. Every. Single. Time. To say it gets old is an understatement. The game has individual tracks for each continent the stages take place on as well as music for daytime and night-time stages, yet this damn jazz track is what you'll hear through most of the night-time stages. This is occasionally interrupted by a more ominous soundtrack when larger enemies appear. When you defeat enemies, you get Gaia Points, which are used to progress the abilities which you have access to. There's an arbitrary number of points required to get a new ability and doesn't work like the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 versions of the game where you pick and chose where you want the points to go, although this is frankly an improvement since the game holds your hands in level progression rather than letting you put all your points into the wrong
statistic and end up shooting yourself in the foot as a result because the designers intended you to have such-and-such
statistics by this point in the game and gave no hints or clues as you were supposed to level up as they intended. So, kudos for them inadvertently fixing that problem.
Werehog level progression circle thingy.
Of course, as you may have guessed, the levelling mechanic in the game is made by nerfing your character from the get-go. Abilities you should have from the start of the game are earned over time. The only legitimate thing you get out of levelling up which makes sense is the fact you can get additional health out of the system. None of the new abilities fix the controls in the game, however, so don't get your hopes up in that regard. Basically, when you're platforming you'll be using your stretchy arms to grab onto stuff, be that a pole which you climb up, ledges which you either stand on and sidle across or hang from and move across and picking up the occasional box to put on a switch. That's outside the fighting and aimlessly wandering about you'll be doing waiting for the next platforming or fighting portion of the game, praying that the next corner will be the exit of the stage. How they drag these out through an average of 8 minutes of gameplay is beyond me. It's so boring
, I didn't even sign up for this gameplay. I came expecting a Sonic game, it says there right on the box "Sonic
Unleashed", was it unreasonable to suggest that by looking at the title that I would be playing a Sonic game? Okay, sure I knew there was a fighting element to the game, but I wouldn't have been so upset about it (though I would have been enraged if they included it at all, let's get that straight) if it was a Sonic game with some little extra bits where you're a Warehog and these segments were well-balanced, fun and didn't make it so that the shortest of these stages were at least twice as long
as the daytime, hedgehog stages of that continent. It's ridiculous. Awful. Yes, that's the word I'm looking for; awful
Pretty... But damn well annoying. Video game ice and crappy controls? Not a good mix, it seems.
The only thing which really saves this game is it's visual design. For a Wii game, it looks damn well impressive, as does the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game. I know I keep banging on about how pretty SEGA games are, but it's true. They may be a steaming pile to play, but if visually they're golden. So pretty to look at, so detailed. If they had spent half as much time trying to get the gameplay down right, perhaps spending more time in the placement of enemies or truncating stages so they were more concentrated on action rather than just artificially extending the length of the courses by having long passageways of nothingness then this game may have came out alright. But instead, we just have a very pretty game with very little meat on the bones. Of course the game makes no attempt to hide that it takes event scenes from the more powerful consoles' versions of the game, despite the fact that the scene shown in event scenes and the scene you actually pick up in are totally different from one-another. The game also skips out on what would be boss-fights in the other versions, but instead shows the build-up to the boss and the scene immediately after the boss with no intermediary scene to help cohesion between the two scenes. Nope; just "Here you are!". So that's something bad to say about the visuals for once. Oh and the endless text boxes in the hub world... Couldn't they have done something to brighten that up? Perhaps not having a novel's worth of text to read on each talking scene? Or I don't know, how about some light animation in the backgrounds to keep people amused.
Stereotype count: 6. Damn this game.
The game's soundtrack is pretty bad, I'll be honest. Again, this is probably down to personal taste and yes, there are a few very well done tracks in the game which I like but for the most part the audio seems to be very bland, very dry, especially the night-time stages which are a lot more sedate than their daytime counterparts. What really grinds on you is the game's orchestral score. Obviously a response to Nintendo's massively popular Super Mario Galaxy, which launched the year before, Mario Galaxy had an amazing orchestral score through-out the game... Sonic Unleashed does not have that same calibre. Voice acting is once again abysmal, the voice cast phone in their performances and a lot of the throw-away characters give such uninspired performances that their minute appearances in the game are agonising to sit through. Not quite sure where it all went wrong for Sonic game soundtracks, we've come a long way since the catchy, melody driven soundtracks of the Megadrive era.
Oh and this screen, it just tempts you to say "No" and break the disc in half.
In the end, Sonic Unleashed is damn near unplayable. It has awful controls, isn't really a Sonic game and will bore you half to death. What more is there to say? If you want a poorly made brawler game with all the character and charisma of a newly baked clay brick then by all means, indulge yourself on this game. From start to finish, it's a poorly made, hastily "finished" game which needed far more time to get right than SEGA would have ever allowed. Seems that SEGA did learn a lesson about multi-platform releases on the Wii, though... That lesson being "don't do it". It's an incomplete mess of a game which was throw together as soon as they had something that resembled "playable". Avoid it at all costs. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go bash by head against a wall until I forget about this game, it's not the first time I've done this... I think.