Review: Sonic Unleashed (Wii)

SEGA couldn't keep him on the leash any longer...

Better late than never - this review - not Sonic Unleashed. Sonic Team offered us the latest Sonic adventure just before Christmas, we'd like to tell you we've been so busy playing it since then that we're only just getting round to the review, but that's not true. So let's get on with it.

Sonic Unleashed starts off with a very impressive FMV prologue, around 5 minutes long which paints the scene, Eggman captures Sonic and uses the Chaos power for evil, striking down on the planet annihilating the gaia spirit and splitting it into 8 pieces and transforming Sonic into a Werehog.

So far so good, the production values of this intro are great, only a matter of time before a feature length Sonic CGI movie? perhaps.

Sonic finds himself back on the planet, dazed and confused and looking rather ugly. Cue annoying sidekick, Chip, after a brief conversation our team set off to figure out what's going on and put the planet back together.

As the sun rises in the sky Sonic transforms back into his usual self, suddenly things start to click into place. Sonic Unleashed revolves completely around the ol' day/night thing, by day Sonic is the Sonic we know and love, by night Sonic becomes the ugly Werehog - ironicly that almost sums up the entire game.

Finally you get thrown into your first few missions, learning the controls for normal Sonic, if you've played other 3D Sonic games you'll know pretty much how this works. Using the control stick moves Sonic, (A) will jump, (Shake) will perform a homing attack, you can drift by holding (Z) around corners, after collecting rings you can boost by (Shaking) whilst running, slide under things with (Z) whilst running and finally quick step from side to side (strafe) by holding (B) and moving left or right.

This is pretty much the usual selection of Sonic moves we already know, Unleashed offers similar high speed, high octane levels we're used to with the scenery flashing by and to be frank, that familiar feel of lack of control or purpose.

So what's new? Sonic the Werehog - that's what's new. As night falls your transformed back into the nasty Werehog and Sonic Unleashed changes dramatically.

Werehog levels are very different, gone is speed, gone is homing attack. Sonic's Werehog levels are more platform based and more beat 'em up based.

Sonic the Werehog can double jump, (A) and then (A) again whilst in mid air, he can also run (not that fast) by double tapping a direction (yes, annoying). Sonic can utilize a host of "sticky neon" ledges, poles and bars, when near (B) is used to attach himself using his stretch-armstrong style flexi-arms, he can then haul himself up a pole, swing on bars in order to get over big gaps and scale large buildings.

These platforming elements work fairly well, but it's not very "Sonic", there is no "need for speed" here. As the Werehog you'll encounter a lot of twilight enemies, emerging from the ground in flashes of neon with slightly camp music, it reminded us almost exclusively of the dreadful Batman and Robin movie, eugh.

Luckily for us Sonic is up for a fight, swinging the Wiimote and Nunchuck will throw punches with either of Sonic's stretchy arms, it's pretty easy to rack up combos with a flurry of enemies around, swinging both arms at the same time will trigger the Werehammer smash attack. Each of the enemies has a small power gauge so you can keep track of your attacking prowess.

When enemies show themselves the game locks you into a small area (similar to how Twilight Princess worked, except not as good) of which you must defeat everyone before you can move to the next area.

Completing levels rewards you in either Sun (night mission) or Moon (day mission) medals, collecting these are required to unlock further levels.

The map area (level select) is quite curious in itself, the world map is firstly split into 8 continents, each continent contains a little village area which you visit, SEGA seem to have tried to add some extra RPG elements here, you have to talk to people around the village in order to discover where the Gaia template is located, most of the time this just feels like a way to stall or slow down your progress, the text is dry and doesn't even develop the story further.

Another problem is a confusing array of stages and missions and how your actually meant to progress. You have a list of missions on your map screen, missions are usually mini stages, "collect 100 rings in 30 secs", things like that. Then you have stages, they seem to be hidden in the Gaia Temples, behind doors which you have to open by collecting the different sun/moon medals - it's just not as straight forward as it should be.

So let's get down to business and answer the questions you probably still have, is this finally a 3D Sonic game SEGA can be proud of? Sadly not, the normal Sonic levels still have the same problems as previous games - it still hasn't translated to 3D successfully. SEGA have made a bold (or maybe strange) move to include a whole half of the game to this Werehog beat 'em up style of play, it's actually not TOO bad but completely distracts from our normal definition of what a Sonic game is all about.

It wouldn't be fair to be completely harsh on SEGA over Unleashed, it's biggest problem is the generally disjointed concept, a jigsaw with some missing pieces, it doesn't all fit together.

Conclusion

Sonic Unleashed offers pretty much what we've seen before in the speed/platformer department, fans of this should be content, however flipped on its head Unleashed adds a whole new half of "beat 'em up" action which sadly doesn't compliment the game as a whole, feeling rather sluggish and disjointed Sonic fans must wonder why their hero is so far behind the times when compared to his arch rival, Mario who only a year ago secured probably the best game of his career. Try again SEGA, we're not giving up on you yet.