A wolf and a hedgehog most definitely will not blend.
What’s purple, hairy, and grows and shrinks at will? (Hint: It’s not Grimace’s waistline.)
[image1]It’s Sonic the Hedgehog’s new alter-ego, Sonic the Werehog. Yes, that’s right. Sonic has joined the venerable ranks of celebrities who’ve donned furry costumes and howled at the moon in order to stave off mounting irrelevance and has-been status.
Sonic Unleashed begins with an extended cinematic plot sequence describing the far-fetched origins of Sonic’s porcine lycanthropy (or is that “hyan-thropy”?). Through a mishap with a laser beam fired by his longtime nemesis Dr. Eggman, Sonic finds himself at the center of a global disaster. Borrowing more than a few ideas and visuals from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Eggman’s oversized laser hits a planet and unleashes a tentacled beasty buried deep within the planet’s core.
In the process, Sonic turns into a purple werewolf tasked with restoring the planet to its former, unbroken self. By day, Sonic is the same loveable blue hedgehog we all know and love (and hate). By night, he’s an oversized, fur-coated oaf.
As you can probably guess, Sonic Unleashed is divided into night and day stages which Sonic must complete as either his diurnal or nocturnal self. The daytime levels play very similarly to the outstanding Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. The sense of speed, the diverging pathways, and the beautiful environments bring back fond memories of what made Sonic so great in the first place.
Speedy platforming seamlessly transitions between front- and side-view sections. There are enough challenging platforming sequences to keep things interesting, but never at the cost of forward momentum. Everything moves quickly, just as the best Sonic games always have. Boss encounters in these sections are relatively easy, but they’re also varied and inventive. If Sonic Unleashed were only built of these daytime segments, I would loudly and confidently announce the return of a once-lost video game icon.
[image2]But, oh, what a difference 12 hours makes. Once you move into the nighttime segments, Sonic Unleashed falls utterly to pieces. Clunky controls combined with predictable, slow-paced level designs and an uncooperative camera make a disgustingly flavorless God of War clone. Weresonic’s repertoire of movements is modeled closely after those of Kratos—even down to the quick-time event finishing moves—and many of the basic block puzzles and lever-pulling sequences play like the illegitimate children of the Sony Santa Monica playbook.
Sonic depends on speed. Like an air-cooled engine, he breaks down without constant movement. But these nighttime levels shackle him to a big, cumbersome body and slow, obnoxious platforming. The combination of the speedy, familiar Sonic and the slow, muscle-bound Sonic is, simply put, a horrible train wreck.
The awfulness of the night stages far outweighs the greatness of the day stages. During the day, it’s great to see Sonic up to many of his classic tricks, especially since it’s so rare to see so much character and life in such an old gaming icon. But his hairy nocturnal incarnation is so utterly out of character and out of place, that it totally obliterates whatever joy his better half brings.
The glue vainly attempting to hold these two halves together is the hub cities. These cities look fantastic but serve little purpose. You can talk to the locals and buy a handful of unlockable goodies (like time trial modes), but it’s all entirely useless. Somewhere in each city or town is a gate to yet another hub. From these secondary hubs you then have access to the different levels for that particular continent. From there, you have to manually switch between day and night to gain access to the specific day and night levels.
This ridiculous distance between you and the level you want to play could have easily been avoided by having a single hub from which you could instantly access all levels. Instead, we’re left with a baroque arrangement of menu screens, a world map, hubs, sub-hubs, and sub-sub-hubs (and sub-hub-sub-hubs).
[image3]Worse still is the use of day and night medals. In each level, city hub, and gate area, you will find hidden medals. The more you collect, the more levels become available. However, you’ll quickly discover that these medals aren’t always easy to find—no thanks to the funky camera—and you can’t progress through the game without them.
In other platform titles like the Mario games, you collect necessary items by finishing a level or task. But in Sonic Unleashed, the medals have nothing to do with finishing a level. The end result is that you’ll have to replay levels multiple times in order to find enough medals to progress. The amount of backtracking required in Sonic Unleashed is absolutely inexcusable, and this mandatory medal hunting is the nail in the coffin.
While other classic gaming icons have also gone through their own furry transformations just fine [And their fans? ~Ed.], Sonic has come through his own lupine changes a worn, broken, and bruised hedgehog.