Sega's latest entry in their flagship series has had everyone buzzing since it was shown behind closed doors in trailer form at last year's E3. This year, the Blue One has a 2 level playable demo making the rounds at the Sony, PS3, and Sega booths, and I couldn't have been more excited.
This isn't an extension of recent Sonic titles, but the first real attempt to re-imagine Sega's mascot since he debuted on the Dreamcast. Sonic's look has been tweaked a bit with a more gangly physique closer in proportion to a normal human. His environments seem typically fitting, though his enemies are less of the garish and colorful variety we've grown so accustomed to. Everything is nicely detailed, clean and thoroughly next-gen, which should relieve those disappointed with the Dreamcast-esque look of Shadow and Sonic Heroes. Sonic's outing also shares the distinction of being (I think) the only game playable on both PS3 and Xbox 360, so for those interested in how the systems stack up I can only say that the Xbox 360 version is much more polished. The PS3 version suffered from jagged shadow maps, graphical bugs, framerate drops and the second level seemed to run in slow motion. Surely Sega hasn't had much time to optimize things for Sony's new kid, but in its current form it can't hold up.
Sonic's level left me feeling right at home. The basic gameplay has not changed much from Sonic Adventure, although his somersault has been traded in for a kick-slide. The level design is very dense, not the repetitive cut-and-paste that plagued Sonic Heroes. Each segment seems to have its own concept, and a lot of unnecessary showing off of the Havok physics engine. The level made me happy, and even the camera work is solid, but there were still some unnecessary deaths at the hand of twitchy controls, and the usual clipping bugs here or there. Of course the game is very early and there's plenty of time to fix this, but I think we've all lost any confidence that Sonic Team will eliminate them entirely.
Many critics of recent Sonic titles have complained about the need to play as characters other than Sonic himself. Fans excited that this new title has been reported to boast hedgehog-only gameplay are in for a rude awakening when they check out the game's second level featuring an all new white hedgehog named Silver. Silver may look like Sonic, and his level may still be a race to the end, but his game plays very differently. I think many will be put off by the slowness this newcomer. Silver's game is not about speed, it's about physics, and the spiky psychokinetic has the ability to hurl around anything not nailed down to take out his opponents, as well as hover and glide (which feels a bit like Knuckles' gliding, but more limited). Silver can't even hop on opponents to take them out so the feel of the action in these stages is something completely new. It takes some getting used to, but at least on the smoother 360 revision (the PS3 choked on this level) I was able to have a good time with Silver.
Sonic's 15th anniversary outing isn't the completely polished renaissance that I might have hoped for, but it is an honsest-to-goodness quality game that stacks up to his Dreamcast outings, so it's safe to stay excited. It's both a reinvention and a return to roots for the once-proud platformer, and I'm cautiously optimistic about Sega's ability to pull it off.
Sonic B-Roll Footage (Windows Media Player format, 2.71MB)
Sonic B-Roll Footage #2 (Windows Media Player format, 2.94MB)
Sonic E3 2006 Trailer (Windows Media Player format, 4.56MB)