Sonic Unleashed Preview - The Next Level

Game Profile

Xbox 360
Release date:
TBA 2008

Sonic Unleashed

What have they done to you?

Preview by Valerie Hilgenfeldt (Email)
August 12th 2008

A lot of the buzz around Sonic Unleashed relates to the pseudo side-scrolling segments, as Sega's done its best to push those above all else. On the darker side of its pre-release popularity, there's the entire "Sonic the Werehog" deal, and the company's been suspiciously reluctant to show that off. It seems like Sega knows to put its best foot forward, but you have to wonder why it insists on dragging the limp leg behind.

During E3, Sega offered appointments for Sonic Unleashed presentations, and if the rules were to be followed, no recording was allowed. Opening with a Sega staff member playing through some of the levels, they revealed that there are numerous points where Sonic controls a la Sonic Adventure, and that the "speed segments" aren't 100% of the game. As far as I'm concerned, that's fine, because the further Sonic gets away from his "hold forward all the time" stigma, the better. Then again, I should probably rethink that, considering my disappointment with the Werehog sequences.

Although I praised Sonic and the Secret Rings for doing something different, I did so because it still retained Sonic's feel. After attaining a reasonable amount of abilities, Sonic enjoyed blazing speed and remarkable reflexes, and all was well. Furthermore, using on-screen dialogue while play was in progress was an evolution in the franchise's storytelling methods. Naturally, my appreciation nurtured a desire to see Sonic and the Secret Rings 2, and at first I thought Sonic Unleashed would be that. By removing the initial ability restrictions, Sonic could run along full-tilt from the get-go. Controls would be similar, but tweaked for more responsive, by-the-millisecond movement. It would be a 2.5D Sonic done right, and to say that I was excited would be an understatement.

Returning to the aforementioned disappointment, however, the Werehog sequences appeared as exciting as Big's moments in the original Sonic Adventure. If that purple cat were given a violent streak a la Dynasty Warriors, he'd have been the literal predecessor of the Werehog gameplay. It consists of beat-'em-up moments where an exceptionally furry and slow Sonic pummels waves of enemies to clear rooms. Only a few games have done this and remained classics, like Gauntlet, but at least that provided you with lots of space to run around in (sometimes). Because you're restricted to compact enclosures here, these sequences are everything Sonic isn't supposed to be: confined, repetitive, and dull. During the platforming parts of these levels, the Werehog's extendable arms help him grab onto any missed ledges; I'd much rather have Sonic's normal speed and not need to worry about missing my leaps, thank you very much.

Along with the sword-based combat in the upcoming Sonic and the Black Knight, the Werehog sequences are incredibly out-of-character for Sonic. To some, that's unimportant, but it reveals a weakening interest in retaining the franchise's integrity. Despite widespread complaints concerning Sonic's never-ending descent into unloved mediocrity, the brand is being further abused by changing the main character. He's fast and efficient and tries to fight as little as possible, yet they're making him a brawler. Sonic the Fighters was a silly exception to the rule, but injecting this into the main Sonic series is tearing the Hedgehog's reputation apart. It also demeans Sonic and the Secret Ring's brilliantly handled departure from the usual by relabeling it as the start of a series; namely, the first of many B-movie-esque plotlines for Sonic titles (even though SatSR was better than that).

From the looks of things, the speed sequences with the good ol' blue blur could be a lot of fun, and if they're done right, they'll be a better example of moving Sonic's classic gameplay to 3D than SatSR. Unfortunately, I can't comfortably say that the Werehog parts will thrill. Maybe Sega will do something with them between now and its release to actually make them appealing, and being the die-hard Sonic fan I am, you can believe I'm hopeful. That's really all a lover of the 'hog's got left to be nowadays.

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