Gaming My Way

31 Dec

Sonic Unleashed Review (PS2)

So, I recently ripped on Sega when I wrote New Sonic Games Have Fun Designed Out of Them, but I also admitted that I hadn’t yet played Sonic Unleashed. While I still think Sega, in regards to Sonic games, should focus their efforts on speed and momentum, I’ve cut myself a slice of humble pie because Sonic Unleashed is actually a very fun game, despite some of it’s faults. Before I go any further, from what I hear, the PS2 and Wii versions of this game are different from the Xbox360 and PS3 versions, so bear that in mind while reading.

And yes, there are a number of faults, which I’m going to get out of the way first because I’ve been wanting to vent about some of them for awhile. First, the camera is awful. The worst I’ve seen in any 3d Sonic game I’ve played, though I haven’t played the 360/PS3 Sonic the Hedgehog.  Anytime I tried to backtrack, usually on ring collecting missions, the camera would get all wonky and not turn the way I wanted it to, even when I started going in the right direction again. This also impacted gameplay, since when using a boost Sonic would run in the direction of the camera, not the way he was facing. Luckily, this came up infrequently, and didn’t seriously impact play, but it came up often enough to be irritating.

Next, there are the training missions. Seriously Sonic Team or Dimps, whoever had the idea that each separate ability needed it’s own 10-30 second tutorial stage really needs to rethink that idea. While the tutorials were helpful since the game has some non-standard moves for a Sonic game, one training level to show how to do everything would have been a lot more efficient. This wouldn’t be as big a deal as I’m making it, except for the fact that in between each training stage there were long loading times that got to be irritating as they were coming up every 10-30 seconds of intro play. Luckily, this was only for a short time, but it doesn’t make a good first impression and could have been avoided by having one tutorial level.

Finally, my last two gripes. The werehog combat was lackluster, and the missions in some of the stages seemed designed solely to get more life out of some of the stages rather than actually to be fun. Ring collecting missions in beginning stages lasted no more than 30 seconds, and werehog combat could be done with one button for most of the game, with the combo options being superfluous. Towards the end of the game, combat got a little better, and the missions had some staying power and actually represented a decent and rewarding challenge though.

In fact, I would say that Sonic Team held back for too long, making the beginning bland and mediocre at best, and the end was exactly what a Sonic game should be in the hedgehog levels, while in the werehog levels the end was what I would expect from another form of platformer with some decent combat thrown into the mix.

Which brings me to the good stuff. In the Sonic stages, using boosts and homing attacks at the right time could find some excellent shortcuts, there’s an excellent sense of speed, and crashing into fixtures redirects you rather than bringing you to a screeching halt unless you collide directly with the wall. Drifting around corners, once you get used to it, helps you maintain speed around turns while avoiding walls as well. This keeps the action fast and furious, and there are a lot of twitch moments where you need to be right on your game to avoid a less optimal path or death at the hands of a violent drop. The game is very forgiving of mistakes most of the time, allowing you to fall a level or two below to another part of the stage before a fall spells certain doom for our blue, spiny hero. The exception to this is the final zone, in which the slightest mistake will have you restarting the stage, but honestly, this was par for the course on the harder zones in the Genesis Sonic games, so bring your old school gaming reflexes and patience for the final zone and you’ll be fine.

In the werehog stages, the platforming is generally excellent, and is only marred by uninspired combat. Towards the end of the game though, even the combat picks  up and is quite fun, forcing you to think about how to approach it and divide the enemies in order to prevail. It won’t win any awards, but it’s a cut above mindless hack and slash once Sonic Team gets the kinks out. The platforming is what really shines though. Sonic Team gave the werehog stretchy limbs, and these can be used to grab airborne enemies, as well as specific ledges and poles marked as being grabbable. The stretchyness prevents unnescessary death if the animation doesn’t start when it should, since the limbs keep stretching until they grab the ledge you’re aiming for. As long as the cursor is on the screen when you press the grab button, you’ll safely get the ledge you want. I’m not sure about the rationale for having some ledges not be grabbable, as I think it would have added a little more of a second chance to the platforming, but it’s not a huge deal and the platforming still shines regardless.

In the end, I feel that if Sonic Team and Dimps had a chance to play around with the engine before making the game, we could have had a much better title than we do now. It feels as though they were learning how to make the game in the beginning, and towards the end they really hit their stride. If we see a game based on this engine in the future from this team, I’m willing to bet it will be truly excellent. As long as you can get past the irritating beginning levels, there’s a very good game buried in here.

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