With the arrival of the next generation consoles, many long lasting franchises have been brought back from the dead in order to capture the market with their once prominent charm. Sonic the Hedgehog stumbled a little in this regard however, releasing a few titles that were rather lacking. With Sonic Unleashed however, Sonic seems to be going back to his old roots, and potentially bringing back some of the things we all know and love about the blue hedgehog. We were recently given the opportunity to play the latest build on the Xbox 360, and came out with hope.
Sonic Unleashed tends to be a bit of a mixture between new and old. Combining the breakneck speed of the original 2D platformers with the slower pacing of the next generation iterations, it brings to the table something for all the old and new fans alike. The game alternates between day and night levels, day being more side scrolling platforming with occassional flips to third person, and night being of slower pace much like the Sonic Adventure titles. We unfortunately did not get any time with the night levels, but we did play the game's second day level, based in Greece.
Controls were simple. The A button was used for jumping over obstacles, B was used for attacks and crouching, and X was used for turbo boosts and dashing into targets while in mid-air and such. Sonic moves extremely fast, especially when the turbo boost is activated (which is only useable when enough coins have been collected), and can sometimes make it difficult to control. The saving grace of this, however, is the use of the left and right bumpers, which will dash you quickly to the left and right respectively. Movement with the analogue stick was a little slippery and felt way too sensitive at points, though we were assured that this was to be balanced come release time.
The level design was great, with quick reflexes required for jumps through speed rings in the air and dashes across vast leaps. A few issues did pop up though, namely a few bugs. At points it was extremely difficult to jump on rails, with very accurate movement of the analogue required, the bumpers also being difficult. There were a few odd camera issues too but we were assured that these bugs will be removed once the game hits shelves.
Visually, Sonic Unleashed has a very minimalist look to it, but it suits the style of the game. Colours are as vibrant and cheerful as expected from a Sonic game, but it helps bring the game to life, especially in the level we played where many colours were prominent and set the mood. There were quite a few framerate dips however, and it's very noticeable due to the game's insanely fast pace, so hopefully Sega will be able to rectify those framerate issues come release time.
Aurally, Sonic Unleashed sounds solid, with classic sounds like the checkpoint and such making a return, and effects perfectly in time with the breakneck speed of our hedgehog friend. Music was not really noticeable especially when moving so fast, but it's the typically cheerful music that we've all become accustomed to with Sonic games. Sonic still is as annoying as ever with his voice, with constant yelps of his own name as you play and every time you load a new area, though most Sonic fans would be about used to that now. It's a solid effort on sound which will keep most audio lovers content.
Sonic Unleashed has the potential to be great. It's visually appealing, and has good breaks in pacing with the inclusion of the day and night levels. However, it does risk falling into the category of being far too simplistic and repetitive for its own good. Though fun, the day levels may get a bit boring if the levels are not varied enough, and if the night levels turn out to be anything like the previous effort on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it could end up repeating the same mistakes the previous games did.
That being said though, what we've played and seen looks promising, and fingers crossed that Sega have learned from their mistakes and Sonic Unleashed becomes a game worth going for.