Sonic the Hedgehog is such a well-loved character that any change to the original formula is likely to meet resistance from the Sega fanboy community. If you skip past the internet vitriol about putting guns, swords or contrived characters in a Sonic title, the results, for the most part, are rather good. Sure they’ve had their downsides in the past, and the pure Sonic running segments of his titles have always been the more impressive, but it’s fair to say that every Sonic game, from the very first one, has offered something new to the series to help keep things interesting. Sonic Unleashed is no different in that respect. However, much like with many previous titles, we’re a little dubious of the nature of the new additions to this effort.
Sonic, by an unfortunate mishap, has been changed into a stretchy-limbed werehog. In the process the Chaos Emeralds have been drained of their power and the planet Mobius has been blasted apart, releasing the earth spirit Gaia. It’s a somewhat more epic tale than we’re used to from Sonic, but he deals with the situation with his traditional breezy attitude and seems totally unfazed by this turn of events. Helping him along the way in an advisory role is Chip, an amnesiac flying squirrel/fairy who has an integral role in the plot.
As Chip and Sonic traverse Mobius, setting the world to rights one continent at a time, the issues with Sonic’s new form become evident. As a werehog, Sonic changes form depending on the time of day. The daytime stages are a bright and brilliant tribute to Sonic, but more on those later. No, the most interesting aspect of Unleashed is how the werehog sections are dealt with. Initially they’re rather disappointing. The main element of Sonic’s new form is combat and exploration. Now this sounds like a great combination: brain-blistering speed and reactive, visceral gameplay from the racing sections, and more indepth calmer segments which focus on elements which Sonic has never really had before. Sadly, even as the story progresses and the werehog’s skills advance, you still find yourself yearning for the more traditional Sonic running sections. In essence, what you’re getting with Unleashed is two separate games, one being a more exciting experience than the other.
The control system is completely changed when playing as the werehog, and he doesn’t have anywhere near the speed of Sonic during the day. Thankfully, both of those control schemes work well enough, and while you’ll be doing an awful lot of Remote waggling with the werehog, you’ll encounter very few situations where it doesn’t work.
Sonic’s daytime sections are simply brilliant, though, and more than make up for any niggles with the night-time element of the game. The feeling of satisfaction when you manage to access that secret area or make a particularly tricky jump at speed is marvellous, and the perspective shifts from 3D to 2D are dealt with particularly well. The wealth of moves and exciting set-pieces spread through the levels really do show how well the development team have got to grips with the nature of Sonic.
As we said, the more you play the werehog levels, and the greater the skill set, the more fun you’ll have with it. By the time you get into the realm of juggle combos and unleashing Sonic’s real power, things are infinitely more enjoyable. As a package, then, the game develops into a reasonably well-rounded experience, but due to the thrill of the daytime levels, you’ll probably be yearning for more of them by the end of the game.