In what might be seen as a move to reset and reinvent the series, the latest game to feature Sonic the Hedgehog is merely called Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega's blue critter has been around since the 16-bit days, when his side-scrolling platformers were strong enough to take on Mario, the then-undisputed kingpin of the platforming genre. Sonic's fall from grace has been slow, starting with a promising first stab at 3D with Sonic Adventure, but it's all been downhill since those far-gone days, and games like this new Sonic the Hedgehog are the culprit. With plenty of bad glitches, poor controls, and totally lame gameplay on all fronts, this one's not going to restore any part of the Hedgehog's name to glory.
While Sonic's name is on the box, you'll actually spend most of your time playing as other characters. The game is broken up into three different stories: one starring Sonic, one starring Shadow, and one starring a new hedgehog called Silver. Each of the stories play differently because of the way each hedgehog controls. Sonic is meant to be the fast-moving one, and he mainly attacks via a homing jump attack that makes most basic fights as simple as timing presses of the A button to bounce from foe to foe. Silver has telekinesis powers that let him pick up large objects and use his mind to fling them at enemies. He's not as fast as Sonic, but he has the ability to float in the air for brief periods of time, letting him cross larger gaps. Shadow the Hedgehog gets his own version of the homing attack, but the big difference is that he can drive around in different armed vehicles. Further watering the game down is a heavy supporting cast, so even when you pick the Sonic episode, you'll still occasionally play as Tails and Knuckles. Other Sonic collaborators, like Amy, Blaze, Rouge, and E-123 Omega also put in guest appearances. While the character variety might initially seem like a good idea, most of them aren't too interesting. Tails moves almost painfully slowly, and his fake ring bombs aren't any fun to use, so when Sonic levels occasionally switch over to him, it's immediately boring. In addition to the single-player levels, you can play the game in a two-player, split-screen tag mode that attempts to force players to cooperate as you progress through the story. In addition, you can go back and play levels you've completed in a battle mode.
While you play as many different characters throughout the main game, the same structure applies across the board. The game's action stages are separated by town portions, where you'll be able to take on dopey side missions to help out the locals or figure out puzzles to proceed. Each of these side missions are bookended by two sets of loading screens, where it first loads up the exact same scene, just with different text dialogue, then it loads up the actual mission. After that, it has to load up some ending text and then load up the out-of-mission version of that part of town. Each load time is fairly long, and when they stack up in this way, it almost makes the game feel broken.
But since the frequent and lengthy load times don't quite do it, it's up to the action stages to make the game actually feel broken. The camera is the most immediate problem, as it doesn't bother to give you a good view of the action on its own, and your control over it is inverted, with no option to change it. In some cases, the game changes angles at the worst possible time and the controls don't automatically compensate for the new angle. In one Sonic level, you're snowboarding down a mountain and must stay pointed in the right direction. When the camera flips around to give you a new view of the action, you immediately grind to a halt, because you're no longer pushing in the proper direction. This makes some sequences of the game a frustrating exercise in trial and error while you attempt to compensate for this mess. This is but one of several cases where the camera causes often-severe gameplay problems, and it gets frustrating to the point of being nearly unplayable. Since none of the hedgehogs can swim and there's plenty of water and endless, life-ending cliffs nearby, jumping or trying to do a homing attack when you're near a ledge is often scary, since you're rarely able to get a good look at the world around you. Death can also be a bit scary, because you have a limited number of lives and you're kicked all the way out to the main menu when you run out. The game doesn't save automatically, and you can't save in the middle of a mission, so special care must be taken to save immediately before you enter a new area, just to make sure you aren't later forced to repeat lengthy sections of the game.
Graphically, Sonic the Hedgehog is a glitchy mess that usually looks extremely bland. The town that Sonic spends most of his time saving looks like someone dug up some old Dreamcast-era artwork, brushed it up a little bit, and released it onto current consoles. While his animation for running and jumping usually looks OK, there are plenty of awkward moments, too, like spots in the level that cause the camera to freak out or the way Sonic occasionally launches from platform to platform with his head pointed directly at the ground. There are some better-looking levels in the game, though, and Silver's first level at least starts off with a bang, complete with a nice-looking devastated future city and a big fiery boss fight. Unfortunately, the very next level drops the psychic hedgehog into a nondescript forest setting that doesn't look any better than Sonic's ugly town, and it goes on from there. Compounding the issue is a very sketchy frame rate that slows the entire game down at seemingly random intervals. Considering the main appeal of Sonic is that he's supposed to be able to run fast, all the sluggishness really takes away from the game's already ugly presentation. The characters are voiced in cutscenes with plenty of bad anime enthusiasm, but it's neither good enough to work on its own or bad enough to be funny. The rest of the game's dialogue is delivered through text. The music varies from fast-moving action themes to random ska-influenced tunes. It's passable, but aside from the main screen's title theme, none of it really stands out at all.
Only the most blindly reverent Sonic the Hedgehog fan could possibly squeeze any enjoyment out of Sega's latest adventure. This platformer is a mess from top to bottom, and any of the occasional moments that don't feel somehow broken only serve to make the game's other flaws appear that much bigger.