reviews\ Nov 24, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Sonic Unleashed - WII - Review

A very long time ago, my brother-in-law had a Genesis game system. One of the games he played for hours was Sonic. I remember watching him and other family members play, and all the fun they had with the speedy blue hedgehog. Sonic has resurfaced lately on various consoles, but these games haven’t managed to capture the true Sonic essence. Now, we have Sonic Unleashed, which is available on all the major consoles.

Most Sonic fans have probably given up hope for a game that approaches the exuberant speed of the old Sonic. The good news is that the levels that feature Sonic in racing mode are excellent and very exhilarating to play. The bad news, for some, is that more than half the game is made up of levels that feature a slower, non-racing Sonic in “Were” Sonic form. In these “night” levels (as opposed to the racing “day” levels), Sonic turns into a hulking creature with long arms. He doesn’t race. He spends most of his time swinging and jumping in a platform type mode. Some players will enjoy these levels, some will not.

The beginning of the game is very long. Between the cut scenes and tutorial sections, it seems to take forever to get to the actual game. Once players finally do finish the tutorials, though, they will be in for a treat. Sonic is unleashed in blazing glory!

The visuals in the day racing levels are outstanding for the Wii. The characters and the backgrounds are equally well-designed and animated, with bright, vivid colors. There are shadows, glimmering water, shiny reflections. Everything is highly detailed. The night levels are less bright, as they are at night. The music is great, as well, and is a type of techno modern sort of music. It is upbeat and fun to hear.

Sonic is faster than ever, due in part to a lack of obstacles to slow him down. About the only thing that will keep him from forward progress are enemies, which are fairly easy to dodge or defeat. The controls are responsive and “feel” right as players move Sonic from side to side and up or down, racing the whole while. True to Sonic culture, there are innovative ramps and slides for pure sliding pleasure.

The main goal in these levels is to collect rings while racing to the end of the level as fast as possible. Players can go back and redo these levels to gain better scores, which earns medals. In order to access these levels, players can use a world map, which is a nifty globe that revolves to show the unlocked levels that players can visit. This interface works very well and is easy to use. Progress is saved automatically.
While these day levels are Sonic at his classic best and then some, the night levels are vastly different. This is not to say they aren’t good, though. While the design of these levels isn’t as polished, and the controls are twitchy at times, they are also good fun. For Sonic purists, however, they will not be as pleasing as the racing levels.

Sonic is turned into a Werehog in these levels, and is bigger and slower. He has blue fur/feathers, and very long arms. The reason for the long arms is the design of the platform gameplay, which requires Sonic to swing from vertical and horizontal poles, to swing from items in the air, and to reach up and catch the edges of ledges. Most of the time this works, but when it doesn’t, it is irritating. Many times players will hit the “B” button to latch onto something, but instead Sonic will just fall to the ground. Sometimes this means beginning the level again.

The camera view is also not what it should be in these levels. For platforming purposes, it is a good thing to be able to swing the camera around at will in order to see, and to move the character to face another way. While it is possible to turn Sonic around most of the time, the camera viewpoint doesn’t quite turn with him. And, when trying to turn Sonic on a narrow ledge in order to position for a jump, he often will fall off the ledge to the bottom of the level. Grrr…Couple this with a too-long stretch between save checkpoints, and these levels can be pretty difficult to finish.

But, even with these annoying features, these levels are challenging and fun in their own right. Besides swinging and jumping from platforms, there are also enemies to battle. Sonic will earn increased attack powers as play progresses and put together some interesting combos. The controls are twitchy, but players will eventually master them and then the levels will be easier. While we’ve been frustrated a few times, we’ve continued to stay motivated to finish the level. The sense of accomplishment when reaching the end is satisfying.

The Wii controls are put to good use. The racing is swift and feels natural, and the platforming motions are well-conceived, although they could be more tightly designed as to execution. Players will use the Nunchuk and the Wii-mote together to swing back and forth, up and down, and to fight enemies. In case players forget which motion to use, the controls are demonstrated for them in the upper right corner of the screen in motion.

We’ve really been enjoying Sonic Unleashed. While there are improvements that could be made, and there should be more racing levels and less platforming levels, the total package is pleasing and a lot of fun. We are not die-hard Sonic fans, though. While we like the little guy and enjoy racing, we are not Sonic purists. Therefore, the different non-racing levels are fine with us. They may not be as much fun for people who expect nothing but racing.

Review Scoring Details for Sonic Unleashed

Gameplay: 7.5
The gameplay is fun, but is split between two opposing types of play: racing and platforms. The racing levels are superbly executed. The platform levels are engaging and challenging, but are not as much fun overall as the racing. This is mainly due to their length and sameness, even across different worlds, and to the overly difficult controls.

Graphics: 8.5
The graphics are as good as it gets for the Wii.

Sound: 8.0
The music is really catchy and upbeat.

Difficulty: Medium
The game isn’t easy, but neither is it too difficult. The controls in the platforming night levels are probably the most difficult aspect of the game.

Concept: 7.0
The concept of having two different types of gameplay is a good one, but the execution in the night levels could use a bit more work.

Overall: 7.5
This game is really fun to play, especially in the racing sections. Sonic is breathtakingly fast! The platforming levels are a drastic switch from the racing, and force players to slow down. These levels are also fun to play, and imbue players with a sense of achievement once finished. However, these night levels suffer from a lack of variety in design, and should be a smaller component of the game. More racing, less platforming. The controls in the night levels could use refinement, too. Overall, this is a fun game for everyone, but is probably too difficult for young gamers. Whether a Sonic fan or no, most everyone can have fun playing Sonic Unleashed.


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