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Why you should buy it: You’re a diehard Sonic fan who doesn’t listen to anybody.
Why you should rent it: This is half the Sonic game you’ve been waiting years for, and that just might be enough.
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Sonic Unleashed
Written by: Danreb Victorio | Tags: Sonic Unleashed, Xbox 360, Sega, Sonic Team

December 1,2008 – The once beloved Sonic the Hedgehog was a mascot with a huge array of titles that challenged the quality of Nintendo’s famous plumber, Mario. However, after Sega went on to become a third party, Sonic games have been met with rough criticism because of a really unsuccessful transition from 2D to 3D. Not since the release of Sonic Adventure 2 for the Dreamcast has there been a respectable Sonic release on a console, and Sonic Unleashed is here to change that. Unfortunately, the developers spent too much time “unleashing” their inner-hedgehog and have developed a final product that is simply on par with the prime of their mascot’s 3D foray.

Upon first booting the game up, players are met with a cutscene that shows the evil Dr. Eggman wreaking havoc upon the universe again. With that kind of evil lurking, who else but Sonic the Hedgehog would show up and ruin the disaster? Fortunately for Eggman, he called Sonic’s hijack and is able to trap him into a machine that renders Sonic’s “Super Sonic” form useless by removing the power of the Chaos Emeralds. This causes Sonic to develop a werewolf-like form, and on top of that, the planet has somehow gotten separated into jigsaw-like pieces. With all that damage done, Dr. Eggman lets Sonic go in his new “werehog” body.

When Sonic crash lands back onto the planet, he meets a friendly brown creature who doesn’t know who he is or where he came from. Sonic finds him a little strange, but seeing as how there’s no chance he’ll make friends in his current form, he lets the little thing follow him around. This creature ends up being your guide, not unlike the guardian fairies from The Legend of Zelda games. After the sun comes back up, Sonic returns to his hedgehog form and from here, you go through a few tutorial stages to get you used to the game’s controls.

The gameplay is not unlike the many 3D Sonic games before Unleashed. The level-design isn’t anything too complicated or extraordinary since every stage is as linear as linear can be. The camera is fixed to stay behind Sonic nearly 90 percent of the time—the other 10 percent being constant zoom-outs whenever Sonic is going through a loop or something like that. The analog stick on all formats of the game allow Sonic to run, and the more rings Sonic has in his possession, the faster he runs. You can also use the right shoulder button to make quick strafes along the screen, which make it easier for Sonic to dodge enemies or obstacles that may slow him down. Along the way, Sonic will also need to make some rough turns, so the left shoulder button will allow him to drift through them with ease. Successful drifts lead to a better final score once the level is completed.

What made the original 2D Sonic games so great was the sense of satisfaction you get whenever you just speed through a stage, but at the same time, when you went too fast, oftentimes you would regret flying by so fast. Unleashed does a good job of bringing that lost feeling back, so the fact that there is now a strafe button makes things more interesting. Rings also do more than just bolster Sonic’s defense and make him faster as well. When collecting rings, a gauge on the bottom of the screen tells you how much juice Sonic has to go at superspeed, which is done with a random button sequence on the controller—or if you’re playing the Wii version, you simply waggle the Wii Remote. Combat still revolves around bouncing up and down on enemies, and performing action chains (killing robots with multiple homing bounces) will open up new and more interesting pathways to go through each level. Also, after completing them, you can play through them again with different objectives, such as collecting a certain number of rings, time attacking, and even unique ones like avoiding crashing entirely.

Speaking of pathways, the world map also gets really limited when it comes to getting to certain worlds and areas. This part of the game plays like a visual novel of sorts because everything is completely menu-based, like the Phoenix Wright games. In order to open up entrances to Hidden Shrines (where all the game’s main levels are based), you must perform certain objectives, and most of them rely on simply talking to people.

When you enter these shrines, to the immediate left you’ll see portals that lead to the five other hidden shrines in the game. Each time you enter a new shrine, the appropriate portal will open up in that same room, so it will relieve you of the hassle of going back to the world map in order to get to each world’s appropriate shrine.Aside from the room with portals, each shrine has three main rooms—a Sun room, a Star Rom, and a Moon room. Sun rooms lead you to the daytime levels, that are played with Sonic. The Star Room leads to the Shrine’s main boss, and when you kill them, you unlock the way to the innermost depths of the shrine that allow you to re-energize one of Sonic’s Chaos Emerald. The Moon Room leads to the world’s night-themed level, which force you to play as the werehog.

The werehog levels really aren’t bad, but they’re really long. If you thought the werewolf segments were annoying in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, they’re a lot more troublesome in Sonic Unleashed. All of the fast-paced and tight gameplay from the daytime worlds is replaced by dark environments that force you to take out enemies, take part in fetch quests, and get through each level using moves reminiscent of the Prince of Persia games. Again, they weren’t horribly made, but the length of each werehog level really leaves players tired (especially those who own the Wii version because combat requires constant waggling of the controller), and literally hoping that a daytime level is next.

Sonic Unleashed is a very good-looking game from top to bottom. With the great cinematic cutscenes to the intense sense of speed, almost everything looks great. Well, almost everything. A lot of the spawning creatures you face as werehog Sonic are basically the same, except they’ll be a different color in another level, which ruins the creativity there. If there’s anything wrong with the game’s visual style, it’s the fact that not everything is interactive. But since there’s a map on the bottom right part of the screen that shows where all the walls are, it’s really hard to complain about. And since this is a 3D Sonic game, the camera is obviously pretty bad.

Unless you’re a four-year old kid, the sound isn’t much to brag about. The voice acting is horrible. The game’s soundtrack might keep a song or two in your head, but one of the songs will probably be the annoying jazzy combat sound you’ll hear whenever you brawl with enemies, which will make players have nightmares with how pointless and gimmicky the werehog stages are.

To be quite frank, Sonic Unleashed is half great game, and half unnecessarily unleashed. The Sonic levels are extremely fun and bring back the memories of yesteryear, and the night-time levels will leave players wondering why Sonic Team continues to torture their fans by continuing to add pointless things to prolong good gameplay. If you can get by the fact that not every level takes place in the day, Sonic Unleashed should take the average gamer no more than ten hours to complete. As for which one to get, aside from the obvious drop-offs in visuals and sound it gets, the Wii version is probably the best. Sure, waggling from time-to-time will be tiring, but Sega fortunately gave players the option of choosing the standard nunchuck and remote controls, along with the options of having to use the Classic Controller or the GameCube controller, which makes everything a whole lot easier. Either way you look at it, Sonic Unleashed is the best 3D Sonic game to date, it’s just too bad Sega insisted on the werewolf gimmick.
Shape-shifters, similar to werewolves, are common in tales from all over the world, most notably amongst the American Indians, though most of them involve animal forms other than wolves.