From now on, before every review, I will put my review scale, just to make sure everyone knows what each score means.
5 out of 5 - Fantastic. Loved it. Get it. Now.
Example: Super Mario Galaxy 2
4 out of 5 - Great, but may have a few notable issues. In general, it's well worth buying. Equivalent to 8-9 on a 10-point scale.
Example: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
3 out of 5 - Ehh. There's fun to be had, but a 3 game is usually bogged down by several issues that thoroughly detract from the experience. Unless it's downloadable, especially short games (less than 10 hours) with little replayability get this score by default. Not worth full price, but a good purchase for $20 or less. Equivalent to 6-7 on a 10-point scale.
Example: Mega Man X6
2 out of 5 - Below average. The bad outweighs the good. It may have some redeeming qualities, but they're overshadowed by the negative points. You might want to rent it and play it before you buy it, but if you don't do that, think before buying it for much more than $10. Equivalent to 4-5 on a 10-point scale.
Example: Sonic and the Secret Rings
1 out of 5 - Garbage. Don't buy it, don't rent it, don't play it, don't look at it. If you see someone about to buy it at GameStop, swat it out of his/her hand and wag your finger at him as if he/she were a 4-year-old who had gotten into trouble.
Example: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22
As much as I love the Adventure series, I can understand the reasons for which they are criticized. Everyone loves the blue blur's speedy gameplay in both games, but the games are controversial for the other characters' alternate gameplay styles. Both games featured play styles drastically different from the series' trademark speedy platforming, such as using a mech to shoot down enemy robots and hunting for various trinkets and treasures in a large, non-linear level. I enjoyed them, - well, most of them anyway (thinks of Big and Amy) - but a lot of people strongly disliked them for differentiating too much from the core gameplay of the series as well as, for many people, just not being that much fun. Thus, they should have been removed from later games.
It seemed that SEGA understood this when they made Sonic Heroes, a decent game that focuses solely on speed, and where the only thing resembling an alternate gameplay style was Team Chaotix's linear mission-based gameplay. Unfortunately, SEGA appears to enjoy making the same mistake more than once, and Sonic 06 came with Silver, who was slow and his only method of attack was picking up boxes or other assorted junk strewn about the stage, throwing them, and hoping that at least one hit an enemy. It may have been a unique concept, but his stages were slow-paced and really just boring. Shadow came back, too, and his gameplay was mostly similar to Sonic's, except he used vehicles, which controlled VERY poorly, and besides that, shouldn't he and Sonic at least be able to run faster than any vehicle? Those are far from the game's only flaws, but this is not a review for Sonic 06.
After Sonic 06, SEGA needed to make a different game to rekindle others' faith in the speedy blue hedgehog. People were hoping for a solo adventure starring only Sonic. When Sonic Unleashed came out in 2008, that's certainly what they got...but with a few unwanted strings attached. This is what I think of Sonic Unleashed. My review is based on the version for the PS3.
Sonic Unleashed's graphics are very good. The game's FMV's are simply gorgeous, about as impressive as a Pixar movie. I especially like the realistic effects done with the Werehog's hair in the FMV's. The in-game cutscenes look okay, but the framerate is somewhat lacking. Graphics during gameplay look very good as well. The look of the daytime levels is bright and colorful and very pleasing to the eye. Nighttime graphics aren't quite as impressive, although Sonic's Werehog form does have very noticeable fur, as does Chip, Sonic's sidekick in this game. The NPC's in the hub worlds have a cartoony look rather than the more realistic look that Sonic 06 and Sonic Adventure 2 went for, which is definitely a good decision for the game. My biggest complaint about the in-game graphics is the framerate, which is quite a significant problem. The framerate is at its worst in the hub worlds. The framerate is NEVER consistent there and is ALWAYS slowing down. I also dislike the draw distance. It doesn't cause any problems, but it seems like it should be better on a game for a next-gen console.
Sonic is once again trying to stop Eggman from doing whatever the heck it is that he's trying to do. Eggman catches Sonic off-guard and traps him in a capsule, reminiscent of Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic had already used the power of the Chaos Emeralds to go Super Sonic, so Eggman uses his invention to rip the Chaos Emerald energy out of Sonic, after which he uses their energy to shoot a cannon into Earth. This not only breaks the Earth into several pieces, but it also releases Dark Gaia, yet another evil demon in the series that had apparently been sealed inside the earth's core. It also completely drains the Chaos Emeralds of their energy and causes Sonic to turn into a Werehog. Yes, a Werehog. (Shakes head) Having no more use for Sonic, Eggman throws him out the airlock with the now-powerless Chaos Emeralds. Since in the Sonic universe, there's both gravity AND air in space, and the Earth has no atmosphere for Sonic to burn up in on the way down, Sonic plummets down to the Earth's surface. His fall is broken momentarily by an energy field from an unknown force, (you'll find out later what it's implied to be) only to start plummeting again a second later. Upon landing, he finds Chip, a weird pixie-type creature who has completely lost his memory. Believing that he had hit Chip when he fell and that caused him to have amnesia, Sonic decides to help Chip regain his memory. Fortunately for everyone except Eggman, Dark Gaia had been awoken prematurely, so he dispersed himself across the whole planet. Sonic and friends figure out that they can restore the Earth by refilling the Chaos Emeralds' energy in Gaia Temples, which they obviously need to do in order to keep Dark Gaia from destroying the world.
The plot may seem like the standard "evil demon" plot that has been used in 3-D Sonic games before, most infamously in Sonic 06, but fortunately Sonic Unleashed doesn't take itself too seriously. In fact, there is actually a lot of humor in the game, usually involving Eggman's stupid robot sidekick or comic relief from Chip. This is definitely a refreshing change of pace since Sonic 06's plot, which was not only filled with plot holes, but was really just too stupidly dark for a game about a cartoony blue hedgehog that runs at the speed of sound. Sonic games can have you saving the worlds from demons left and right for all I care, as long as it's done like this.
Like several other Sonic games before it, Sonic Unleashed features two drastically different play styles: series-famous speedy platforming with Sonic in the daytime and beat-em-up stages with the Werehog at night. The game constantly has you alternate between the two play styles to progress through the game. Like with my Sonic Adventure 2 review, I'll review the two play styles separately.
--Daytime Stages: Sonic the Hedgehog--
The daytime stages are easily the best in the game. They use the same gameplay that has made many other Sonic games so great: speed-based platforming. Sonic gets a few new abilities in Sonic Unleashed. Most notably, Sonic gets a boost ability, similar to the one in Sonic Rush, except the boost gauge is filled by collecting rings rather than doing tricks. You're going to find yourself boosting a LOT. It significantly increases Sonic's speed and allows him to plow through enemies, which is a lot of fun. One of the others is the Quick Step, which allows you to strafe to the left or right quickly to avoid obstacles. Sonic can also find new shoes in the hub worlds, which give him new abilities. The light dash has been around since Sonic Adventure, but the others are all new. These include the stomp move, which allows Sonic to...well, stomp, in order to press buttons and stuff, the wall jump, which allows Sonic to jump off walls a la Super Mario 64 and the air dash, which allows Sonic to boost in mid-air.
Sonic's stages provide a sense of speed that can only be described as mind-blowing, but you'll have to keep boosting by holding the square button to fully experience it. The first time you play through many of the daytime levels, they will be very difficult, because you don't know what to expect. To get the best ranking (rank "S") on every stage, you'll have to play them a lot and memorize the level to at least some extent, which isn't a problem, because you're almost definitely going to find yourself playing these stages over and over and over again to "S" rank them. The game's stages are more linear than in previous 3-D Sonic games and feature less platforming, but there are still plenty of shortcuts and some alternate routes that you're going to need FAST reflexes to get to. As said before, the sense of speed is amazing. Forget Sonic 06 and its empty promises; THESE are true next-gen speeds.
I only have two complaints about the daytime stages. The biggest one is the framerate, as mentioned before. It regularly hiccups, but it's most problematic in the Empire City and Adabat day stages. These stages are still a lot of fun to play, but the framerate is definitely an issue. My other complaint is that the controls are great for speeding across more straightforward terrain, but not so good for the few platforming areas featured in the game. It's not really that much of a problem; you'll just have to be kind of careful.
In short, the daytime stages are extremely fast and fun, with enough loops and corkscrews to make your head spin. In fact, I'd say that this may actually be the fastest Sonic has ever been in any Sonic game ever. You're almost definitely going to find yourself playing them over and over and over again to improve your score and rank.
So, yes, the daytime stages are great, but how does the rest of the game fare? Let's find out.
--Nighttime Stages: Sonic the Werehog--
At night, Sonic turns into a Werehog, basically a were-WOLF, except for the fact that the character in question is a hedgehog. While in the Werehog form, Sonic sacrifices his trademark speed for brute strength and...stretchy arms? *is confused* Being a strange cross between Mr. Fantastic and The Thing, the Werehog's gameplay involves a combination of Prince of Persia-style platforming and beat-em-up gameplay. The Werehog has a variety of combos and moves at his disposal, and more can be unlocked by upgrading his combat skill with the experience points you get from defeating enemies. His strength, life and guard ability can also be upgraded, as can his Unleash gauge. When you press R1, you can use the energy stored in the Unleash gauge to make the Werehog faster and more powerful for a limited time.
So, what would be the best way to describe the Werehog's gameplay? It's not quite as bad as people say. Some of the combos are pretty neat, and I like the upgrade system. That said, though, they're still not very good. You can initiate quick time events to kill an enemy more quickly after you've drained its health. This would be okay, except it barely gives you enough time to think. Fighting the large enemies with clubs can be extremely frustrating. You can be hitting it when it suddenly up and decides to jump, knocking you away. When it lands, it creates a shockwave. You cannot - and when I say you cannot, I mean, you absolutely CANNOT - get up before the shockwave hits you, knocking you away again. I also just LOVE (<-- Sarcasm) how when you're behind this particular enemy, if he slaps in front of himself, you still get hurt. The framerate is also pretty bad for these stages, and the Werehog's voice is VERY annoying -- especially his stupid howl. Ugh. Okay, I guess it sounds like I'm nitpicking. Really, the biggest flaw is that the Werehog stages just aren't all that much fun. This is made a million times worse by the fact that they can last up to half an hour long. Compare this to the 3-5 minutes required to complete the day stages. And to complete the game, you're required to play just as many Werehog stages as you are daytime stages. Obviously, unless you do any side quests or play the optional daytime stages, you're going to spend more time with the Werehog the first time you play through the game. This is especially bad because not only is the Werehog not that much fun, but it doesn't even come close to the core gameplay of the series. Even the treasure hunting levels in the Adventure games are closer to the core gameplay than the Werehog stages. I'd much rather play those -- actually, I really enjoyed those stages! Of course I'd rather play treasure hunting stages!
In conclusion, the Werehog isn't necessarily bad. It's more along the lines of mediocre, which still isn't saying much. It's especially saddening that his stages can take up to half an hour to complete, whereas the daytime stages only take 3-5 minutes to complete. You're required to complete just as many Werehog stages as daytime stages. This is made even worse by the fact that the Werehog's gameplay doesn't even come close to Sonic's core gameplay by any stretch of the imagination. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy most of the Adventure games' alternate play styles, but they actually somewhat fit in with the rest of the game. At the very least, they weren't as far from the core gameplay as this! The Werehog was an awful idea, and whoever came up with it really hated Sonic.
Like Sonic Adventure and Sonic 06, Sonic Unleashed has hub worlds. Each hub world is based on a real world location. Apotos and Spagonia are based on parts of Europe, Chun-nan and Adabat are based on parts of Asia, Holoska is based on the Arctic, Mazuri is based on Africa, Empire City is based on New York and Shamar is based on the Middle East. Each hub world consists of a town, where you can talk to people and do side quests, and an Entrance Stage, where you can access the daytime and nighttime stages for said towns.
A lot of people complain about the hub worlds, saying that you have to wander around talking to people only to find that they can't help you. This is absolutely not true. If there is a time that you have to do this, it's only at the very beginning of the game and the first time you visit Chun-nan. Beyond that, the only person you ever have to talk to for the most is Professor Pickle. Yes, his name is "Pickle." His strange name aside, he'll always tell you where to go next.
Talking to other people can also give you insight on where to go next, but it's usually not necessary. Sometimes if you talk to people, you'll have an opportunity to complete a mission or side quest. These side quests and missions add longevity and replay value to the game. You can also buy souvenirs from shops to give to Professor Pickle in exchange for rewards, and food, which you can either feed to Sonic to gain Experience Points, or feed to Chip. Feeding them to Chip will strengthen your bond if the food is good, and hurt it if the food is bad. Your bond with Chip doesn't have that much of an effect on the game, but he will occasionally give you things when you feed him good food.
As said before, you can access the game's daytime and nighttime stages from the hub worlds' Entrance Stages. This is what one of my biggest complaints about the game comes from: collecting medals to unlock new stages. You'll always have to have a certain number of sun medals to unlock day stages, and moon medals to unlock night stages. You'll probably find yourself unable to continue with the game because you don't have enough medals, meaning that you have to go back to levels you've already played and look for medals. In my opinion, this is just a cheap way to add fake longevity to the game. Aside from that, the framerate in the hub worlds is VERY bad, as I said before.
In short, the hub worlds are pretty nice, but medal collecting is annoying and the framerate is a real problem.
Sonic Unleashed isn't a very long game, and considering how many more Werehog levels there would be if were to be any longer, perhaps it's for the best. Thankfully, the game has a LOT of replay value. This mainly comes from the daytime levels, which you will almost definitely find yourself playing over and over again either to improve your score, or just for fun. Every entrance stage has at least one optional daytime level, usually shorter than the required one and revolving around a specific mechanic. As said before, people in the hub worlds will also sometimes give you side quests and missions to do. You can also buy souvenirs from shops in town to give to Professor Pickle for rewards. Scattered about stages and towns will also be art books, containing concept art; records, which have the game's music on them; and tapes, which you can collect to watch the game's cutscenes again.
So, can Sonic Unleashed be thought of as a success and the game that made the Sonic series respectable again? It depends on how you look at it. On one hand, it provided gameplay that featured a sense of speed possibly unparalleled by even the other games in the series. The daytime gameplay has also provided the framework for the next potential series savior, Sonic Colors, which doesn't appear to have any annoying mechanics, and proves that, yes, SEGA and Sonic Team still know how to make Sonic fun. On the other hand, they put it Sonic's wonderful gameplay on the same disc as a mediocre beat-em-up that not only had little to do with Sonic, but just isn't all that much fun in the first place. Since Sonic Colors looks like it's going to have all the good points of Sonic Unleashed without throwing in a not-so-good alternate gameplay style that takes up a good chunk of the game, I'd say that unless you find Unleashed for a good price ($20 or less), it would be a good idea to skip it and wait for Colors. This is T-Man, signing off.
So what's good?
+ Daytime stages provide an amazing sense of speed
+ Tons of replay value
+ Graphics are great
+ Story is lighthearted and comical, in contrast to previous 3-D Sonics
+ Werehog has tons of combos at his disposal
+ Upgrade system for the Werehog is a nice addition
...But what's bad?
- Werehog stages are too long compared to the day stages and take up too much of the game
- Werehog's gameplay has very little to do with Sonic and really isn't that much fun
- Medal collecting is annoying
- Framerate is an issue
Score: 3 out of 5