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There comes a time where, as a consumer, I feel it's necessary to put up or shut up. Among gaming circles throughout the internet it's become a widely adopted philosophy to vote with your dollars to see the change you want in the industry, to show financial support for enjoyable and innovative ideas. For example, I adamantly refused to pay for cable television until the provider in my area offered the chance to pay only for the channels I wanted. When I received a flyer in my mailbox advertising just such a service, I felt the need to put my money where my mouth was and pony up the dough. I wasn't actually shopping around for cable providers at the time but it was a service I had always wanted nonetheless.
During Christmas I found myself in a similar scenario. While I had intended on supporting Ouya since it's inception a year and a half ago, I had been unable to pledge my support due to owning an SD television. Everything about the product and Ouya's philosophies regarding indie development, game distribution and a low-barrier open platform deserved my support but I was unwilling to upgrade my television to do so. However, my father gave me the gift of a brand-spanking new 42" HDTV and I felt it was once again time to put up or shut up and I found myself purchasing an Ouya the very next day. I was planning on writing this blog shortly after but I've been (surprisingly) too busy actually playing the damn thing to find the time. I didn't want to write a hardware review for the device until I was convinced I had played all the top-shelf games available for the console. Now that I feel I have, I'd like to share my experience with the Ouya.
The hardware itself is rather unassuming. Looking about as small as a Rubix Cube, the Ouya will have no trouble finding a place among your home entertainment system. The console sports a Tegra 3 chipset, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage (16GB in the most recent revision). Most commentators have lamented Ouya's implementation of the Tegra 3 over it's successor, but the inexpensive chipset allows for a small price point and significant performance for your dollar. Much has been said about the Ouya's controller, and while I can't say I've experienced any of it's well documented shortcomings, I do feel like I should point out that a firmware update was released the day I hooked up my console that supposedly addresses these issues. Installation is about as simple as a modern-day console can get and setup is similarly a breeze. In no time you'll be browsing the Dicover store and trying out new software.
Likely, the Ouya's greatest standout feature is the implementation of the Apogee software model across the entire platform. Everything is free to try and while it may seem like such a small point, it's particularly empowering once you realize that all of these developers have to prove themselves to you before they can see a dime of your hard earned cash. In practice, you'll find yourself trying out games you probably wouldn't have otherwise and skipping titles that you may have thought would've been a good buy in a more traditional retail environment. The console already has a wide variety of games (almost 700 different games at the time of writing this article) covering a wide variety of genres and while Ouya suffers from one of the worst good:bad ratios in hardware history, it's small selection of standout titles really shine on the platform.
A common misconception regarding the console is that it's library consists almost entirely of mobile ports. While a few of the Ouya's titles were originally released on iOS and Android devices, the bulk of the Discover store's selection is much different than you would expect. In fact, the selection is wide and diverse enough that I believe there would be a little something for every type of gamer. Whether or not the Ouya (or any microconsole for that matter) is a good fit for you will depend entirely on what kind of experience you're looking for. The games available for the Ouya right now are largely proportionate to the size and cost of the console itself. I'm of the opinion that a console like Ouya would greatly complement anyone's console collection.
It's no secret that the internet can be an overtly negative place to hang out sometimes and when it comes to bloggers and journalists, there's certainly no shortage of the angry critic. While several internet personalities are quite talented at implementing their perceived rage when approaching a review or retrospective I see no point in trying to do something that has been done before on countless prior occasions. Instead, I'd like to try things a little differently and speak up for the underdogs out there. For Your Re-Consideration is a series of overviews that highlights the brighter aspects of games, hardware and other things in nerd culture that seem to be the whipping boys in their respective fandoms. To be clear, these articles are not meant to be unbiased critiques, many of the negative attributes surrounding these subjects are well-known popular opinion. Instead, this is just an encouragement to give something another look.
I wasn't planning on talking about another Sonic title so early in this series but since I've been playing Sonic Unleashed again for the umpteenth time and I decided now would be the perfect time to talk about my absolute favourite title in my absolute favourite game series. Sonic Unleashed is, for a myriad of reasons, a game that noticeably divided the Sonic community right down the middle. Fans were divided much like the dual nature of the game itself with many fans saying it was, at long last, Sonic's return to his former glory. Others had decided it was further evidence that SEGA had lost it's way or simply didn't know what to do with the brand anymore. However, in spite of all that's been said of the game before I think Sonic Unleashed is simply misunderstood.
To understand my story with this particular game we're going to have to go all the way back to March of 2008 when a large assortment of materials for the latest installment of Sonic the Hedgehog were "leaked" online. Fans have since speculated that SEGA purposely left the back door to their corporate FTP server open for us to find these images and hype the game up for them, but that's neither here nor there. Key amongst these resources was a single gameplay trailer and soon after it's discovery every Sonic message board lit up like wildfire. Rumors were flying left right and center regarding the mysterious new entry in the series but we wouldn't get the real scoop until E3 and that's when the proverbial shit hit the fan.
After having seen the E3 previews I was sold, I must have watched that trailer on continuous loop for at least an hour and in the following months SEGA revealed more and more details about the game accompanied by a slew of gameplay trailers showing off the new zones and game mechanics. Unfortunately for SEGA many didn't share my enthusiasm. Questions were raised regarding Sonic's new form, the Werehog, and why the decision to give the game two separate gameplay styles was made. The game's lead designer and then head of Sonic Team Yoshihisa Hashimoto explained that it was his intention to give the game a proper tempo. Instead of giving the player all speed, all the time he would instead complement Sonic's traditional running gameplay with it's antithesis. And if Sonic's game design was built around the use of his legs, then the Werehog's play style would be built around the use of Sonic's arms. Hashimoto believed that the variety introduced into the game by this initiative would keep players from feeling fatigued and capable of playing longer sessions. Looking back at the original Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis it's easy to see where he got this philosophy. After all, even that title was split between fast zones the player could dash through without stopping and zones that forced the player to slow down and carefully traverse the environment at a deliberate pace. Yoshihisa Hashimoto's departure from Sonic Team is a loss SEGA cannot overestimate, possibly their biggest since losing Tom Kalinske. It's obvious the young designer understood the franchise better than most and it's his influence on the series that led to success stories like Generations and Colors.
What's immediately apparant from booting up Sonic Unleashed is the level of quality shown in the game's presentation, in what's probably SEGA's most earnest attempt to revitalize the brand to date they spared no expense. Sonic Unleashed began development as Sonic Adventure 3 and was even released as Sonic World Adventure in Japan. This time Sonic is on a globetrotting adventure visiting continents based on real world locales. Sonic Team put a lot of care and attention into the design of these new zones and the effect is stunning. All of the places Sonic visits feel like living, breathing cities that mesh well with Sonic's already established aesthetic design. It all has the effect of really fleshing out Sonic's world, moreso than any previous effort, it's a more concentrated effort that put's Sonic's world on par with the Mushroom Kingdom.
You have an entire planet to save and Robotnik's ambitions have finally been realized with the construction of Eggmanland. The stakes have never been higher and there's a real sense of urgency to the entire matter. When I played Sonic Unleashed for the first time in 2008 I was completely blown away by just how fast Sonic could go and how easy it was to maneuver through each act. It was the first time I was really impressed by a game this generation. Sonic's skillset has been completely reworked with with the intention of allowing the player to play through his stages without stopping. New moves like drifting and wall jumping can be utilized throughout the game's levels to maintain your momentum. On the flipside you have the Werehog, the subject of much debate since Sonic Unleashed's unveiling. The Werehog's levels play much more like a traditional platformer in the same vein as Crash Bandicoot or Donkey Kong Country. You'll climb, swing, jump, fight and even solve rudimentary puzzles. It's all very good and I don't understand why it's the cause of such scorn. I can't help but think that a radical change like the Werehog would have been better received in the 90s.
While we wait for the reveal of a new Sonic title from SEGA maybe it's time to give Sonic Unleashed some Re-Consideration. I think everybody would be surprised at just how enjoyable the game is when judged on it's own merits.
Sonic Unleashed is available in stores everywhere for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PS2. Sonic Unleashed can also be found on Xbox Live Games on Demand. This overview was written after having replayed the game again on Wii.