Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Destructoid review: Sonic Unleashed

8:02 AM on 11.30.2008 // Jim Sterling

Sonic Unleashed is a bizarre paradox of a game, because never before have I played a game that is at once both jawdroppingly exhilarating and unbelievably frustrating. On the one hand, Sonic Unleashed is a fantastic experience, but for everything it does right, there is something it does atrociously wrong.

I'd been looking forward to this game for a long time, ever since I played it at the Tokyo Game Show and found myself having quite a bit of fun with it. Later hands-on sessions seemed to confirm that, while by no means perfect, Sonic Unleashed was definitely a fun little videogame. However, it was under closer scrutiny that the cracks started to show, and now it's become one of the most bipolar games I've ever had to play.

Now the time of judgement is at hand, both Sonic and his Werehog counterpart having been rigorously put through their paces. What is the final verdict? Read on to find out ... 

Sonic Unleashed (360 [reviewed], PS3, Wii, PS2)
Developed by Sonic Team
Published by Sega
Released on November 18, 2008 (Wii/PS2)
Released on November 20, 2008 (360)
To be released on December 12, 2008 (PS3)

As with all new Sonic games, this latest title attempts to adhere to a plot, although unlike Sonic 2006, this one actually doesn't make me want to eat my own fists in confused rage.

The game begins with an astoundingly beautiful opening cinematic in which Sonic and Dr. Eggman/Robotnik are busy having their final showdown. As Sonic corners Eggman and is about to bring him to justice, it turns out that the whole thing was a scam by the good doctor. He traps Sonic, corrupts the Chaos Emeralds, turns him into a werewolf and wakes up yet another Sonic Team-created Final Fantasy monster, The Dark Gaia. 

It's as absurd as any other recent Sonic plot, but the difference with Unleashed is that it never takes itself too seriously, using some childish slapstick and a more cartoon-like approach overall. While not exactly engaging, it is mostly inoffensive, save for yet another sidekick in Chip, whose singular gimmick of perpetual hunger is almost as grating as his voice.

Gameplay is roughly split in two halves, with Sonic the Hedgehog performing speed runs through daylight stages, and Sonic the Werehog tackling Gaia monsters in a platform brawler style at night. There are also other gameplay modes and some ridiculous faux RPG stuff, but we'll get to that in a moment. 

The speed runs are what you will be familiar with if you've played most of the post-Genesis console games. The difference here is that these ones aren't complete rubbish. Seamlessly switching from a 3D to a 2.5D perspective, quite a few of these daylight stages are incredible. Sonic will smash through enemies, jump from rail to rail, home in on airborne enemies to cross chasms, and like never before, it all actually works. Well, most of the time.

There are a few poor design choices that hold the speed stages back. For instance, a vast majority of the Chu-Nan stage is terrible, with dodgy homing attack sections and a huge amount of trial-and-error gameplay. Holaska is not much better, with an entire section where Sonic must gather rings while speed boosting across water to avoid drowning. Considering how difficult it is to gather the rings with such a fast, hard-to-steer hedgehog, you'll be swallowing a lot of water. 

Worst of all are Sonic Team's attempts at completely 2.5D stages. Spagonia's Rooftop Run Act II, for example, is probably the most broken bit of "gameplay" I have played all year, if not ever. The controls were not designed for intricate platforming, and the piss-poor design of the stage doesn't help matters. In fact, just after checkpoints in this stage, you are given an extra life that appears every time you restart. The very fact that Sonic Team had to put that life in indicates that they knew how broken the stage was. Covering your own ass like that doesn't make up for the fact that the whole level is shattered in terms of design.

Yet the game is able to make up for itself with such stages at Rooftop Run Act I, which is, to be honest, beyond breathtaking. There are moments in Sonic Unleashed where you feel absolutely magnificent, and as Sonic hits 300 in-game miles-per-hour, blasting through stages, leaping from spring to spring and running along walls, you'll find it hard to stay mad at the game. Until, of course, yet another broken section rears its ugly head.

Such additions as the side-step, in which Sonic can zip from left to right while maintaining his speed, and the new ability to "drift" and screech around bends, add much to the gameplay and make for some incredibly fun moments. The aforementioned Speed Boost, in which Sonic can use "Ring Energy" to increase his speed and break through obstacles, is particularly empowering. It's just a shame that the fun gives way to frustration far too much. The inspired elements make one sad, knowing that the entire game fails to be so thrilling when it so easily could have been. 

The same can be said for the Werehog sections, which are also roughly split between enjoyment and hatred. At its core, the nighttime stages make for some simple but pleasant brawling, with Sonic able to pull off some great moves -- including the Sho-Hog-Ken uppercut. However, the Prince of Persia-style environmental acrobatics simply don't work. The controls aren't responsive enough for these platforming sections, and you'll often find yourself falling to your death thanks to sluggish movement, poor camera angles, or both. If Sonic Team wanted to rip off PoP, it should have also ripped off the intuitive, fluid controls.

When it's not trying to be a platformer, however, Sonic Unleashed works pretty well as a brawler. The Werehog has access to some powerful and impressive moves, and also has an "Unleash" meter which, when filled, gives him a little extra edge in battle. It's certainly not as much fun as something like Devil May Cry, but it's fundamentally solid action.

I can at least say that Sonic Unleashed is easily one of the best-looking videogames I have seen this generation. The speed stages are graphically sublime, and the new Hedgehog Engine does a magnificent job of capturing an intense sense of speed while showing off some gorgeous environments. The Werehog stages are similarly beautiful, with the Dark Gaia creatures rendered in neon greens and pinks that really make them stand out.

But now we go from good right back to bad. Doing little to help the experience is a reliance on meaningless collect-a-thons and needless hub worlds that seem to exist solely to pad out the game. There is no need to have Sonic wandering around a town with NPCs that have nothing important to say. Extra minigames such as a rather dire quick time event airplane ride provide a change of pace, but rarely do anything to be appreciated. This kind of nonsense points to Sonic Team's desire to create some sort of Final Fantasy-style RPG. The studio needs to learn that forcing it into a Sonic game never works. Perhaps Sega should let these guys make their precious RPG to get it out of their system.

Talking of RPGs, you can "level up" both Sonic and his Werehog alter ego, applying collected experience points to various attributes, making Sonic faster, or raising a variety of Werehog stats. You can also unlock new combo attacks. Later in the game, you can also see a little hint of Zelda or Metroid, as Sonic gets access to new abilities that he can take to previous stages and access previously unreachable areas. While not exactly deep, these elements do add a little extra value to the whole package. 

As a self-confessed Sonic loyalist, I like to pay special attention to the music, since the old 16-bit games had some of the best soundtracks of all time. While never quite reaching those heights, the music of Sonic Unleashed is rather catchy in places. The camp '50s detective tune that plays as the Werehog fights is questionable and repetitive, but the speed stages have some highly memorable tunes. Amazingly, the voice acting isn't completely brutal, either.

Sonic Unleashed is a very difficult game to rate. I have never played a game that is both so much fun, yet so broken and infuriating. When the game works, it really really works, but when it fails, it fails spectacularly.

All Sonic Team needed to do was to maintain the sheer fun and thrill that makes up roughly 40% of the experience and we'd be looking at a must-have title, and a score verging on a ten. As it stands, silly mistakes and ignorant design choices have trashed this game's hopes of being anything more than a decent rental at best. By all means, play this game just to experience the high points, as they are worth experiencing. Just be careful about dropping full price for a game that has screwed itself over so badly.

It's like Sega baked a delicious chocolate cake, but mixed a bag of nails into it. 

Score: 6.5 (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
 Follow Blog + disclosure JimSterling Tips
Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Triple brown, triple brown, triple brown meow. Triple brown, triple brown, triple brown meow.
Alfie avatarAlfie
Was on the front page and was greeted by a new post, which I clicked to find "You cannot see the future". Then refreshed and it was gone. I saw Chris's post on Eight Days' cancellation as it was brought, new and unready, into the world! Rare and wonderful
Archelon avatarArchelon
Community Question: Have you ever purchased a game only to regret it later and then sell it/give it away, only to even later regret selling it and wind up purchasing it again?
gajknight avatargajknight
A decadent staircase adorned in gold rises into infinite darkness. Writhing beings beyond comprehension lurk in the shadows, their mere presence encroaching on the edges of human understanding. A blood moon glows . I am losing my mind. I need more eyes...
Mike Wallace avatarMike Wallace
We need to be implanted with microchips because I'd really like to know how much time I've spent playing different video games my entire life.
ikiryou avatarikiryou
Today's agenda: job-hunting and startup of a second playthrough of either Phantom Dust or Front Mission 4. I can't decide. I'm on a sixth-gen kick.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
If there are rainbows in Xenoblade Chronicles X, Reyn must be in it as well. You can't have a rainbow without Reyn, baby!
The Dyslexic Laywer avatarThe Dyslexic Laywer
I really hope Xenoblade become it's own franchise, it has way too much potential to simply being reduced to 2 games.
Sotanaht avatarSotanaht
Touchable Holograms? When this eventually matures and hits market, almost all our regulars will vanish for weeks.
Serethyn avatarSerethyn
Xenoblade Chronicles Wii for €10? Sure, Nintendo, don't mind if I do!
KnickKnackMyWack avatarKnickKnackMyWack
Super Smash Bros. 4 has too much content. So much so I almost don't want a sequel. I honestly hope that NX gets a "Super Smash Bros. For NX" port rather than a new installment. It could be a GOTY edition and come with all of the DLC.
Batthink avatarBatthink
Flegma avatarFlegma
Bought my first full-priced physical 3DS game ever - New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward. I'll try to write a post on the previous game at some point before doing the same with NSB2.
Terry 309 avatarTerry 309
How do you guys manage to buy all these games at day 1 with such huge backlogs?
FlanxLycanth avatarFlanxLycanth
Guys if I were to do a thing, how many of you would watch my thing because I was thinking of doing a thing but I dunno if people really like that kinda thing so I just wanted to know if you liked that thing because I'm thinking of doing a thing, you know?
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
Bayonetta 2 is 40% off in the EU Nintendo eShop today. If you have a WiiU and don't have this game you are a horrible person and I want nothing to do with you. You can amend your errors by buying it. Xenoblade Wii is also 50% off as well.
El Dango avatarEl Dango
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Protag shipping is best shipping. [img][/img]
El Dango avatarEl Dango
My dreams are really weird and scary, so I hope it's okay if I let them be dreams.
Fenriff avatarFenriff
Finally played the last two Shantae games. Risky's Revenge wasn't bad, but Pirate's Curse was damn good.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -