So today I picked up one of my most highly anticipated games of the year. A game that has the hopes of every one of the series' fans riding on it. Of all the games released this year, Sonic Unleashed possibly has the most riding on it. It was with rather extreme trepidation that I put the disc into my 360 and started the game up.
First of all, the intro cinematic that Jim's been creaming his pants over for a few weeks now is pretty lengthy. As someone who hadn't seen it before it was a suitably epic start to a game I was hoping to be epic. However the appearance of Chip, combined with Sonic's new voice (and deeper, more growly Werehog voice) immediately planted a seed of dread in my mind. Have Sega introduced yet another new sidekick to the ever bloated list?
In short, no. Chip has nothing to add to gameplay short of voicing the tutorial bubbles and having some of the best lines in the cutscenes. As sidekicks go he's like cake, completely unnecessary but nice to have around.
So with the intro over it was into the first hub world. These are a lot less annoying than Sonic hubs have been in the past. The main hub area contains 3 main things, an exit to the world map, a shop to spend rings and an exit to the actual level gates. Searching for a level entrance isn't the issue anymore, all the levels entrances are grouped into a single area with more and more gates unlocking depending on the time of day and how many medals you've found.
Each level contains a certain number of Sun and Moon medals which unlock each group of levels. So Act 2 stages in each area will only unlock once you've found enough Sun or Moon medals to level up the respective type of level. Sun levels are the speed levels, multi-tiered racetracks to blast through as quickly as possible. Platforming comes into play when it comes to timing jumps and dodging enemies as well as using the much hated homing attack (this time around much improved by using a crosshair to show what enemy or spring you're headed for). They are truly exhilarating rushes of energy and somehow manage to combine the 'hold right to win' view that many people have of the Sonic series with some good level design to reward those who focus on the jumps.
The counterpoint to the speed levels are the Werehog levels. To those still clueless as to where the Werehog comes into things, during the intro cinematic Sonic is caught in a trap by Robotnik and mutated into the Werehog we have seen so little of during the game's hype. These levels are less Sonic and more Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Bits of platforming, working around obstacles and solving simple puzzles are followed by combat like we've never seen in a Sonic game before. The X and Y buttons perform simple swipes and jabs while the B button grabs enemies ready to be pounded into bits or thrown at a faraway switch. These levels are a lot more fun than you might expect, the simple combat provides a decent break from the Prince of Persia platforming while not outstaying its welcome.
Music is also a very high point, the music fits the environments you're in and Werehog battles are accompanied by a rather fetching bit of jazz. Voice acting is as we've come to expect from the Sonic games.
Overall, from the little I've played so far (1 speed, 2 werehog levels) Sonic Unleashed has done what many may have thought impossible. It has restored my faith in Sonic and given me a lot of fun. I only hope that it can maintain this early form through the rest of the game. For now though, its exactly what I wanted, and what Sonic needed.