Poor, poor Sonic. Once a worthy rival for Mario in the 16-bit days, as soon as the two entered the 3D realm Sonic fell from glory and hasn’t quite been the same since. The speedy blue hedgehog has spent years needing a game that does for him what Super Mario 64 did for his archnemisis. Does Sonic’s first foray into the next generation accomplish this? A review from someone who, for a change, actually enjoyed the demo…
I’m going to start with all the nice things I have to say about this game. To begin, the graphics are very nice. While parts of the cutscenes look tacked-on, for the most part (and all the part in the actual levels) the game looks like it could be an FMV from the Dreamcast/Gamecube generation of Sonic titles. (In fact, I mistook Knuckles the Echinda’s introduction scene for a CG movie.) Most of the characters (”complicated” facial expressions, which look a bit off, notwithstanding) look great, and the environments are very pretty and detailed - tree bark and everything. My biggest complaint with the graphics is that the day/night cycle that we were promised months ago and even shown a video of has been cut from the game entirely.
No matter how much I detested last year’s Shadow the Hedgehog I always had one nice thing to say about it: it had great music. While the lyrics were pretty bad - they always are - they had catchy tunes and it was impossible to not sing along. Sonic’s main theme (and also the main theme of the game) and Shadow’s main theme (remixed from one of his hero endings in his own game) are great, Silver’s is passable and may grow on me after a few more listens, and the rest is not Sonic music. I’m serious, I prefered Amy’s theme (that’s the pink one for the nonfans) in Sonic Heroes to all three of these other songs. The Princess’ theme and the two “Sweet” remixes are rhythm and blues garbage using space and money that would’ve been much better spent on a real ending theme. Of course, it’s all a matter of musical taste, so others may feel differently. This reviewer was disappointed in the variety, though.
Normally I don’t start a review on the grounds of graphics and sound, since they don’t make or break the game for me. However, I started out saying nice things. Once you get to the game itself, it’s mostly negative.
Some things work. Sonic himself has a few fairly enjoyable levels that people have been missing after the kill 30 of this guy mission objectives that Shadow’s game had. Included in these are Mach Speed zones that cause Sonic to run faster than he’s ever had, and the first time a Sonic fan plays these he/she will be in love. That’s because the first time you play a level, you’re not trying for the highest rank possible, which is usually only possible to get if you don’t die. The Mach Speed zones are so ridiculously fast that it’s pretty much impossible to not die. The sad thing is, it’s usually not your fault when you die. It’s the fault of poor programming.
I’d also like to say here that the rest of the game is actually complete and not prone to killing you for no reason but, I can’t. There are some horrible glitches that will make you just give up on getting the game’s 1000 gamerpoints (all of which will eventually be unlocked by getting the S-Rank on everything). It’s like they forgot to finish programming the game before they shipped it off to catch the PS3’s launch date - and the PS3 version’s been delayed anyway.
The controls also baffle me. For Sonic, the action that allows you to run across a suspended trail of Rings - that’s the Light Dash - and the action that sends you plumetting to the ground or lack therof - the Bounce Bracelet - are mapped to the same button. Let me give you an example: Sonic leaps into the air towards a line of rings that brings him to solid ground. Under him, the abyss: water, atmosphere, fire, take your pick. You press X to initiate the Light Dash to run across those rings, but the game decides to use the bounce attack instead. Down you go into the fire/water/pit, away go your points, and now you have to start the level again. I hope you didn’t want to keep that 360 controller in good condition because it’s probably going to be thrown into things hard.
But that’s Sonic. Shadow the Hedgehog, the series’ resident anti-hero (they’re all the rage these days) is another story. Shadow is - believe it or not - very fun to play. His homing attack is given a second Chaos Attack combo that makes killing enemies easier, he has no guns (one of the most despised elements of last year’s game), and every one of his vehicles with the exception of maybe the hover vehicle is a joy to drive. Sure, he’s got the same glitchy problems as Sonic, but at least no Mach Speed zones.
Silver the Hedgehog is the psychokinetic new guy on the block, and is also not horribly irritating as most new characters are. (This series gets a new character every time Yuji Naka exhales.) Being able to move around the crate you’re standing on is great, as is catching missles with your mind and flinging them back at your enemies. Really the only drawback to Silver is that he is really slow. Which, for a Sonic game, is not great.
One unexpected (and wanted) surprise was a fairly good multiplayer. It’s by no means as in-depth as the superb two-player game that Sonic Adventure 2: Battle on the GameCube had, but it’s certainly not as boring as the stuff in Heroes and Shadow. Only three characters are playable, but a section of every level in the game is available in either co-op play or a race battle. A lack of Xbox Live online support wouldn’t have been so bad if the multiplayer was as bland as in the last games, but now online would have definitely been a nice addition to the replay value.
As if the glitches weren’t bad enough, there are a few more issues. The entire game does not take you from mission to mission to mission. You have to walk around town (usually empty and bland) and talk to people, and sometimes do things for them. These things often do not involve running, and doing things in Sonic games that don’t involve running was my biggest gripe with the last one. That brings us to:
Loading. It’s ridiculous. Long load times for say, Oblivion, is fine, because there’s a lot to load and it’s really not that frequent. Playing one of the town missions will begin with you talking to a person with a blue mark over their head. Fine. Then the town mission will load. Fine. Then that person will tell you what to do - sometimes basically repeating what they said before the load screen - and then it will load again. Not fine. Then after the mission, your ranking screen will load, and then you’ll get one more load before you get back. That is, if you finish the mission. If your mission is hopelessly broken to the point where the S Rank is simply a matter of luck (Shadow’s “Protect the Professor” comes to mind) you’ll see a lot of loading screens.
One of the things I was hoping for with this game was a good focus on Sonic. I hated the newer trailer after seeing Silver and Shadow in his jeep, but both of these characters turned out to be okay. That would be fine if you weren’t given a total of six other characters - “amigos” that are thrust upon you in certain levels. For instance, Sonic’s Wave Ocean stage begins with some good speed bits until the whale shows up. Yes, the whale. Probably the very same whale we met back in Sonic Adventure in 1999, and he hasn’t aged a bit. Then you control Tails, who like all the characters cannot simply jump on an enemy. You have to throw bombs, which is annoying. After finding a switch, you go through a Mach Speed zone which thanks to Sonic Team’s removal of the automated loop-de-loop (in all previous Sonic games, the computer would keep you on solid ground so you didn’t have to) will more than likely kill you. Goodbye, S-Rank.
As previously stated, I was one of the very few gamers to enjoy this game’s demo. I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be a horrible game: at least, not the parts with Sonic. This surprised me in so many ways. Shadow and Silver are decent characters, Sonic’s not so amazing, and one of the very worst problems is load times of all things. If you like Sonic, rent. It definitely has its good points that will make any fan of the series happy. If you don’t like Sonic, you’d be much better off grabbing a chainsaw or a skateboard and buying something more worth your $60.
Final Score: 5 out of 10 - how do we rate games?