Well, the fans have been crying out that the 360 review for this game, while perfectly fair and accurate, pigeon-holed Sonic Unleashed as sub par. Take a look at the Wii version, they’ve been saying. Look no further than the Big N for the true adventures of the Werehog, was the call. And that’s what we’ve done. By now you’ll already have seen that the night and day action of Sonic Unleashed on the Wii was impressive enough for a ‘good’ score, and if that’ll do it, you can quit with all these pesky words.
The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game were put together without the benefit of Tokyo-based designers Dimps, who worked on the daytime stages for the Wii and PS2 versions – this could explain some of the disparate scores that are being chucked around. That said, it’s still the same game, so what really makes the Wii version stand out?
First, the controls. Naturally. Tristan wasn’t so keen on some of the button mashing that went on in the 360 version, but I certainly can’t say the same here. The Wii controls are well utilised, without being overdone – there’s some shaking of the Remote and ‘chuck to do, but more often there are simple back and forth movements required, or single jerks. Jump is assigned to A, and double jumping as the Werehog is simply A followed by A. Pretty simple, huh? Linking attacks together mid-air as the original Sonic requires no more than following the lock-on icons and whipping the Remote forward, back, or whatever is most comfortable for you.
Sorry – let’s back the truck up. If you’re late to the party, let me fill you in on what this is all about. Sonic Unleashed takes place following a space-tussle between he and the evil Dr. Eggman (Dr. Robotnik). He slams into the ground, but not before he has taken the full blast of one of Eggman’s devious devices, turning him into a Werehog. Only during the day does he turn into his regular blue-rinsed self. Near his landing spot, Sonic comes across a wee… animal, that he’s managed to knock the sense out of by mistake. As he and his companion go on their way, trying to get the little guy’s identity out of someone, Sonic also figures he can work out why he’s been transformed, and how to repair the damage done to the world by Eggman’s dirty deeds.
I was incredibly impressed with the speed of the daytime sessions, where you play as Sonic MK1. He pelts along in 3D, and the first level is all about learning the ropes so you can harness that speed. Some of the controls take a while to get the hang of, such as aiming Sonic during his boosts (the actual boost is just a matter of collecting enough rings to charge up and giving the Remote a shake). In fact, aiming Sonic is pretty difficult in both guises. The combat engine for the Werehog is not dissimilar to the boxing on Wii Sports – the Remote and the ‘chuck represent a fist each, and with stretchy arms (apparently this is an effect of getting your Were on, also) you can really dish out some damage. If you’re facing the right direction, that is. I think this isn’t much more than an oversensitive analogue stick, but it can get frustrating, especially when fighting multiple enemies, some airborne, who all seem to be able to turn on a dime. In fighting as the Werehog, I sometimes found myself trying to combine delicate flicks of the stick with punch-like swings: something akin to rubbing one’s belly and patting one’s head simultaneously.
Even at speed, the controls are very responsive – the game really leaves it up to you to be responsive in turn. Moving at the pace you do (in the daytime games) you really have to be sharp on some of the moves that allow you to keep that pace up. Slides and quick steps (short strafes) are important examples of these. There are short stints where the game goes 2D, or, sort of isometric, and your control over direction all but vanishes – completing these missions really comes down to timing your attacks, slides and jumps. There’s a fantastic array of ramps, dash panels, speed rings, grind rails and springs to help you on your way.
Whether in 3D or 2D, as Hedgehog or Werehog, the aim of the game is to collect the ubiquitous rings, beat the myriad enemies, and come to terms with the various mysteries on the way. Your main entry into the game worlds is through a central shrine, where doors to each of the temples are opened by medals collected during the levels. The story’s a bit weak, and the gameplay isn’t anything overly groundbreaking, but it all works.
And it’s fun! It’s fun! I’ve found some of the complaints about the Werehog levels to be a bit harsh. Yes: it slows the game down rather chronically – you can’t move as quickly, and you wind up more plodding than zipping, but there are, in both modes, a range of moves and abilities to keep things interesting. I mentioned the battle system set up for the Werehog, and despite its small frustrations, it’s actually pretty cool. When it all gets a bit hard, you can always jerk the ‘chuck and Remote together to achieve a powerful slam attack – great for clusters of enemies.
Unfortunately the graphics are a bit shimmery at times, but by now anyone familiar with the Wii knows about the power/functionality trade off. The sound is adequate, and you don’t need to look for a better summing up than Tristan’s take on the music in his review of the 360 version.
A couple of minor gripes are the inability to shift the camera behind Sonic, meaning when you backtrack, you’re forced to walk him towards you, leaving you unable to see what’s up ahead. Fortunately this is countered by extremely linear level design, so you never have to walk this way over undiscovered terrain. Another would be that in Werehog mode, Sonic’s stretchy arms allow him to grab and leap, reaching for ledges high above him. Sadly, you can only do this in the areas pre-determined by the developers, so there’s no real freedom to explore, and a lack of dimension to the world – you can reach some ledges, but not others, that are exactly the same height.
Indeed, popular demand has made the right call: this has been an exercise in balance that has proved to be worth our while. While this game might not be up to much if you’re the owner of one of the hulking beasts that are Microsoft and Sony’s consoles, if you’re a Wii owner, don’t be put off by what you’ve read. Sure, it won’t appeal to everyone, and it’s still imperfect (as I said before: same game, different platform) but writing it off too quickly could set you on the back foot this holiday season.