I have beaten Sonic Unleashed. Thoughts?

I just beat the 360 version of Sonic Unleashed.

That was... pretty alright. Without spoiling the review I'm writing for our site, the game can be summed up in one phrase:

"It's a good game, but..."

It's not perfect, but this is probably most progressive foot the franchise has put forward since the original Sonic Adventure, and is one of the most fun 3D Sonic games since Sonic Adventure 2. And, for those not in the know, the Wii version of Sonic Unleashed is pretty different from the 360 version. I watched quite a bit of the Wii version on Youtube and the 360/PS3 version definitely feels like the complete experience.

Keep an eye on my blog over the next few days as I try and put my feelings in to words - I have a hunch it's going to be a long review.

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Thanks, Fedex

They just tried to deliver my Xbox 360's coffin. They knocked once and then left. I didn't even have time to get to the door; by the time I was there, dude was already two blocks down the street. Keep in mind that I was only two rooms away, and the minute I heard the knock, I bolted to the door as quickly as I could.

What the hell. It's not like I was slow about it. It probably took me ten seconds to get to the door and he was already gone. How the hell did he drive so fast?

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The Ring that Broke the Hedgehog's Back

Warning: I am about to seriously nerd out here.

You may remember back in March I blogged about the leaked Sonic Unleashed screenshots.

A lot has happened since then. The Werehog was revealed to almost universal "blech!" and a slow but steady stream of videos has come out of the game, each one usually focusing on a new level in the game - so far we've gotten official videos of Mazuri (Africa), Apotos (Greece), Spagonia (Europe), Chun-nan (China), and Shamar (Egypt). Between showing China and Egypt, however, there was an extended period of radio silence on the title. There was no new media - no videos, no screenshots, nothing - for about three months.

When the game resurfaced, it featured a number of new elements. The game's interface had been changed (most notably a completely redesigned Werehog interface) and now enemies dropped little yellow gems that filled an Experience Points meter. The weirdest change, however, was now, when Sonic picked up rings, rather than vanishing in a sparkle of golden light, they sucked towards and vanished in to the game's interface, sort of like bananas do in Donkey Kong Country.

When Gamersyde posted a video they got of Holoska (Alaska), I of course wanted to see what was up with that level. What I happened to notice in the video, however, is having a serious impact on how much I'm anticipating the game. The video displays a pretty dramatic change to how one of the core Sonic gameplay tenants functions: Rings.

Rings are one of those things that made Sonic the Hedgehog unique. In nearly every Sonic game (minus a couple of Game Gear spinoffs and Secret Rings for the Wii), you collect rings - not just because you get an extra life for every 100 rings you collect, but because rings keep you alive. If you take damage, you will drop all of your rings; they fall out of Sonic in a circular pattern. If you take damage without any rings, you die. However, since you drop your rings, usually you can run through and collect some of the rings you've lost and that's generally a pretty good safety net - as long as you have 1 ring, you are safe from most forms of damage.

Sonic Unleashed changes this in favor of the system from Sonic & The Secret Rings. When you take damage, Sonic only loses 25 rings from his overall total and is not given a chance to pick them back up again - they just vanish in to thin air. What this essentially means is that rings become nothing more than a glorified lifebar.

And this made me realize something: There's nothing left of the old Genesis games anymore in Sonic Unleashed. Everything - every little last gameplay mechanic - has been completely changed or removed. Sonic's original momentum-based physics system is gone. Each level having its own unique set of enemies is gone. I don't expect to see Tails follow Sonic around ever again. Metal Sonic has been more or less replaced by Shadow the Hedgehog. And now rings, perhaps the last unique element of the original Sonic games, has been removed.

Now it's all QTEs and boost pads and dashing-so-fast-you-can’t-even-keep-up-but-that’s-okay-Sonic-is-invincible. When rings operated like they always did (and early videos did showcase this), it was fine. I was content in saying the game was "Sonic Rush - but in 3D!" But now, what they’ve done to how rings function has immediately made this not feel like a Sonic game anymore. That’s the lynch-pin for me. Remove that and the whole thing comes crashing down. Sure, you've got speed and loops, but isn't Sonic defined by more than that? Any game can be fast - and there are plenty of games that are. F-Zero, Rollcage, Trackmania. These are fast games with loops, but they aren't Sonic games, right? Sonic is defined by little stuff like how rings function, and SonicTeam has removed all of that.

This isn't a Sonic game anymore, at least not to me.
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Beaten to the Punch

  

This is a really cool idea for a game.

Unfortunately, I say this because it's also an idea I had three years ago and never acted on - except my idea was for a platformer. Platformer games are pretty much a dead genre at this point, with only Super Mario Galaxy and Ratchet & Clank Future existing as stand-out entries in the genre. Sonic games, as far as I'm concerned, don't count.

My concept would be a washed-up mid 90's platformer - a forgotten casualty of the 16bit mascot wars. You know, guys like Rocky Rodent, Awesome Possum, Aero the Acrobat, and Bubsy Bobcat? My character would've been one of those guys who almost made it. He would lament about how he had a pilot for a cartoon series (that never took off due to funny circumstances), how his comic book was canceled after the second issue, and how the big celebrities of the genre (never named by name, of course) always managed to pull the rug out from under him right as he was on the brink of becoming a superstar.

I had wanted levels to take you through the generations of games. 8bit, 16bit, 32bit, 2D, 3D. The idea I had in my head was ambitious as hell but never really took any sort of clear-cut form, or shape. It's just one of those concepts that rattles around in there as a "wouldn't it be cool if..." - but not something you ever sat down and planned out step-by-step.

And now somebody is probably beating me to the punch. Oh well! Best of luck to the guys at D3.
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