Broken, rushed, and just not very fun.
Before we begin about the subject at hand, it would probably be a good idea to give you a little background information about me as a person; it's essential to alleviating my own guilt. I'm a Sonic fan; something in 1991 truly captivated me and it's been hard to shake since then. To me, Sonic games are serious business - and yes, I’ve made a couple of bad purchases because there was a blue hedgehog on the box. When Sega began sounding the trumpets for Sonic's 15th Anniversary, I was hopeful: With a game set to mark the anniversary of the franchise, Sonic the Hedgehog (hereby referred to simply as "Sonic 2k6") would be a change of pace from lackluster titles like Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog. Things would be different. They had to be!
I was wrong. Despite early claims otherwise, Sonic 2k6 is a very typical 3D Sonic game. It more or less tries to play itself as a "greatest hits" of Sonic's best moments, incorporating the adventure elements of the original Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2's darker sci-fi plot, and Sonic Heroes' team play aspect, with a few vague nods to classic Sonic games like Sonic CD. The idea is you roam around the hub world (called Soleanna) talking to town members (NPCs) and doing missions for them until you unlock an Action Stage. Action Stages are your standard, every day Sonic levels, where you grab as many rings and destroy as many enemies while racing to the finish line. Complete an Action Stage, and you return to Soleanna to repeat the process. Rings you collect in Action Stages go towards purchasing equipment upgrades, which allows you to access more Action Stages. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it?
What I had the misfortune of purchasing on launch day was a game that can barely be classified as an "incomplete"; it's unfinished, unpolished, and uncontrollable. The problems contained within stretch far and wide, encompassing nearly the entire game. At times it can almost seem unplayable. One of the first things you will notice about this game are the loading times: Not only are they frequent, but they are long. Enduring a 15-20 second loading time isn't so bad when you only do it once every 5-10 minutes, but about the time you start doing town missions for NPCs, you can see up to four or more loading screens for what amounts to a couple lines of text-only dialog and maybe 30 seconds of gameplay. It's beyond inexcusable.
The graphics are a mixed bag. Though a clear step up from previous Sonic titles, visuals feel flat and lifeless. The dynamic shadowing system deserves special mention; while everything in the game self-shadows, the shadows themselves have an unfortunate habit of appearing only a few feet in front of the player. Watching the shadow of a tree suddenly materialize in the distance is awkward to say the least. Up close, the shadows characters cast are jagged and low-resolution, making in-game cutscenes look messy. Even worse, though the framerate never dips below 60 frames per second, you can expect numerous moments of slowdown as the game stumbles in keeping up with the lackluster graphics.
A rare bright spot is the level design in some of the Action Stages; a number of them are delightfully non-linear, offering up numerous alternate routes to the goal - a first for a 3D Sonic game, and something I have waited a long time to see (as they were a big part of my enjoyment regarding the Genesis Sonic titles). Stages like White Acropolis feature a number of wide-open fields with ramps and platforms scattered throughout, rather than the typically linear "single-lane highway suspended over a bottomless pit" designs seen in past Sonic games. These are, however, unceremoniously ruined by the game's over-sensitive controls. It's pretty much impossible to make slight adjustments to Sonic's direction, as the game seems to favor sharp, almost 45 degree angle turns. In a level like Kingdom Valley, a sharp turn of that magnitude often means instant death. Awkward collision detection issues help to further frustrate and drain joy from what could have been a fun experience.
The developers also continue the time-honored tradition of doing the opposite of what consumers request; rather than trying to avoid things people complained about in previous Sonic games, Sonic 2k6 seems to embrace them. To start, the game's art style leans heavily on realism. This extends beyond the game's poorly-implemented Havok Physics Engine, as it appears SonicTeam dressed up a monkey in a greasy Sonic the Hedgehog costume who walks around talking to plastic mannequins. Rather than cut down on the number of playable characters stealing Sonic's spotlight (a complaint I've heard, repeatedly, since the original Sonic Adventure in 1999), Sonic 2k6 returns to form by forcing you to play as characters like Amy Rose and Tails, bringing the total list of characters up to 9 in all. Rubbing salt in the wound, these supporting characters often end up with even worse controls; expect to fight steering a character like Knuckles more than you end up fighting the enemies in the game, leading to the lion's share of unfair deaths. This says nothing of the innumerable little bugs I encountered, also usually resulting in accidental loss of life, even all the way up until the last levels in the game.
That being said, like most of the 3D Sonic games, you can almost see a good game in here somewhere. Unfortunately, it's so buried under a mountain of inexcusable garbage that, more than any other 3D Sonic game, it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything that makes this game worth playing, let alone even just renting. It's the result of a Christmas deadline falling on a game that was nowhere near ready, and marks the bottom of the barrel for the franchise so far. You've been warned.