I hate continuously comparing Sonic to Mario, but needless to say, that's what this week is all about. Both iconic characters have helped the game industry grow substantially over the years, and before Sega began releasing Sonic games on Nintendo platforms, the two represented not only mascots, but the faces of two competing companies. Now days, Mario is representation for growth and development, longevity and sustainability, while Sonic is merely the epitome of days gone by and all things that were once great and had their time in the sun, but just couldn't do enough to maintain relevance in the quickly growing and transforming landscape of video games.
Over the many, many years of existence, Mario games have constantly evolved and branched out to different genres in order to reach out to different audiences. What once started as side-scrolling platformers, grew to be so much more, usually with great success. The thing with Mario is that as a video game character, all of his powers and abilities come from different power-ups throughout the worlds he is placed in. Because of this, when he is put into different kinds of games and game genres than the standards that most gamers are used to seeing, it still works as a game and is as believable as anything else. More importantly, the games are still fun and enjoyable to play.
With Sonic, however, it's a much different situation. Yes, there is a tried and true formula on how to make a legit and worthwhile Sonic game, and while that has always been Sega's bread and butter for the franchise, it's not like they haven't tried to branch out and try something new. In fact, they deviated from the formula for years as a way to reintroduce Sonic to new generations of gamers, but unfortunately, they always seemed to miss the mark when it came to producing a well-done yet different Sonic games. The problem that Sonic has is that his moves and abilities and overall gameplay mechanics are all pre-existing in the character, as he doesn't rely on PEDs for what makes him Sonic. Because of this, when the core gameplay of whatever game Sonic is in changes, his charm and mystique as a memorable, lovable character disappears.
I got Sonic Unleashed for my kids several years ago, and while neither one of the boys really knew who Sonic was or had any context for his games, franchise or iconic status in the industry, I didn't get it in anticipation of of this game being what would teach them all about Sonic the Hedgehog and the epic rivalry he had with Mario back in the day. To be frank, the fact that this was a different type of Sonic game, one with a twist, is the reason I personally was interested in it and why I thought my kids would enjoy it, because in all honesty, the old and trusted Sonic gameplay doesn't reach new-age gamers.
So in this game, Sonic transforms into a Werehog at night, which drastically changes the gameplay. It goes from hyperactive sonic-speed runs through the daytime vistas (sorry for the pun), to slow and methodical platforming combat. Clearly, that is not the Sonic we all know and love, but oddly enough, I hoped it would be enough to be more than just intriguing. It wasn't until I played it again for this blog that I remember all the things that just didn't work for me.
Sure, the "classic" Sonic speed running was nice and enjoyable, even if they weren't the traditional 2D style. The game looks beautiful at times, which is refreshing for a Sonic game. While I will always favor the traditional Sonic levels, stepping outside of the box - as long as it looks this good - is suitable. That's about where the praise stops for me, however. The whole Werehog mechanic seems fine at first, but it becomes more cumbersome and flat out boring as you go. It never feels like it adds to the game, but instead takes away from the pacing and flow of the game.
Speaking of which, the stupid hubworlds that you visit and have to explore so you can talk to people and advance the game and storyline? Talk about completely taking you out of the game and forcing you to slow down. Playing a Sonic game in a slow and methodical way is not a Sonic game I want to play. Even the exciting daytime levels can't make up for everything else, which is a shame because they had something with those.
It's almost like they wanted to make a different kind of Sonic game, but were afraid of changing up the formula too much, so they only did it half way. Leaving in parts of what made classic Sonic so great into this game just made me want those classic games more, and never forced me to look at the new Sonic as something I could like.
Change is good, as long as you commit to it. If you don't, how do you expect me to?
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