Sonic Unleashed Re-Visited Retrospective

This game did a lot for the series, so much a lot completely changed. I don’t exaggerate when I say this game is the most ambitious Sonic title Sega & Sonic Team ever produced. It has issues but I will say right away; I find this to be a really great game.

This game’s origins stem back in 2005, with the development of a new engine, called the Hedgehog Engine. My, why does that name sound familiar? To be serious, this is an impressive engine as it was made by a big programmer/developer from Square Enix and the results speak for themselves.

So, its clear that amazing looking games can be born from this game. What game do you make with this engine? Why, a big-budget Sonic title of course! To show off the engines power in a mainstream title that many gamers would connect with, Sonic is a good IP to base the engine after.

Development of the game started after 06 shipped to retail and Sonic Team was in major disarray. Not only is the team fractured from Naka leaving with a good deal of Sonic Team Staff, but you have the rest of Sonic Team working on two projects going through issues.

The Sonic Colors Team making Secret Rings in a year with it originally being a port of 06 for the Wii alongside another part of Sonic Team making a Nights Sequel for the 360/PS3 but it being shoved to the Wii after internal issues within Sega are some of the issues the studio faced when making the game.

So…..they needed more help. Izuka took charge of Sonic Team after Naka left the studio and hired a lot of new programs from west and east. Then, he asked “What do you think of Sonic? What should a game staring him be like?” Everyone more or less said blending the best elements across the franchises history and he agreed. This lead to to the Modern Style gampelay being born, with it more or less being this: Sonic Rush’s Boost Mechanic + Secret Rings Behind-the-Camera Style + Sonic Adventure’s scale and core 3D gameplay = Sonic Unleashed Day Levels

The Day style gameplay used the above template to make some very strong levels and gamplay for Sonic. Beautiful levels with solid design despite it not being as open compared to Sonic’s first 3D adventure, they offer extra paths to push getting the best times through levels…..sounds familiar? That is what Sonic Adventure 2 did but with Sonic Adventure 1’s core mechanics. Unleashed feels like an evolution of what SA2 tried to do and its was nice seeing that here.

The core gameplay systems work like this though. Sonic has one button for jumping….and many other buttons for actions?  My….it took years for this to happen but….man, this is nice to see. This makes playing with his entire moveset so much more rewarding!

Sonic’s core moveset is explained below, considering the more complex controls systems:
-Sonic Boost/Air Boost: High-speed action activated when pressing Square/X and it allows you to run through robots with little issue. The more rings you get, the more you can boost. This also allows you to run across water in some zones.
-Homing Attack: Mapped to the Square/X button, Sonic can fly toward robots in the air when pressed (only when the lock-on icon appears). Mixed with the Air Boost….making things a bit tricky. But a lot better than issues with Light-Speed Dashing/Bounce attack in SA2.
-Sonic Drift: Allows Sonic to get across tight corners with little issue… Generations and Colors. If you are boosting when using this, it feels very sluggish. Skyscraper Scamper day comes to mind here…… It works well when not boosting though. (L2/R2 in PS3 version)
-Quick Step: Pressing L1/R1 or the bumpers in the 360 version, Sonic can quickly dash left or right when running.
-Slide/Stop: Mapped to the Circle button, Sonic can slide and stop. Sliding is helpful when getting through tight places while Stomping is for pushing down switches.
-Light Speed Dash: Mapped to Triangle/Y, you can get across trails of rings.
-Wall Jump: As described; Sonic bounces from wall to wall.

So, overall, Day Sonic has some great sections and gameplay that really shine strong.

Wow, guess someone got in a bad mood! Guess its time to cover this style of gameplay, The Werehog. Now before I talk about this style, I have to say one thing…..I’m one of the oddballs that enjoy his levels. *Cough*

Moving on to these stages, we get a hybrid of a standard platformer with God of War style combat. Every night level is mixed in this way, with some leaning on one over the other.

One thing I like about the Werehog is his controls. You hold one of the bumpers to run, two face buttons for light/heavy attacks, one button to jump, left shoulder button to block, right shoulder button to use Unleashed mode and lastly, the circle/B button to grab foes.

When you destroy Eggman’s robots, eat food in the hub world and collect yellow experience orbs, you can upgrade you’re abilities through EXP Orbs/Points. This effect’s Sonic’s Day and Night forms and will explain each one.

Day Sonic:
Speed – Um….you go faster of course! Gotta go fast after all.
Boost Meter – Increases how much you can boost.

Night Sonic:
Stamina – Increase you’re health bar (which refills as you collect rings)
Combat – Unlocks new moves you can pull off
Power – Increases damage you’re moves deal
Shield – Increases the amount of shields you have at once (they refill over time but use it too man times, it breaks)
Unleashed – You’re rage mode. Just a mode that makes Sonic move faster, deals blows swifter and his power output is much stronger.

The Werehog isn’t just a button masher, as he has a lot of moves to play with. But….this leads to my only issue with the Werehog; you start out with such a small moveset, the game’s structure is all out of wack.

With the Night levels of Unleashed, All the foes are the same power level throughout the game outside of the DLC stages (which I will get to latter on), leading to you not having any real motivation to play with his moves. But this also leads to a game’s design being fumbled up a bit; because the game isn’t structured to force usage of moves you may not have, it leads to the game not forcing you to use the moves you get.

Basically you have no motivation to use you’re large moveset when you end up getting it as the game progresses. It leads to combat being to simple despite the hidden depth it really has.

Otherwise, I like the Werehog a lot here. Overall, the Werehog is fine; nothing outstanding, nothing horrid. The best comparison I can give the Werehog to a prior Sonic game is….the Mech Levels in SA2. They weren’t horrible but they had there moments that are a lot of fun. Sure they took away from the fun speed levels but they were fine on their own and complement the speed stages well enough.

I will agree it DOES distract from the speed stages Sonic runs through but considering this style was made by Sonic Team to not make the game 2-3 hours long (Izuka really said this, not lying here), it is quite enjoyable.

Most Sonic games prior to Unleashed tried to have a serious story…..with two specific games falling flat on their face attempting that. But Unleashed just…..’gets it’, so well that it tops future Sonic plots and is the template I want future Sonic stories to follow.

The game opens up with six minute long, opening CGI movie. Its…..amazing honestly, give it a watch guys.

It got me very excited when I first played this on my Wii in 2008 and again in 2011 when I played on my at the time brand new PS3. Sonic meets later little flying imp creature, who he calls Chip. He lost his memory when Sonic crashes his face into the Earth sadly.

So because of this, Sonic goes on a journey to restore power to the drained Chaos Emeralds with help from his buddy Tails, his new friend Chip and a new character called Prof. Pickle.

This journey is really great, as unlike 06, its light hearted and serious. And yes, when it gets serious, you take it seriously as its done well here. Eggman is a creditable villain but at the same time, he still has great moments with Orb….I mean Ergo and some encounters with Sonic are nice.

But my favorite parts of the game is, well, Sonic. He is himself again in a mainline game! He sounds older, he gets stuff done, and compared to past game he is much more grounded. All of those elements made me really enjoy Sonic’s character in Unleashed.

Chip isn’t an annoying character to me, as he is the Tails of this game. He has a backstory that the game goes into detail latter on and his interactions with Sonic are funny. This is shown through some unlockable scenes that you get throughout the game.

Really shows how Sonic and Chip become good friends.

Overall, the story is very strong and one element I greatly enjoyed from Unleashed.

Sonic Unleashed’s soundtrack is one of the franchise’s best, with it being one of the first times Sonic used orchestrated pieces and deviates from the heavy rock focus the Adventure games had. Like 06, its pieces are quite varied and I love these tracks.

Endless Possibility, Apotos Day/Night, Windmill Isle Day/NightTornado Defense Act 1, Mazuri Day/Night, Savannah Citadel Day/NightEgg Beetle , Spagonia Day/NightRooftop Run DayAdabat Night, Jungle Joyride Day/Night, Holoska Day/Night, Cool Edge Day/NightThe World Adventure!Gaia Gate

Dragon Road Day/Night, Chun-Nan DayArid Sands DaySkyscraper Scamper Day, Eggmanland Day/NightEgg DragoonPerfect Dark GaiaRekindled LightAlwaysDear My Friend

Remember power stars in Super Mario 64? Now take the fact the game made it clear you had to get these and multiply the frustration with level-caps for each zone based on your metal level and you have the metal system here. This isn’t an issue, if you are an explorative gamer who searches everywhere for items in the levels. But the Day levels were not designed for this kind of hunting. It creates an artificial level cap for the game and if you just want to run though everything, it creates really annoying backtracking. I can defend a good deal of this game, but the Metal system is something I cannot defend at all.

Wii/PS2 vs. PS3/360
This is interesting, as Unleashed wasn’t a PS3/360 only game, as it came out on the Wii and PS2 (that’s right, it came out on PS2) as well.

Wii/PS2 Version:
-More Werehog stages (1 in HD version vs. the 3-5 in the SD version)
-Werehog combat very different; no combos and focus on button/motion control mashing
-Day Levels completely different, designed by Dimps (who made the Sonic Rush series)
-Mazuri and Empire City’s stages (Day and Night) cut from the SD version
-Werehog focused more on platforming then combat in SD version
-Hub worlds are replaced with Gaia Gates to explore. Clearing levels with S Ranks unlock Sun/Moon metals which can unlock more lives, concept art, music and more.
-Eggmanland is much easier compared to HD version
-No Upgrade system for Day Levels; Boost Meter upgrades within the levels as you collect more rings. Night levels have more streamlined upgrade system.

PS3/360 Versions:
-Far more moves for the Werehog
-Greater focus on Day Sonic’s levels with many optional missions to complete, extra acts to unlock and DLC that you can buy (for both Day and Night)
-Night levels have better balance between combat/platforming
-Night level platforming more rewarding then Wii version
-Controls better in HD version
-Eggmanland very challenging and far different from SD version
-Hubs more expanded in HD version. Small hubs to walk around in and Entrance Stages that house act gates and extra goodies to find.
-Supported with DLC; 7-8 DLC packs for both HD versions that expand the content from the base game. Makes the ratio of Day and Night stages a lot more fair (with equal amounts with all DLC purchased).

Overall thoughts on Unleashed are positive. I think this is a great game despite my four major gripes and I feel the HD version was a great step in the right direction for the series. It has issues and they range from minor to horrid depending on your preference but overall, I really liked this game.


Overall, Sonic Unleashed is a title that has issues in a few places; the Werehog has a limited moveset early on making him boring to play as sometimes, the day levels are designed too tunnel focused for some and the metal collecting system is a big issue. But Unleashed showed Sonic in a great light again, with it having beautiful visuals, some of the series best music and gameplay on both day & night offering fun experiences. Personally one of my favorite games in the series despite the issues it does have.


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