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Sonic the Hedgehog

Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Sonic has been a staple in the gaming arena for 15 years now, and his latest release has put him on the next generation of consoles, where speed can be demonstrated much easier. Or so the spin went. Perhaps it’s just this reviewer, but Sonic always felt like a character much better suited for two-dimensional gaming, where only twitch reflexes and not as much spatial awareness was needed. Speed is critical to the Sonic experience, and for the most part the pace of his Xbox 360 debut was way off. And once you add the other playable characters to the mix, the speed aspect gets thrown out the window.
Sonic’s main method of play this time is a story mode which explores a world where Sonic and company co-exist in a world with humans. One day the Princess of Soleanna is attending a celebration in her town, and has a vision of the future with flames consuming her town during the celebration. She snaps out of it and rather than flames burning the place to the ground, Dr. Eggman shows up and kidnaps the Princess Elise, for her inert power to control the flames which she so obviously fears. Cue Sonic the Hedgehog! As the story mode progresses with Sonic tapped to rescue Elise from the clutches of Dr. Eggman he runs into other characters from the Sonic world, some of which become playable in certain sections of the game. Tails, Knuckles, Rouge and other characters make cameos and have some playable sections, while two other characters get full blown game modes all to themselves, Shadow and the newest character Silver.
Each main characters level is called an episode; Sonic is the only selectable episode from the start. Sonics game is all about speed, and sometimes that speed is more a hindrance than a blessing. The episode contains Town Levels where you wander around a town speaking to people to gather information on how to proceed, or perform some random acts of kindness. The problem with this is that once Sonic has momentum, it’s difficult to slow him down in time to talk to a stationary person, meaning you spend too much time walking around a person rather than talking to them. The action levels are fairly large open expanses that change in tone from section to section. One section may have you beating down Dr. Eggman’s robots, while another may force you into a high speed dash where the game takes over and it’s up to your twitch reflexes to dodge oncoming obstacles. Sometimes the camera moves in front of Sonic during these dash sections, making any skill vanish as it still throws the same obstructions at you — yet you can’t see them coming.
The two other main characters are unlocked as you progress through the Sonic episode. Silver is a hedgehog from the future where telekinesis is widespread. He relies less on speed than on his ability to hurl objects at enemies and manipulate items to make a pathway to advance through a level. Silver’s story involves heading back in time to stop the destruction of his world, which he is told by the main bad guy in the game is Sonic. Dr. Eggman is small fry in this Sonic title.
Shadow the Hedgehog is newly refreshed from his own title recently, and makes an appearance here as well. And again, his section doesn’t rely on speed but on his ability to control Chaos. Shadow also is able to commandeer vehicles he sees laying around the levels, ranging from buggies and hover crafts to a motorcycle to help him get past obstacles.
Aside from the story of each episode linking them together there was one other point which tied everything together, the atrocious controls. While the ability to control and center the camera behind your character is a welcome addition to the game, the pace at which it moves is absolutely brutal and will quite often mean the difference between certain death. There are even times where performing a move (like Sonic’s homing attack) will result in death thanks to not actually homing in on the enemy. Shoddy controls aren’t the only problem, as graphic glitching is very real in this title. Far too often to count I found Shadow or Sonic floating through a wall and down into an abyss, again resulting in death. If I had a parrot in the room with me, I have full faith that it would have learned a new vocabulary in the time I spent playing this game; not one word of which would be socially acceptable.
Another outrageous flaw in this game is the length of the load times. While in the town levels the game loading and caching is some of the worst I’ve seen. Imagine you see someone you want to speak with, so you initiate a conversation. Two lines into the conversation a loading screen pops up, spends roughly ten seconds loading then puts you back into the conversation from a different camera angle. The real kicker is, most of the time after these loads the conversation lasts at most three additional lines — then back to a loading screen for 10 seconds. How something like this is still required on systems with massive amounts of RAM and hard drives is beyond me. This just further pushed this game into terrible territory.
It’s really a shame to see a mascot as revered as Sonic the Hedgehog taking dives in titles like this. If it wasn’t for the substandard camera movement, and the overall poor controls this title may have had some redeeming qualities. Silver and Shadows episodes are interesting, and they are much better suited to a part of a game rather than have a dedicated game. The telekinesis was pulled off quite nicely and while it felt way out of place in a Sonic title, it was a nice change of pace. Sega really needs to sit back down and realize what people liked about Sonic in the past; was it the collecting of rings or the sheer sensation of speed that two-dimensional gaming brings? I hate to say it, but I think Sonic is best left as a download on the Marketplace where we can enjoy the convulsing gameplay as it was meant to be.

Overall: 4
Sega’s not alone in milking classic franchises, but Sonic is definitely one that should stay off the next-gen systems. Nothing personal; the experience just doesn’t translate well.

— Jeff Paramchuk

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