Why Sonic Unleashed is Underrated

Posted on September 30, 2012 - 8:20am by SierraFoxtrot

TLDR;

See the article below? That's what you're supposed to read, not this.

Editor's Note: I don't know if this'll change a lot of minds but it certainly provides a lot to think about.
 
Sonic the Hedgehog may be one of the most influential video game characters of all-time. Starting out in 1991, he burst on to the scene and into many gamer’s hearts with fast-paced gameplay and superb platforming. He was so popular that Sega started to compete with Nintendo which sparked one of the first console wars.The Sonic franchise has had it share of hits. Both the Genesis titles and Sonic CD are considered classics and still talked about fondly to this day. In addition to 16-bit, Sonic also found success on the Dreamcast and later, the GameCube.
 
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sonics’ popularity began to fade. His games kept dropping in quality and nobody could figure out why. Then, in 2006, Sonic the Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 and PS3 was released. It was panned by critics. The gameplay was panned, the camera controls were panned, and the plot, which was bizarre and confusing, was especially panned. No critic (other than Dave Halverson) could find anything positive about the game.

Gee, I wonder why?

It seemed like Sega had killed their mascot in one, fell swoop, destroying any marketability the franchise and character had. Gone were the days of excitement over a new Sonic game. There was no more fun to be had. The series was slowly rolling downhill; this was just the edge of the cliff. There was no way that Sonic could recover from a blow this big.

Of course, we know that it’s not true; not only has Sonic recovered but the franchise looks better than ever. It seems that Sega and Sonic Team have figured out a formula to make 3D next-gen Sonic games successful. But how did they do it? How did a franchise, that many were declaring dead 6 years ago, turn it around?

Simple, with a game called Sonic Unleashed.

Yes, I'm talking about this game

It is my personal belief that Sonic Unleashed is one of the most criminally underrated games of this generation. Does it have its problems? Absolutely but that doesn’t mean it’s an overlooked title or a bad game. In fact, let me go into further detail of why I think Unleashed is one of the most important titles in the franchise.

The Gameplay

One of the many things Sonic Unleashed improved upon from its previous title was the gameplay. It fixed the awkward camera angles and the clunky controls that sunk Sonic ’06 and improved upon them immensely (and that could be an understatement): you no longer had to fight with the camera (mainly because it was centred behind you for most of a level) and the controls, while not superb, were responsive. In addition to improving upon the gameplay, Sonic Team added a couple of new features that were so important to the series. In fact, these features were later used in both Colors and Generations which goes to show how much they added to the overall game. Are you still not convinced? Then allow me to explain why these gameplay elements were important and the impact they had in future 3D Sonic games.

Let’s first talk about the Boost system. This was a very important addition and I’ll explain why it was important in just a moment. The thing to note is the boost system was kept in following games like Colors and Generations. If that doesn’t tell you how important it was I don’t what will.

Now to actually explain why the boost system was a good thing and why it was so important. You see, in older Sonic games (specifically, the Genesis titles), Sonic wasn’t a slouch in the speed department but there would be times where he’d hit a wall or something that made him come to a full stop. To say that it interrupted the flow of the game would be accurate (at least for me). Now, instead of running to build up speed, like you had to do in the original Sonic, you had the spin dash which allowed players to quickly accelerate with a few taps of a button. Once you were ready, you could stop and Sonic would go lightning fast! It was awesome.

You could go from 0 to 200 in seconds flat

The Boost system is almost identical to that but with a few key differences. First, you don’t need to tap the button to build speed: you only need to hold down the button. Second, while the Spin Dash was free, you have to collect rings to build up your boost meter. Personally, I think this is great because it actually gives you incentive to collect rings rather than just collecting them just to get lives. The boost system also acts like the Lightning Shield in Sonic 3 where rings in Sonic’s proximity are drawn to him making them easier to collect. This makes it so the player doesn’t have to be perfect while using the boost and can instead focus on navigating the level. The boost meter would also fill up by attacking enemies and string combos together. It was a brilliant addition to the series and it’s one of the main reasons why today’s Sonic games are so fun to play.
 

This thing made a ton of difference

The second feature that was introduced in Unleashed was the Quick Step which allowed Sonic to quickly move horizontally in order to avoid obstacles. Like the boost system, this was kept in following games. Are we starting to understand how important this game was to the Sonic franchise?
 

Allowed the players to quickly move horizontally. May not seem like much but like the boost system, it makes loads of difference.

Finally, another feature that was included in Sonic Unleashed was the Speed Drift. This allowed Sonic to handle sharp turns and loops in terrain. If you ever were headed towards death or you had an almost impossible turn to make, all you had to do was use the Speed Drift and you were set. The best part about the Speed Drift was that you didn’t lose speed while turning.
 

Turning without losing speed or hitting walls = an important change

All of the gameplay elements that I have highlighted above are really overlooked as they change the way that you play 3D Sonic games. A lot of people don’t really give credit where credit is due because without the implementation of these features, other 3D Sonic games would not have been so easy to play.

Before we look into other areas like the graphics and the music (and I will make mention of how both helped the Sonic series), I want to briefly explain another thing that made Sonic Unleashed so underrated: the camera.

The Camera

Again, this is another area of Sonic Unleashed that’s so overlooked. The camera is wonderfully done and fixes many of the problems that plagued Sonic ’06. Instead of having to fight with the camera or seeing it glitch out, the camera is placed behind Sonic much like it was in Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2. However, there is a key difference between the two cameras. Most notable, the camera angle in Sonic Unleashed never rotates more than 180 degrees (unless a scripted event like a chase happens) while the camera in both Adventure and Adventure 2 can be rotated 360 degrees.

Look at how you can see everything in front of you. That's the sign of a great camera in Sonic.

I know this may sound silly: I mean, who the hell cares about the camera? You should because it does have an effect on the game. Go back and play all of these games and it’s clear that Unleashed has the best camera. When you’re running at near super-sonic speed, it doesn’t give you any problems and you can see everything in front of you. Having that kind of visibility, where you can see all the obstacles in your path, is vital in a game like this. Speaking of visibility, let’s talk about the graphics.

The Graphics

Sonic Unleashed’s graphics in a word: stunning. An entire new engine was created for this Sonic game and it yielded fantastic results. Landscapes were gorgeous, colours were bright and vibrant and the lighting effects were magnificent. It looked beautiful is what I’m trying to say. As you can probably tell, this is another reason why I think the game is so underrated. The graphics, in comparison to the previous title, are breath-taking. I mean, just look at the day time stage in Holoska and look at how good it looks.

 

This level is one of my personal favourite because it's so damn gorgeous.

 

It really goes to show how a game can look stupendous when it uses great lighting effects and colour.

The Music

Alright, so one of the many things the Sonic franchise is known for is the music. Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, City Escape, and countless others are all memorable pieces of video game music. Does Sonic Unleashed have an impressive sound track? Somewhat; there are some real gems in there and others are hit and miss. I’ll let you judge for yourself:

 

Apatos - Day

Spagonia - Day: you might recongize this one from Sonic Generations

Chun-Nan - Day: my personal favourite

 
See, Sonic Unleashed may not have the best musical selection in the series but it does have some songs that are really good. Not all of them maybe instant classics but there are definitely some really good ones on display. An interesting thing to note about Sonic Unleashed OST is that most of the music in there is orchestrated. This basically means that not every song is filled with an electric guitar blaring away. Most songs feature an array of instruments so it’s not just generic rock blasting away. I feel that this makes the soundtrack stand out from previous versions: rock is great and all but this soundtrack sounds a lot better. It more of a personal preference but I really do feel that the Sonic Unleashed soundtrack is made loads better by ditching the electric guitar.
 
I know I’ve talked a lot about the game’s good features but I know that you may be wondering about the other side of the game. Specifically, you may be wondering why I haven’t addressed the werehog portions of the game yet. Allow me to do that right now.
 
Even though I think this game is very underrated, I can’t defend the werehog parts of Sonic Unleashed. They are easily the worst parts of the game and everything that made the game good in the day time is overshadowed by this abomination. 
 

It's ugly to look at but even uglier to play

Was there any need for this? The game, by all accounts, is amazing but when you add that thing to the mix, the product takes a hit. The day time levels were fast-paced, filled with great music, added a 2.5D element to the game and was a great platforming experience. The controls, the camera, everything was near perfect about the day time sections of Sonic Unleashed.

But then the werehog is introduced and all these problems come to light. The werehog sections are unbearably slow and they really kill the pace of the game. The best analogy I can make is comparing the werehog sections to Aquatic Ruin Zone: there you are having a blast, running at supersonic speeds and then something comes along and tells you that you have to take everything slow. The werehog sections are basically giant water levels without the water. It’s a stark contrast to how the rest of the game is played. At night, platforming is clunky at best, the music gets considerably less awesome, and it’s just so slow. You can compare the night time portions of the game to God of War but that would be too much praise. You can basically press the same button multiple times and breeze through a stage.

There are multiple sections like this... and this is the first night time stage. groan

Another thing that can be criticized about Sonic Unleashed is the plot. While not as bizarre or cringe-inducing as Sonic 06’s, it still is almost as bad to sit through. Long story short, Doctor Eggman releases a beast called Dark Gaia who immediately tears the world apart. Like, literally, the thing rips the Earth into 9 pieces. In the process, Eggman somehow gives Sonic lycanthropy which turns him into Sonic the Werehog. When Sonic falls to Earth (by the way, Eggman and Sonic were fighting in space), he meets and befriends Chip, a flying dog-monkey that seems to have lost his memory. Sonic and Chip, with the help of Tails and Professor Pickle (who oddly likes cucumbers despite his last name), set off on their adventure to restore power to the 7 Chaos Emeralds so they can stop Dark Gaia. It’s what you’d expect from a Saturday morning cartoon show. To describe this plot as cheesy and kid-friendly would be an understatement. The Sonic franchise was never really known for its amazing plot but went from reasonable to insane within the span of 15 years.
 

That feeling your getting is the urge to punch this guy in the face.

Okay so, the werehog parts are not fun by any stretch of the imaginations and yes, they do kill the flow of the game. The story sounds like it was written by a seven-year-old but for what it’s worth, even with these parts included; I still think this game is underrated. Its gameplay mechanics or elements or whatever you want to call them led to better games in the future. Sonic Unleashed was basically a blueprint for how future Sonic games would play. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations are great games because they had a blueprint to follow. Sonic Team saw what worked in Unleashed, made a few changes here and there (a.k.a. no more stupid werehog sections) and released two fantastic products.

There are people out there who say that Sonic isn’t what he once was, that he will never be able to make a full recovery. I don’t know if they’re right but I do know that the franchise has gotten back on track in terms of quality. Is Sonic going to be as popular as he was back in the early 90’s? No, he may never reach that height again. But Sonic fans everywhere are now convinced that the next Sonic game that comes out will be just as good as or better than previous titles. They can now look forward to the next Sonic game without fear that it may turn out for the worst. We can all share that same feeling.

And it’s all thanks to Sonic Unleashed.

 

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