It has the potential to be the best Sonic in years. So - is it?
360, (PS3, Wii, PS2)
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Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rough time of it lately. For the last ten years, Sega slowly changed their speedy little mascot into a shadow of its former self. It's not about exploring large green landscapes, collecting coins and saving little animals anymore - it's about biological monsters, drive-by shootings and lifting boxes with the power of your mind. It's certainly a far cry from the simple, fun and exciting Mega Drive classics, or even the Dreamcast Sonic Adventure games.
The latest in the series, Sonic Unleashed, aims to fix all of those past mistakes by focusing on the feisty blue blur's speed, fusing elements from the 2D 'Sonic Rush' series with the on-rails gameplay from Sonic and the Secret Rings. The result is a very pretty, technically interesting game, with the dynamic camera swooping from one angle to another seamlessly.
Plot-wise, the 'Unleashed' part of the title comes from Sonic's new transformation when the moon rises - a punchy werewolf brawler with stretchy arms called the Werehog. His new alter-ego comes after the evil Dr. Eggman sets a trap which splits the planet into fragments, releasing a mythical creature called Dark Gaia. This is where the game is split, balancing speedy daytime dashes as Sonic with slow-paced beat-em-up platforming as the Werehog.
What's immediately noticeable is how gorgeous the game looks, with an impressive polish on all the characters and scenery that's a real feast for the eyes. Sonic Team's CG sequences have always been very good, but in Sonic Unleashed they stand out as some of the series' (if not the company's) best ever productions. The newly created Hedgehog Engine allows for the same level of detail to be applied to the in-game graphics as well, which gives an overall pleasant experience.
Sonic Team has attempted some light-hearted humour too, although perhaps it's gone a bit overkill on the cutscenes - most of them don't really do much to add to the story and just seem to get in the way. The 'blue skies' philosophy extends to the sound, with out-of-tune jingles when you get a crappy rank in a stage and cheerful, catchy music to bounce along to whilst rushing through Sonic stages. Presentation-wise, this is the best Sonic yet, and special mention must go to the orchestral score which gives the game quite a special feel, however misplaced. Regardless, you can't really compare the character execution with the likes of Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter.
The best bits in this game are within the levels featuring the mascot himself. Playing as Sonic is fun and exciting for the most part - depending on what perspective you're in, you're either running to the left and right or into the screen, but you don't lose control when switching between either, and the whole thing works quite well. You have a boost meter which is powered by how many rings you have, and this can really make the game go at a blazing speed. As it's sometimes difficult to see obstacles until a bunch of spikes are embedded into your skull though, it's worth playing the stages over a few times before making full use of that thing.