By Chris Matel
Experimentation isn't always a good thing...
Sonic, the little blue hedgehog: Who would have known a simple concept such as running as fast as you can through a level, while collecting golden rings, would have spurred a title worthy of “classic” status? Nevertheless, the franchise has more or less fallen off course over the past few years with SEGA's increasing efforts to differentiate each game from the next while looking for that "next-gen" feel. The change to 3D has been a difficult one for the hedgehog (minus the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure), but, finally, it looks like Team Sonic is making a return to the game's roots, and it's about damn time.
Using their propriety Hedgehog Engine, Team Sonic looks to be in the right direction for giving the players what they've been demanding for awhile, and with a good a sense of the SEGA mascot's speed--though agility was still a bit of an issue in the 360 build demoed to us. At the time, SOA Producer Patrick Riley let us know that they still hadn't decided on camera controls and that there was to be a fair amount of frame rate issues in the built we were going to see. Honestly though, even the forewarning and eventual witnessing of said problems couldn't kill the excitement for the semi return-to-form of the franchise witnessed today.
Sonic hasn't been spread thin. Good thing, 'cuz thin isn't in...
As Patrick played through a few of the levels, he described two different development processes: one for the Wii and one for the 360/PS3 versions of the game. Dedicating development efforts for the varying formats ensured there wouldn't be any compromising of detail for any of the hardware, he detailed. Essentially, any way you play the game, you're going to get a product that has its own amount of effort given to it, and that won't sacrifice, discount or cheat on delivering captivating gameplay—at least that's what was told to us.
What we saw, however, helped dissipate some of the warriness associated with pitching; the demo would make any fan rabid at the chance of playing, bugs and all. In the build we saw, the camera was mainly behind Sonic (a la Sonic Adventure) as he sped through Mykonos (Greece, essentially), collecting rings, jumping on bumpers, crashing through enemies, rocketing over speed-pads and crashing into spikes. It's like the classic gameplay, only with a dynamic camera that changes perspectives every so often, and rings which power up your “ring energy” level, allowing Sonic to plow through enemies instead of having to stop and fight them—honestly, it's a beautiful thing.
Unleashed isn't simply a reinvention of old, however. If you've paid attention to gossip, news or official announcements, then you already know there's a darker side to Sonic: Weresonic. Before you collectively groan, know that things don't look half bad for nighttime exploits. While all of the super-speed will be executed solely during the day as normal Sonic, the moon brings out a beast in the hedgehog: at night, his size seemingly doubles, arms get stretchy and he slows down considerably.
As Patrick showed to us, and described, Weresonic play will revolve mostly around vertical platforming, with a concentration on combat. As Weresonic, you'll be able to stretch your arms for sweeping attacks, or to desperately grab onto a ledge if you miss it. Also, fighting will give you experience experience points used to upgrade your combos. It's a fairly standard platforming scheme—one that could have been left out and people wouldn't have missed it—but it will be interesting to see how it works. He didn't want to, but Patrick tacked on a 60 percent to the amount of Weresonic action you'll be seeing.
Seriously...please, don't screw this up...please...
Things are planned to play out sequentially where you'll be switching between Sonic's two forms, but we were told you'll have the opportunity to go back and play certain levels as either identity. Old friends are scheduled to make an appearance for “mini-distractions” (mini-games), but expect to play as the hedgehog for a good 99 percent of the time according to the producer. Although we're not totally sold on the darker aspects of the speedy icon, we'll certainly give it a shot, especially in a game with such beautiful looking backdrops and (from what was shown) really, really, really fun classic Sonic gameplay.