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Sonic Unleashed promised to whisk me back to the magical speed of Mega Drive days. While it resurrected this childhood joy, its Were-Hog levels left me with a bitter taste.
I dipped out of gaming at university. At the same time Sega weent into decline, a decline that became a plummet. Finally, the Dreamcast bowed out on a high with the furiously frantic Sonic Adventure 2.
Coming back into gaming, I'd hoped to reacquaint myself with great Sonic games. Not so. The cool attitude has gone and in its stead, gun-toting clones and weird hedgehog-girl romances. Repetitive levels, camera shenanigans, wonky controls have replaced the graceful speed of the Mega Drive and Dreamcast games.
I hoped Sonic Unleashed would mend everything. But I knew it was unlikely as the series had only gotten worse over the last decade. Seeing it in action again though, made me smitten again.
The first half of Sonic Unleashed is a joy to play. The game ramps up the speed as I watch the rollercoaster ride of acrobatics. I'm barely able to keep up as he bounces, rebounds and darts across the screen. It's like Sonic 2 all over again. Then the camera seamlessly switches to the 3D of the Sonic Adventure games, and I'm sold. It's dangerously close to being too quick, almost autopilot, but I simply don't care. It's much easier to just get swept up in the rush of it all.
It's brash and silly, yet it's exactly what been missing from Sonic.
This is all I want from a Sonic game - minimal effort, stupidly high levels of speed, and an over-caffeinated feel that whisks me back to childhood days. It's brash and silly, yet it's exactly what been missing from Sonic.
It's not perfect, not at all. But I forgive it because it's obviously a step in the right direction. Because, for all its flaws, it makes me smile and want to keep on playing. That is, until I encounter a Were-Hog level. For while one half of Unleashed is fun and frantic, the other is so tedious and poor that it more than cancels it out.
Because the story sees Sonic become cursed with turning into a Were-Hog at night-time, the game is effectively split into two. Daytime levels involving fun Sonic. And night-time levels involving the Were-Hog.
I try to put aside how the idea itself spits fiery phlegm upon my childhood - I'm used to this intellectual massacre from the Sonic franchise - but it's no use. With Sonic drained of all his pace in Were-Hog form, the trawl through basic platforming and utterly disastrous combat is sheer tedium.
I feel the Were-Hog's lethargy transfer through to me, and I'm practically apathetic about the whole game by the end of one of his levels. It feels like taking back a reformed ex-girlfriend. I forgive her for mistakes, and want her to have changed. But although during the day she's fun and vivacious at night she's still the pain I remember. I kick myself, and redouble lessons learnt.
I wanted to embrace something I was passionate about from younger days and make it a part of my life again.
Girlfriends and Hedgehogs, I can't help myself. I should know better but I'm still looking forward to Sonic 4, still hoping he will prove me wrong. I have no idea why. I cannot fathom which part of my childhood so badly needs Sonic to be great again, but somehow I don't mind Sega having another go.
Maybe this simply reflects my decision to return to gaming. I wanted to embrace something I was passionate about from younger days and make it a part of my life again. Gaming has changed while I've grown up, but then so have I.
Maybe Sonic has sunk so low that now the only way is up. Or maybe Unleashed, for all its flaws in the dark, restored a bit of light to the hope that Sonic will one day come strong again. Maybe I just want Sega to show that's there's still a place for a retro icon in this scary new gaming world.
Either way, bring on Sonic the Hedgehog 4. I'll take him back a few more times yet. It's not like I know any better.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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