Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Full Review:
Sonic the Hedgehog

"Can't Go Fast"

Developed by Sonic Team
Published by Sega
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Released on November 14, 2006

If there is one franchise that had such an incredibly dramatic fall from grace, it would be Sonic the Hedgehog.  From his glorious days spinning around on the Genesis to his iconic Adventures on the Dreamcast, Sonic had never been stopped dead in his tracks until this atrocity was brought into existence.  This game, to put it simply, is bad.  Nearly everything about it is either broken, not fun, or doesn't work.  To properly dissect the problem that is Sonic 2006, we're going to have to analyze the major mechanics that plague the Blue Blur's first run in the seventh generation.

Sonic 2006 plays like a broken down version of Sonic Adventure.  The Adventure games were in no way perfect but they were far from broken.  The first time playing through Sonic Adventure was fun despite losing its luster over time.  The first time playing Sonic 2006 was not fun and will, without a doubt, become worse with time.  The game constantly switches off between seven members of the cast along with the annoying and horribly portrayed newcomer, Silver the Hedgehog.  With seven different characters comes seven different ways of playing the game, unfortunately none of them work as well as anybody would hope.

Now don't quote me on this but I'm going to make a bold assumption that Sonic levels are meant to be fast.  I suppose the Sonic Team didn't get the hint  after fifteen years that slow and steady doesn't win the race in a Sonic game.  With this game, you lack any sense of control.   When speeding through an area or dashing on a wall, one slight flick of the control stick and you'll run right of the ledge.  Despite having the natural urge to run at super sonic speeds, the only way to ensure you'll stay alive is to take your time.  There are rushing sections where Sonic runs straight forward and it's up to the player to move him around and jump when necessary much like the special stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  However, unlike Sonic 2, the controls are frustrating.  Sonic's movements are so sensitive, one tap of the analog changes Sonic's angle much more than anticipated and Sonic runs faster than you can fix a mistake.  If Sonic runs into a wall he loses his rings but will still flail forward at the same speed only to get hit again and lose a life.  This creates a major difficulty spike where all of your lives can be lost if you do not use the utmost precision.

The Knuckles and Rouge levels are slow which means better platforming, unfortunately they don't offer much  else to the gameplay.  Tails levels are both slow and control awkwardly.  You're able to fly around but it's next to impossible to control Tails while he's in the air as he'll move so sporadically that platforming becomes an imprecise mess.  To top it off he can only stay in the air for a couple of seconds before becoming tired and falling, usually to his doom. Amy offers a very unnecessary stealth feature by going invisible, undetectable  by enemies.  It's too bad that defeating the enemies will take you much longer with Amy's Piko hammer than it would with any other character.  Blaze plays just like Sonic except with the homing attack replaced with a much less accurate spinning attack that will certainly send you careening off a level.

Shadow's levels are the most interesting in that it brings the most variety to the table, the only problem with it is that it's all too redundant.  Shadow plays just as Sonic does except that Shadow can kill enemies, that require multiple attacks to defeat, in one swift combo.  Interspersed between running phases you will be forced to ride in vehicles that accomplishes two things for the game ; to slow down the flow of the game and to waste time.  Shadow's infamous motorcycle returns and gives him the ability to move at the exact same pace except now he has the ability to shoot bullets which will rid the enemies in the same amount of time as his homing attacks do.  The buggy is only required once, every other time it is useless and a much better idea to just continue the level on foot.  The glider and hovercraft could have been scrapped from the game altogether.  The scenes that they are required are short, slow, and require no skill.

Silver is the most tolerable of all the characters.  He is slow so you can focus on platforming much more, especially with his ability to hover making accidental falls less frequent.  Silver can use his psychokinesis to make objects in the environment move, such as a log hanging from a tree can be used as a pendulum to either propel Silver forward or to break massive objects in his way.  He can also take a hold of crates and rockets and send them flying at enemies.  Taking control of these objects is easy, it's throwing them that's the problem.  You'll often find yourself flinging the item off a cliff or throwing it at an entirely different enemy due to the absence of a lock-on system.  Later on in the game you will learn how to stun enemies allowing you to kill them in a single hit.  Of course, in a game full of halting flaws, Silver's gameplay is no different.  Silver has these sort of cup & ball mini phases which stops the flow of a level so you can spend twenty minutes trying to "psyho-slap" a giant ball across an area without having the ball fall down a wrong hole.  You also have a limited number of hits to get the ball in the hole, although I'm not entirely sure if it's based on hits, time, or both because the timer on the balls seem to just count down whenever they feel like it.  I couldn't fathom how they could take the best levels in the game and put such a time waster that absolutely ruins the pace of the level.  Even when the pace is slow to begin with, they somehow found a way to slow the game down to a comatose state.

Every other Sonic game has a good understanding on how to keep up a good pace; slow when required, fast every other time.  Each of these drastically different styles of gameplay were always separate, allowing you to prepare for a change of pace.  Sonic 2006 has a nasty habit of stopping the game right in the middle of all the action and forces the game to slow things down.  You'll be rolling around at the speed of sound as Sonic, going through bumpers and getting zippers, and without a moments notice you become Tails and everything that seemed decent with the world suddenly falls apart.  That's honestly how I would describe it.

The level design is far from clever.  Every level is straight forward with only a few, if any, different routes to take to reach the goal.  Some require no thought at all; just a few platform jumps, some killing of enemies and presto, you're at the goal.  Although, there are three different stories you can play through, it only means that you will be playing through each level three times with only a few minor differences.  I would have accepted maybe the same levels with different routes or areas, but no they are the exact same thing in each story.  It just seems lazy on the developer's part.

The camera, unsurprisingly, is sporadic, uncontrollable, and will cause you death any chance it gets.  The first thing I noticed about the camera is that it wasn't inverted.  I prefer my camera controls inverted so I scrolled through each of the menus but there was no such option.  NO OPTION FOR CONTROLS!  Not even to invert the camera.  That is just simply inconsiderate.  I was legitimately offended by the developer's gross lack of consideration.  So, I'm forced to trudge through the entire game getting use to the camera controls, losing countless rings in blind effort.  The camera also has a mind of its own.  It will focus solely on bosses leaving you entirely out of the picture.  You'll be moving, trying to avoid attacks just to fall off the edge because you had no idea where you were.  The camera will also follow a quick moving boss.  The camera will change so quickly that your character will instantly change directions and fall off the stage.  But that's not all, the camera will also get stuck behind walls, zoom in and out rapidly, and sometimes even go black.  Yeah, the game will go blind and you will die.

Speaking of bosses, they're not good either.  Besides the horrible camera, Bosses tend to either drag on too long or be excessively difficult.  Bosses should never have infinites but Silver does.  If you're in the wrong place, he will grab you, throw you, then before you can get back up and get some rings, grab you again, throw you again, and kill you.  The bosses cause difficulty spikes not based on your skill but broken game mechanics.

Reminiscent of Sonic Adventure, the city of Soleanna acts as a hub world between every level.  In Soleanna, there are extra missions to be completed and items to be bought.  The citizens of Soleanna stand around doing nothing all day except to give Sonic and his friends useless info or mundane tasks to complete.  All of the mini-games consist of jumping through loops or beating a certain number of enemies.  There really is nothing else to do in the city besides waste time.  One mini-game had me talk to man who said that one soldier knows how to access a certain area and he told me to beware that two other soldiers who will tell lies.  After going on and on, the mission started but I accidently pressed the conversation button on the same guy and the mission ended.  Apparently he was the liar and knew the whereabouts of the secret area.  I got an S Rank.  It's this moronic level of dispassion that caused them to add redundant side attractions to an already deteriorating game.  Had the items needed to complete the game were hidden within the stages, the hub worlds could have been scrapped entirely.  Instead we are forced to wade through uneventful and dull side missions.

If it wasn't enough to have broken game mechanics, the game itself is buggy and contains many game killing glitches.  I've experienced enemies that will sink through the floors making it impossible to kill them.  This would be excusable except it ONLY seems to happen when defeating every enemy in the room is vital to level progression.  I end up having to start from the last check point thus losing a life.  Beware also that the game will kill you if it feels like it.  When battling a boss, I hit its weak point and flew back to safe ground in the usual Sonic fashion.  However, instead of landing in the field, I landed on top of a search tower.  Instead of allowing me to fall back down to the field, the game decided to fade to black and start me back over with one life missing and a boss that was back at full health.  It's important to stay cautious when playing this game and always expect a game breaking glitch to occur at any moment.

Not only is the gameplay a total loss but the graphics are not up to par.  Even though this game was one of the first of its generation it doesn't cover up the fact that this game looks like a bad Sonic Adventure texture mod.  The textures are bland, the models are choppy, animations are over exaggerated, and the levels appear unfinished.  The most unforgiving of all aspects is that there is pop-up.  Yes, pop-up in a game made for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  I also found the art style unappealing.  Sonic Team tried to go for a realistic look with the townspeople and the city which is in direct conflict to the cartoony and vibrant look of Sonic and his friends.  Even Dr. Eggman lost his animated look to a more realistic (and horrifying) take.  I know that graphics aren't everything but after trekking through a level, it would have been nice to see some decent looking visuals as some sort of pitiful reward.

The only positive thing that's possible to say about this atrocity is that the soundtrack is phenomenal.  I can confidently say that music was the only aspect that kept my interest afloat.  In my opinion, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 has a perfect soundtrack.    Each stage had two or three versions of a song that had me constantly wondering how such musical talent could have been wasted on such an awful game.  Composers, Senoue and Ohtani, definitely deserve to have their work portrayed in a game much more befitting of their talents.

With long loading times, a very short story mode, flawed mechanics, atrocious voice acting, and awful visuals, Sonic the Hedgehog proved to be the point of absolute zero for the Sonic franchise and a shining example of how not to make a video game.  At this point, it's up to Sega to take this blemish, learn from their mistakes, and work their hardest to make Sonic the Hedgehog a credible name in gaming once again.


Fun:  2/5
Playability:  2/5
Lasting Appeal:  1/3
Graphics:  0/2
Sound:  2/2

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