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Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) review
- Decent level designs
- Good variety of gameplay concepts
- Awful camera and horribly loose control
- Load times constantly disrupt game flow
- Town stages are redundant
- Filled with so many glitches that the game borders on unplayable
Poor Sonic. The 3D age hasn't been good to our spiky blue hero. His first foray into the 3D world, Sonic Adventure, was certainly a commendable first effort, but his games have gotten progressively worse since then, until they finally fell apart with 2005's mediocre Shadow the Hedgehog. It's only natural, then, that with the release of the first Sonic of the new generation, fans are hoping for a glorious return to form. Well, fans, I'm sorry to say that your hopes have been all but crushed - not only is Sonic '06 not the comeback we were all hoping for, it actually ends up being one of the worst Sonic games to date.
It all starts off well enough, with a beautifully crafted FMV sequence in which a princess has a prophecy of doom. Then, enter Sonic and Eggman to give the sequence its high-energy punch. It's a helluva way to start a game, and if it had set a precedent for the rest of the game, I would have been perfectly happy.
First, I'd like to comment on the story, which sucks despite the promising opening. The plot attempts to be more complex and dramatic than the typical Sonic fare. I won't knock it for lack of effort - it spans multiple time periods, and involves end of the world prophecies - but I will knock it for being long winded and overdramatic. What really turned me off, though, was the whole love story between Sonic and a human princess. That's right, there's actually a romance between Sonic and a human. And yes, it's about as gross as it sounds, and smacks of soap opera. Whatever happened to the good ol' days when Sonic games didn't have a story?
Story aside, Sonic '06 is a complete mess, plain and simple. The first issue that rears its ugly head is the pointless hub world that has been brought here from Sonic Adventure. Basically, to get to an action stage, you have to wander around aimlssly until you find someone who can point you in the right direction. There's also a wealth of side missions to complete, some of which are required to move on to a stage or the next part of the hub, which are usually mundane tasks like "run through these hoops as fast as you can" or "stop that speeding car." This actually wouldn't be as bad as it sounds if it wasn't for the awful load times that rear their head out of every corner of the game.
Once you're given a task by an NPC, you're greeted with 20 seconds of loading. After that, you're given about three seconds of text exlplaining the task before being dropped into another twenty second loading screen. After completing the task, you sit through more loading, three more seconds of text, and then more loading. This incessant loading isn't limited to the town stages, either. During action stages, there's actually load times break up sections of a single stage! LOADING DURING A F*&%ING STAGE!! This amount of loading would be unaceptable for any game, let alone a game whoe major selling points are speed and flow.
As far as actual gameplay is concerned, Sonic Team does get some points for at least adding variety to the gameplay. The game is split into three different scenarios - Sonic, Shadow, and newcomer Silver the Hedgehog - and each of them have their own unique focus. Sonic's stages are pretty much traditional Sonic, in which you run to the stage in the fastest time possible, while Shadow operates vehicles a la Shadow the Hedgehog, but it's Silver's gameplay that proves to be the most interesting. Silver's levels trade speed for telekinetic powers that take advantage of the next-gen physics engine quite well, and actually provide some - dare I say it - entertainment. In addition to these three, each character also has two playable 'amigo' characters, making a total of nine playable characters. That's a lot of gameplay.
If only that gameplay were put to better use. Silver's telekinesis is fun for a while, but it's not long before his sluggish pace starts to tire. Likewise, Shadow's clunky vehicles make a return from the last game, and are about as dull to use as they were then. As for Sonic, his levels have the same roller coaster appeal as his past levels, but he accelerates uncharacteristically slowly, and only gets going when he touches a dash pad, so he never runs as fast as he should, both figuratively and literally. How about the side characters, then? Not much better, really. Tails probably ranks as the worst of the bunch - he moves painfully slowly, and his dummy ring attack frequently causes the camera to wig out. In fact , the only side character who really winds up being much fun is Blaze, who actually manages to capture the fast, involving gameplay of the Sonic games of old. It's a shame that the most engaging character winds up being the most underused.
Sonic's biggest problem isn't any of the flaws listed above, however. No, Sonic's biggest flaw is that it has a camera and controls that seem to do everything in their power to drive you away. During any given point in the game, the camera sits low and behind your chracter, which makes it near impossible to get a good view of your surroundings or even see where you're going. What's even more frustrating is that the camera will occasionally shift angles suddenly and without warning, and the controls will shift in tandem. A good example of this is in one level where Sonic is snowboarding down a mountain. At more than one point, the camera will suddenly switch to an angle in front of Sonic and bring him to a grinding halt. Top that all off with controls that can send you careening into a body of water or a bottomless pit with the slightest touch when coupled with the camera problems and Sonic the Hedgehog becomes one of the most atrociously unplayable 3d platformers in recent memory.
The technical hitches are the final nail in the coffin. Most prevalent are times during the town stages when Sonic will get caught in a building's geometry, sometimes forcing you to reset the game, though there are plenty during the action stages, too. Perhaps the most laughable is a persistent one during Sonic's stages. When Sonic takes damage while breaking for a run (on-rails segments apparently called the super speed sections), he'll continue to move forward, all the while remaining trapped in his falling animation. There are also instances of poor hit detection and a framerate that dips to the point where it feels like you're moving through a swamp. With all that taken into account, it's painfully obvious that this is an instance of "rush for console launch."
Production wise, the game fares a little better, though not much. The game's visuals, in particular, look strikingly average. The character models are sharp and generally animate well, although seeing the cartoonish Sonic interact with realistic looking humans is a little jarring. The environments don't fare quite as well, with a hub world that looks like it was pulled from the original Sonic Adventure and given an extra coat of polish, and most of the action stages don't look much better either. PS3 owners get the shorter end of the stick, as that version suffers from blurrier textures, glitchier animation, and even worse framerates that make it even more obvious just how unfinished the game is. The sound fares a little better, as there are some decent tunes, voice acting and sound effects. On the other hand, the dialogue is lame, and the tracks, with a few exceptions, don't really stand out, as they lack variety and start to sound too similar to each other after a while.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a game franchise that holds a lot of sentimental value for me (the original Sonic for the Game Gear is actually one of thefirst video games I ever played), so it came as a major disappointment for this avid Sonic fan to find that his first next-gen outing had ended up as broken as it is. If you're a die-hard Sonic fan, I suppose I could maybe recommend this for a rental - then you can laugh at all the glitches, and marvel at what could have been.
Gameplay: 4.5/10 Broken in so many ways. Crappy camera, unacceptable load times, and awful glitches add up to make a game that fails to make good use of its underlying design.
Graphics: 5.5/10 The hi-res character models look great, as do the well-crafted FMVs, but the environments are bland and framerate issues are massive. PS3 version has blurrier textures and glitchier animation.
Sound: 6.5/10 Voice acting is decent, but the soundtrack lacks variety and the dialogue is bad.
Value: 5/10 Nine playable characters across three decent-length stories. If only they were worth returning for.