IGN Review of Sonic the Hedgehog
Certain things should stay in the past. Just take a look at The Dukes of Hazard movie. The same thing goes for struggling videogame franchises. Some of them should just stay put and let gamers remember the way things were. Such is the case with Sonic the Hedgehog. There's nothing wrong with trying to reinvent an old franchise - just make sure it's as good, if not better, than where it started.
But Sonic for the Xbox 360 takes the opposite route. Instead of convincing players that Sonic deserves a second chance, it all but eliminates his chances of a second coming worth remembering. It's not a total disaster - it actually has a few good ideas - but several factors sabotage any hopes for a successful transition to the next-generation. It's a bigger shame than usual because the series holds so much promise. It's fun blasting through loops and crazy environments at high speeds. For further proof, just boot up one of the original 16-bit games - they play just as well as they did years ago. Developers just need to distill the essence of those pioneering titles and update the look of the package.
Sadly, Sonic the Hedgehog fails to do just that. It certainly tries to move the series forward by adding characters and new features, but it neglects the one thing it needs to get absolutely right. And that's to give players an empowering sense of speed and let them exploit it however they see fit. But it doesn't. On the contrary, it teases with snippets of gameplay that demonstrate how a true next-generation Sonic game would work, but it rips them away as soon as it shows them. These glimpses of hope punctuate the entire experience, making it a truly frustrating experience. At the same time, it's better than having no redeeming features at all.
The first of these is the ability to control multiple characters. That's usually a good idea since variety keeps any experience fresh. In Sonic, players control a roster of characters from the known Sonic universe. This includes Tails, Shadow and a new guy named Silver. Every character has unique abilities and controls, which helps keep things varied. But that's where things go south. Regardless of how well intentioned the developers were in adding this feature, the result hardly lives up to the effort. Characters behave differently and some even have their own chapters in the storyline, but none of them really stands out. Beyond that, most of their unique powers fail to impress.
Take the major player, Sonic. He accelerates slowly and only starts going with the help of speed pads on the floor. Making matters worse, the levels themselves force him to a grinding halt almost constantly. He needs to stop to handle environmental hazards and enemies, and forget about bumping into anything because it yanks him back to zero. Even dedicated players will find themselves trapped by an endless cycle of starting and stopping. It plumb doesn't feel right. It's as if Sonic walked into this game by mistake.
The other two characters fare a little better. Shadow can ride vehicles and blast stuff better than Sonic can, while Silver uses telekinesis to move giant blocks and build broken bridges. He can also whisk incoming missiles and laser shots and fire them back to enemies. It sounds fantastic in theory and it works to some degree, but games have done this all before. More importantly, they've done it all better. Again, there's nothing wrong with implementing new elements into the Sonic universe, it's just a shame that none of them actually improve the experience. It would actually be better to strip the new content and concentrate on the 2D to 3D transition.
Then there's the hub world of Soleanna. In another attempt to shake things up, developers constructed a town for players to explore. It's possible to run around, converse with chatty townsfolk, and even accept short side missions. These range from escorting hapless maidens to locating lost items. It's a definite change of pace for the series, but one that needs refinement. Most of the missions fail to reveal anything exciting about the story or gameworld and they don't add anything compelling from a gameplay standpoint, either.
Then there's the real culprit behind the next-generation Sonic dilemma. It's a two-headed beast that would have destroyed the game even if all the previously mentioned problems didn't exist. It's the camera and control. Both aspects need to work in any game if it's going to be fun and rewarding. As the gaming gods would have it, neither does in the case of Sonic. Players will die countless times as Sonic and friends plunge into the depths of the abyss thanks to unresponsive and plain whacky controls. In the few instances where control isn't an issue, the camera shows up and spoils the party. It tries and fails to give players the best view of the action constantly. Thanks to limited lives and far-flung checkpoints, dying in Sonic can tear the mind of a young gamer to pieces.
The only way to battle this two-headed beast is to try (very hard) to find the path developers intended players to take. Sounds obvious, maybe even a little stupid, but levels in Sonic have players believe they can explore. It's a 3D world, after all. But it's all just an illusion. Even if the game renders a mountain in the distance, players will find they need to follow a linear, almost 2D path in order to get anywhere. This is especially true when playing Sonic and a player wants to build speed. Even the slightest deviation leads to an immediate stop, if not premature death.
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