I’ll never forget how excited I was during the lead up to the November 2008 release of Sonic Unleashed, my all time favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game. The initial teaser trailer featuring the hedgehog whistling and twirling a gold ring around his finger caught my interest, but it’s the trailer that debuted at that year’s E3 convention that really sold me on the game.
Sonic was always known for being the fastest thing alive, and Sonic Unleashed is a game that truly lived up to that title. I had never seen Sonic move at such absurd speeds, and my little 8th grade mind would watch that trailer over and over again until I finally got the game for myself the following Christmas, along with a brand new Playstation 3.
Sonic Unleashed is my favorite Sonic game for a multitude of reasons, many of which have to do with just how ambitious the game was. To this day, it is still the most visually impressive Sonic game ever released, as well as the best use of the innovative technology afforded to Sega and Sonic Team courtesy of the custom built Hedgehog Engine.
This also extends to the computer animation done by Marza Animation Planet. The opening that they did for Unleashed will likely always be my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog cutscene, and seeing it always makes me wish for a fully animated Sonic movie (it also gives me some serious Toy Story 2 opening vibes).
Speaking of which, Marza did actually get the opportunity to make an animated short film based on the game, aptly titled Night of the Werehog. It’s a cute little short, and I go back and watch it from time to time just to enjoy the animation.
The entire premise of Unleashed is Sonic and his new friend Chip embarking on a globe-trotting adventure to solve a planet sized jigsaw puzzle created by Eggman. Each level in the game is based on a real world location, and the music is appropriately composed to include instruments and sounds from each continent.
Sonic Unleashed isn’t my absolute favorite Sonic soundtrack, but it’s definitely up there. The music is so catchy and varied, and every song goes a long way towards making each new place you visit feel unique.
Sonic Unleashed is the game that set a new standard for storytelling in Sonic games. It really feels like there was a lot of thought and effort put into the narrative, and tone wise, it feels very appropriate for the franchise. The game also featured one of Jason Griffith’s best performances as Sonic, and he remains my favorite voice for the hedgehog.
Gameplay is what really makes or breaks a video game in most cases, and that is absolutely true of Sonic Unleashed. Just to get this out of the way, no, I’m not really bothered that much by the Werehog. While I do think it was a bad inclusion, his gameplay was largely inoffensive to me, outside of his stage length, and that’s about all I have to say on the matter.
The game’s biggest selling point is the new boost gameplay for 3d Sonic, which debuted in Sonic Rush three year prior. The two original Sonic Adventure games tried their best to bring Sonic and his friends into the third dimension, and in many ways, they succeeded. However, there were a few things that they never really nailed, and this held them back from being truly regarded as excellent 3d platformers.
Sonic Unleashed’s solution to this problem is to essentially strip Sonic of being a platformer almost entirely. The worst parts of even the classic Sonic games were when they tried to be more like traditional platformers, and this problem was present and even exacerbated for the 3d entries in the series.
The classic games were all about earning your speed. Mastering the game’s controls and mechanics, as well as the Sonic franchise’s unique momentum based pinball physics would reward the player with incredible moments of speed.
Sonic Unleashed takes the concept of speed as a reward, and applies it in a brand new way. Sonic’s boost ability rockets him to top speed in an instant, but the challenge this time around is being able to keep that speed for the duration of the level.
Sonic Unleashed manifests itself like a racing game, and to borrow a term from TSSZ writer BlazeHedgehog, it feels like a “racing platformer”, right down to Sonic’s secondary abilities such as the drift and quick step.
Levels are littered with obstacles to stop Sonic dead in his tracks. Enemies, fire traps, spikes, springs that misdirect you, quick step challenges, having to drift around tight corners, all of these things and more keep the player engaged as they attempt to flawlessly dash through the beautiful locales the game has to offer.
The game perfectly nails the arcade-y feel that Sega is known for. I love chasing high scores and attempting to beat my own best times, and doing it in Sonic Unleashed feels so darn satisfying.
I actually believe that Sonic Generations is, overall, a better game than Sonic Unleashed, as well as the right direction for the Modern Sonic boost gameplay style. It improves Sonic’s control, adds in platforming challenges that mesh well with the high speed gameplay and scales back on the difficulty present in Unleashed.
Having said that, Sonic Unleashed is my prefered game almost entirely because of the higher difficulty. It’s a game that forces you to master its mechanics if you want to have any real fun, and though this may be offputting to many players, it really appeals to someone like me.
I love that feeling of getting your teeth kicked in by a level on your first time playing, only to return to it later on with a better grasp on how to play. This makes Unleashed a deeply rewarding game to play, and is the main reason why I still enjoy it almost a decade later.
Sonic Unleashed is a flawed game, and of that there is no doubt, but the high points of the game are some of the most fun I’ve ever had in any video game. Every inch of this game feels like it was made by people who wanted to make it, who wanted to make a revolutionary Sonic the Hedgehog game, and I can’t commend Sonic Team enough for this.
No matter what bad times the series may go through, and even if I never get to play an amazing 3d Sonic game ever again, I’ll always be able to pick up Sonic Unleashed and have a great time. I’ve been playing it for nearly a decade, and I hope to play it for many more years to come.