The Long Leash

So as most have probably heard at some point or another if they are into games, Sega recently released its newest game in its long run Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Sonic Unleashed is Sega's newest attempt to make the public enjoy Sonic like it used to and bring back a measure of Sonic's credibility after 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog for X-box 360, a series that was supposed to re-invigorate the series but came closer to guillotining it, shaming the series with appallingly bad gameplay, controls, visuals and load times that were the exact opposite of 'sonic'. We nicknamed the game Sonic the Loadhog in my home.

Anyway, Sega's newest rebirth of the Sonic series is out and with it raises the topic of this weeks belated post, not as a review of the game, but more of what

Now I'll be the first to admit I don't actually own the game yet. I'm a college student, and 50 bucks right now isn't justifiable. Maybe 40 (hint hint Sega and Co.)bucks, but otherwise I'll just see if it becomes a Christmas gift. But in any case, most of what is said here about Sonic Unleashed has been gleamed from reviews of the game and my initial impressions of the many gameplay videos I downloaded.

My initial reaction to the first videos of Sonic Unleashed was mixed. While the traditional Sonic moments looked a lot like what I had been hoping for in a 3D Sonic game, the werehog scenes left me with an uneasy feeling. The concept isn't bad (have an alter ego character that introduces new elements to the game)but the idea is only sound if several things hold true, and from the sound of what I've heard, they don't.

First of all, unless the game calls for a drastic change in gameplay, you shouldn't give it. As far as Sonic games go, fans want lightning fast action sequences, not a slow plodding battle section

Second, if such a drastic change is neccesary, then it needs to be done well, especially if it fundamentally is the opposite of the main game type. Again, Sonic's werehog form is slow and reminiscent of modern 3D brawlers, but without as much depth or attraction.

I think what is really needed is for Sega to tighten Sonic Team's (the team for developers responsible for the game) leash for a moment and make them focus first on reproducing the original Sonic gameplay fans want in 3D before attempting new unheard of ideas.

Take the jump for Mario from Super Mario World (2D) to Super Mario 64 (3D) for example. What was new in Super Mario 64 compared retroactively to Mario's older adventures? From a game elements standpoint, Mario actually regresses in terms of new gameplay elements. Gone are Yoshi or Luigi, fire flowers and Capes and many of the other staple Mario abilities. Mario didn't even shrink anymore, he stayed one size regardless. Because the real focus of Mario 64 was producing classic, well loved platforming action in 3D first.

Even then, the development team couldn't completely shake the 2D formula's roots, often rotating the camera to the side to replicate 2D movement. But the point is, they focused on making the game work in 3D first before adding any extras. That way, even if the game didn't quite have all the 'cool ideas' the concept had invented, they at least knew it was worth playing.

From that starting point further Mario games jumped forward. Confident in their ability to manage a 3D Mario game, the next in the series, Super Mario Sunshine, added some new elements and brought back old ones like Yoshi. The next after that, Super Mario Galaxy...well, they almost invented the 4D game with their gravity warping gameplay.

Ultimately I think part of Sega's problem is trying to do too much too fast. Rather then make certain they can pull off Sonic gameplay in 3D perfectly before moving on, Sega has jumped the gun, throwing gimmicks and gameplay tweaks into the series long before they had the experience or capacity to do so. Granted, its not the root of the problem, obviously some standards have slipped somewhere along the line (i.e. allowing some of their games to be released, Sega, please fire whoever let Sonic 360 by Quality Assurance) but if only now after 5 previous games is Sega finally getting the Sonic portion of the game right, then something slipped.

If Sega truly wants a smash hit on their hands, they will stop trying to insert new content and focus on providing a completed classic Sonic experience before moving on. A two-faceted mediocre game is nothing next to a one-way flawless gem. Don't set a release date in stone. Present it when it is truly done, and then keep supporting it.

Oh, and firing that QA guy couldn't hurt...

Games I'm currently playing: Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (PC), Chrono Trigger (DS), Halo 3 (360), Gears of War(360), Donkey Kong Country 2(SNES)

1 comment:

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

Personally, I think 3D movement is fine, though I haven't yet played Sonic Unleashed to see what it has to say about it. I think what most people's problem with it is its implementation. A good 3D Sonic game that comes to mind is actually a fan-game, Sonic Robo Blast 2, which pretty much takes the Sonic/Sonic2/Sonic3 formula of level-level-boss, and puts in in a 3D environment. I think Sega could take a hint from these guys and keep it simple.