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SEGA's own adopted mascot has been around for almost 20 years. A long amount of time to be around and remain popular in the world of games, SEGA's Sonic Team continue to develop new Sonic gaems to maintain the character's popularity and bring him to new audiences of gameplayers. However, the last few entries in the Sonic franchise have been lacklustre to say the least. Does Sonic Unleashed repair any of the slack from the recent additions to SEGA's favourite mascot's library or does it contribute to Sonic's descent into mediocrity? Read on to find out.

The game starts out with Sonic battling Robotnik once again with the usual bakc-and-forth that takes place between them. Robotnik then captures Sonic in one of his contraptions and uses the power of 'Dark Gaia' (the new enemy force in the game) to inflict an ailment on the beloved blue hedgehog, that of him turning into a werehedgehog (persever with me here). It is from here that the game starts as you try to find a cure for Sonic's affliction as you progres through the game.

It is quickly established within the opening hour of the game that you will play through the stages as both the recognisable blue Sonic (through the day) and as his werehedgehog variant through the night. Players familiar with the previous Sonic games will be right at home with the day stages as Sonic speeds through at breakneck speed. It makes the game as exhilarating to see as it is to play and the many different environments are represented well, solidly and there are little to no issues of slowdown which is great given how quickly the stages fly by. However, this is only half of the game and the other half may just be the poorer part of the main game.

Given that Sonic is all meant to about speedy play, it comes as a little bit of a shock and a warning sign when playing the werehedgehog sesctions. Although Sonic Team have tried to add variety to this by giving him lots of moves to use, the major problem comes from how long it takes to get through the werehedgehog stages. Compared to the day stages that take a maximum of 10 minutes to play through, the night stages can last and average 45 minutes to an hour in length. This causes a massive inbalance in gameplay as you spend most of your time on the night stages, fighting groups of enemies every ten steps and trying to get to the end of the stage as quickly as possible so that you get into the day stages again and have some fun!

It saddens me to say this as Sonic games have been enjoyable and great for many years. However, nostalgia can not cloud over Sonic team's lack of attention to this inbalance and realise that fans of Sonic games want a game that consists only of fast levels. It seems counter to the history of Sonic that he is fighting as a werehedgehog in a cutesy version of Devil May Cry and collecting emblems to open up new areas in the game (which is another way of artificially lengthening play time and increasing frustration as well). It also seems typical of Sonic Team to take an initially good idea (i.e the speedy levels of the game) and dilute it with another idea that just does not work that well when implemented in a Sonic game.

Players may also become frustrated with the game's controls. Although the basic controls behave as they are supposed to, in the fast stages this only serves to frustrate the player as due to the speed you go through the stages in certain sections it seems like the controls can not keep up. This in unacceptable in a game where responsive controls are pivotal to the game being playable or not and never seemed to be an issue in older Sonic games. Again it seems a shame as the night stages have perfectly responsive controls (but then those stages have their own issues due to oversensitivity when trying to tiptoe along thin paths).

Add to this the game's story which admittedly for a game aimed at kids can not be expected to be high literature it ticks all the boxes for being a straight forward tale of triumpth, friendship and good versus evil. Sonic games should be about powering through the stages one after another with flashy set pieces and it seems more a product of today's game market that a story has been added to a franchise that has a quality heritage due to the older games not having extra unnecessary padding.

In closing, it is unfortunate to have to rate Sonic Unleashed as average. It looks and flows great, the music is nice and the fast stages are really enjoyable. However, the night stages take too long, the werehedgehog combat is too lengthy, collecting emblems is a chore and it makes the game unbalanced as a result. Next time Sonic team, keep Sonic as he should be please (fast!)

(N.B At the time this was originally written Sonic 4 had not been announced so I am aware that the parting comments may be less justified now but hopefully the newest Sonic will answer this long awaited plea).

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