TOKYO--Sonic Unleashed, aka Sonic World Adventure in Japan, is on hand at Sega's Tokyo Game Show booth and is flanked by a roaming werehog. The ferocious-looking creature is the alter ego of the speedy hedgehog in the upcoming game. We got hold of a controller and set out to discover just what Sonic's latest adventure holds.
The TGS demo offered two playable stages, set at different times of the day, to showcase the two distinct gameplay styles in the game. The day stage is set on the Greek isle of Mikonos and finds the Sonic we know and love tearing through the streets at blistering speed. The level is essentially what we've seen demoed before, but this is the first time we've been able to play it. What we like right now is the dizzying sense of speed that makes you feel as if you're just barely in control as you whizz around at high velocities. There's a satisfying, frenetic vibe during the segments as you tear through the town. Besides running through town, avoiding obstacles, and dealing with jump opportunities as you guide Sonic to the goal, you'll have to match onscreen button prompts and keep Sonic properly positioned as he tears through close quarters. The fast-paced button mashing during the racing sequences keeps things hectic but pleasant.
The second level, a night stage, is also set on Mikonos and provides a dramatic change of pace as you control Sonic in his werehog form. The new form isn't big on speed and relies more on melee with his powerful arms. As it happens, there are plenty of targets that litter Mikonos when the lights get low. It looks like there's more puzzle solving to the werehog levels. For example, you'll have to clear enemies or find items to unlock the way forward, which makes for different level pacing. There's definitely some satisfaction from smacking around mobs of enemies, beat-'em-up style, but we wish there were a few more moves or combos in the demo.
The game's control scheme is about as accessible as all the Sonic games have been. You really just have to worry about jumping, attacking, and steering Sonic on the right path during the daytime levels. The night levels are slower and are more conventional since you're exploring, beating up enemies, and doing a bit of platforming.
The visuals in the game are coming together nicely. The game sports a new graphics engine, dubbed the hedgehog engine by the team, which is pumping out sharp visuals. Sonic is looking good, though pretty different when he's in werehog form, and he animates well. The environments vary in quality depending on the gameplay of a level. The daytime level looked good but featured only a modest amount of detail, which is fine considering how fast you fly by things. Sonic's sense of speed is called out with motion blur and a variety of different screen effects. Most importantly, the camera stays lively and zooms in and out during the action, offering a 2D feel to many of the sections in the level. The night levels are considerably slower and feature much more detail to accommodate the different style of gameplay. The camera doesn't change up much, although it can get itself in some weird angles.
Based on what we played, Sonic Unleashed definitely has potential. The daytime levels have a good feel to them, and the action stays fast. The night levels have a very different feel to them that's a bit jarring. We'll need to put some more time in with them because at the moment we're not totally sold on this werehog business, given how much it breaks up the flow of things, but we'll see. Sonic fans will want to keep an eye out for Sonic Unleashed when it ships later this year.