BARCELONA, Spain--One of the games on display tonight at Microsoft's post-press-briefing event at X06 is Sonic the Hedgehog. The new entry in the series marks Sonic's next-gen debut and promises an original adventure for the veteran mascot. Our previous looks at the game have offered us brief glimpses at what Sonic Team is promising will be a rich new experience that focuses on Sonic and Silver, a new hedgehog with psychic powers. The demo once again trotted out Sonic and Silver, and it also added Shadow to the mix.
Characters have their own unique play mechanics to give them distinct handling, which were shown to good effect as you ran all three characters through the same level. Your goal was to simply make it through an enemy-infested set of ruins, which required you to get creative with the three characters. When playing as Sonic, the emphasis is on his speed and the ensuing cool moves it makes possible. The veteran hedgehog has all his key moves and makes short work of the foes in his stylish way. Sonic's homing attack and trademark speed are in full effect. Despite Shadow originally appearing to be Sonic's equal in abilities, the ebon hedgehog now has his own unique abilities that are quite different than his debut. Besides skating at high speeds, the hedgehog has special attacks to deal with mechanoids and a powerful special attack that's powered by chaos energy. Newcomer Silver offers a complete change of pace from the speedy hogs by harnessing the power of his mind and using psychokinesis to knock around enemies and warp the environment around him.
The game's control aims to be accessible and does so fairly well, though we've noticed some challenges in the experience. On the plus side, the game's control is intuitively laid out and generally responsive. Of the rough spots, the game's camera can be a handful while in the heat of battle. You can move it around as you play, but the movement isn't as smooth or speedy as we'd hoped. The other noticeable issue is the hedgehog handling in the game. Given everyone's unique handling, the cast can be unwieldy at times, which can be a problem when navigating the various obstacles that you'll encounter, often while moving at high speeds or jumping.
The visuals in the game were looking sharp and continue to improve every time we see them. The trio of hedgehogs looks good and they all move well, with each featuring distinctive animation that lend personality. Sonic powers through levels, Shadow skates, and Silver has a saunter. The same holds true for their abilities, each of which have unique special effects. The environments were spacious, disjointed, MC Escher-esque collections of playable areas that were in keeping with the style of the previous games, but they have been expanded to take advantage of what the 360 can do.
Based on what we played, Sonic the Hedgehog is shaping up to be a unique entry in the series. We haven't seen the playable roster of characters in a Sonic game so active in a good long while. We appreciate the game's attempt to be different than the previous entries in the series, and we're curious to see how these pieces mesh in the final game. To date, we've only seen these action sequences and haven't been able to check out the town levels yet. If all goes according to plan, Sonic the Hedgehog will live up to its potential of reinvigorating the classic franchise for a new set of consoles. Look for more on Sonic the Hedgehog in the months leading up to its November launch.