As with all reviews, they do contain spoilers. This review covers the entire plot of Sonic Unleashed - so if you don't want to be entirely spoiled miss the fourth paragraph.
In recent days, Sonic the Hedgehog has fallen on hard times, with almost all 3D iterations of the franchise being met with universal disappointment. There have been some brilliant 2D games, but the home-console versions have always been nothing but lacklustre. The last really solid Sonic game was on the Nintendo Gamecube, with Sonic Adventure Battle 2. Sonic Unleashed takes Sonic in an unfamiliar direction: a solid 3D Sonic title.
Sonic Unleashed opens to the finale of an untold Sonic story, which shows our hero confronting his evil rival, Doctor Eggman and bounding around a fleet of spaceships to attempt to stop him. However, Eggman manages to trap Sonic in a powerful ray and whilst Sonic is in Super Sonic mode Eggman uses the power of the ray to disrupt the Chaos Emeralds. After disrupting said Chaos Emeralds, he then utilises their power to awaken a powerful beast: Dark Gaia from the centre of the Earth, thus splitting the world into a series of plates.
Whilst this happens, Sonic is sent flying down to the planet below, and as a direct result of the interference of Eggman, Sonic's had some form of mutation that transforms him from his standard Sonic appearance into a Werehog during the night. Once he's crash landed he bumps into a creature named Chip who has lost his memory, but Sonic and him pair up and start to look for ways to repair the planet.
They meet up with the usual suspects in the way of Amy Rose and Tails to prevent Sonic from changing at night, and in the process repairing the fractured world. Various characters are met along the way and more of the history around the Dark Gaia is unveiled; however, at no point is there a mention of Light Gaia until six of the seven continents are returned to normal. At which point Chip regains his memory and realises he is Light Gaia. The team end up saving the world, and Sonic is cured of his unwanted ability when they go to fight Eggman and the Dark Gaia.
This somewhat typical storyline has very little substance to it, and the fact that Sonic meets a character that ends up aiding him to save the world is incredibly clichéd. However, as with most Sonic games the storyline is little more than fodder to keep players moving onto the next part of the game with some explanation. Long gone are the days where Sonic games could simply just move onto the next zone.
Speaking of which, when playing as Sonic, the zones are short. This is due to the fact that Sonic's speed has increased dramatically, unfortunately the length of the levels have not been increased to compensate for this. It's as if the levels are over as they've just begun. This unfulfilling experience makes playing as the Werehog even less enjoyable, as they are too long.
In comparison to the Sonic zones, the Werehog zones feel slow and tired. The same basic mechanic of gameplay is used in all of the levels, and running through the towns at night may have their advantages - it's just they're not that fun. Trying to make Sonic Zelda simply doesn't work and the Werehog parts of the game show this unfortunately. With simple tasks that require more backtracking than necessary, the Werehog zones are too long and tedious.
Even if some of the zones are tedious, and the Sonic levels too short, they all look beautiful. Although it's clear that the opening introduction to the game is not actually in-game footage but CGI scenes, they look easily movie worthy. The actual in-game graphics naturally aren't as good as the CGI scenes, but at all times the characters are distinct and visible. The character design is pretty much standard Sonic fare: basic but colourful; however, it's the background scenes that make the game stand out. They're brilliantly made, with the ocean shimmering very naturally, and the sky, be it day or night, looking almost real.
One of the biggest flaws of Sonic Unleashed in other formats has been rectified on the Wii. Between zones Sonic and the Werehog have to interact with characters in the towns. In other formats this has been done in a similar way to Mario or Zelda titles where there's a fair sized overworld screen with characters to talk to. Fortunately this isn't really a problem in Unleashed as the towns are similar to old "point-and-click" adventures where a few basic images discuss elements of the town to the player.
This is beneficial as it speeds up the transition between zones, but feels entirely unnecessary as there's little point for them existing aside from pushing on the weak storyline. Although we've been spared the large overworld there's still too much fluff that is simply not needed.
Fortunately the controls are intuitive and with either Sonic or the Werehog the Wii Remote is precise. There is some Wii-Waggle, such as climbing up polls or jumping from ledges to ledges, but this is mostly kept to the Werehog zones leaving the Sonic zones unspoiled. The accuracy of the controller is spot-on, keeping additional waggles to the minimum.
Final Verdict - 7/10
Sonic Unleashed is certainly a step forward for the Sonic franchise, with great graphics, intuitive controls, a fairly grabbing premise and great level design. Unfortunately, it's marred by the concept of the Werehog. Sonic simply need to continue this trend of returning to it's grass roots and before long we'll be getting 9 and 10/10 Sonic games again.