Saturday, January 24, 2009

Is Sonic Unleashed hardcore?

Play Magazine seems to think so.

Cool, occasionally even fun, retro-inspired daytime segments couldn't save us from the dreadful and numerous God of Werehog nighttime levels.

In the February 2009 issue of the always enthusiastic Play Magazine, an uncredited staff writer discusses the NPDs under the headline "Read it and weep" near the front of the issue. He/she goes on to say, under "The OK news" section,

Arguably the hardest (but ever so rewarding) game of 2008,
Sonic Unleashed [bolding mine], managed to sell 137,000 copies in its first week on sale (US) showing that the enthusiast gamer still has a pulse. Imagine if Sega marketed the game to its core audience rather than children; Sonic might actually break back into the big time. [Play Magazine, February 2009, p. 15]

This rattled me on a few levels, and with all due respect to Play, my nonplussed reaction turned quickly to skepticism.

I had to wonder at first if I'd played the same game as this fellow/gal, as I did not find Sonic Unleashed particularly taxing, but then again, I probably didn't survive the horrid voice acting, endless cutscenes, soul-leeching tutorial, excruciatingly boring town segments, and horrendous God of Werehog levels long enough to get to any challenge*, and the last thought on my mind was anything having to do with the game being "ever so rewarding". About the only reward I felt I'd culled was the knowledge that, thanks to press reviews, I'd only rented the thing instead of spending $50 on it. Taste differences notwithstanding, the second thing that caught me was the assertion that it had been "enthusiast gamer[s]" who'd purchased the title, despite the author of the article's own underscoring of the truth that "Sega market[s] the game...[to] children".

I still get excited when I see the box art. The first Sonic in 3D, the last not to be terrible.

Frankly, I find it likely that Sega marketing Sonic to children all these years is what's kept the franchise afloat since the last decent outing, that being 1999's Sonic Adventure on the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast. It certainly can't be the gameplay that people have been spending money for in the new millennium, because every Sonic game in the last 10 years has been a varying degree of utter disaster.

...I think? Do I need to take a drink/drag/whiff/shot/sniff of whatever this fellow/gal uses before I play a Sonic game in order to enjoy it?

Shane Bettenhausen (ex-EGM and writer, now Director of Business Development at Ignition Entertainment) calls Sonic fans the "battered wives" of gaming who'll keep coming back, time after time, despite the terrible abuse. I've heard him claim it on many a podcast (both Retronauts and the now dead/in transition 1UP Yours); perhaps this Play Magazine scribe is the sort of which he spoke.

If Sega really wanted to do better with Sonic, I think their first step would have to be to make the games cease sucking. That tackled, I'd imagine marketing would fall into place as well. Again, swift marketing is, in my opinion, the only thing that's kept Sonic around, and I don't think those 137,000 copies (likely many more by now) were sold to enthusiasts; they were purchased by parents of daffy, juicebox-drinking little waddlers who don't know any better. Like the hum-drum Harry Potter games I wrote about previously, Sonic seems to be doing quite well for himself, despite magnitudes of gameplay bankruptcy.

Sonic and the Black Knight is the shambling, grunting, reanimated corpse of a once-interesting franchise.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Dave Halverson (whose publications I've read and adored since I discovered GameFan Magazine in the very early '90s as a drugstore rack-browsing youth with a sinus infection waiting for a prescription to be filled) still has the audaciously good attitude to list Sonic and the Black Knight as one of his "most wanted games of 2009". "Battered wives" indeed. He does, at least, point out, in his fairly long (and rather whiny in a grumpy old "gaming is going to hell! back in my day...!" kind of way) 2008 recap that,

The big surprise for me however came by way of Sonic Unleashed. The more I play the new Sonic, the more I want to (but can't) love it. It's so beautiful, but by daytime Sonic is too unruly a beast and by night too lumbering.
[Play Magazine, February 2009, p. 37]

Still, that's more praise than the rest of the game journalist community could muster combined.

"Sonic and his shitty friends," to again quote, for old time's sake, Shane Bettenhausen, a true ex-battered wife.

Jesse Dylan Watson lacks Blast Processing.

*Frankly, I don't think any game could touch Grand Theft Auto IV in the sheer, frustrating, throw your controller and kick your neighbor's dog because you're so angry that you keep dying in the same ridiculously hard car chase with rubber-band AI department.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I felt the last decent Sonic game on a major console was Sonic Adventure 2. It took everything from the first Sonic Adventure, made it prettier, and removed the town-exploration areas. The big problem is that it kept everything else...: Emerald fetch quests and lumbering mech stages.

    I also recall SA1 having more than its fare share of platforming glitches, none of which were fixed when making the port to the GameCube.