Every time we see that famous, blue, spiky-haired hedgehog, our minds drift back to the bygone era of the Sega Megadrive. Those simpler times of 2D graphics… and pizzas, empty beer cans and over-full ashtrays; our student days of playing Sonic over and over again for eight hour stretches instead of going to lectures on philosophy of the mind.
All these years later, Sonic is the hedgehog who refuses to become road-kill, and he’s now back on the Xbox 360 in high definition glory. This is a good looking 3D platformer, but most importantly it doesn’t let the frame rate dip too much, so that sense of blazing around and bouncing into all sorts of mad jumps isn’t lost.
It’s the classic Sonic recipe in many respects – collect the rings, jump on the baddies, run around loop-the-loops at 250mph – but Sega has tried to do something a little different with the staging of the game. Between levels there’s a town you run around, picking up the back-story (such as the paper-thin plot is), completing the odd side mission and purchasing upgrades for your character from the shop.
There are three hedgehog characters you play in total: Sonic, Shadow and Silver. The gameplay varies considerably between them: Sonic does the usual speeding and jumping around like a maniac, Shadow plays a more combat-heavy game, including driving vehicles, and Silver has some very cool telekinetic powers. On top of this, supporting characters from previous Sonic games make an appearance, such as Tails and Knuckles.
Further adding to the diversity of Sonic, there’s a number of different types of level to experience. The standard missions form the core of the game and these are sprawling levels over which you pursue your dastardly enemy Dr Eggman, but there are also the aforementioned side missions, as well as boss levels and speed stages.
The side missions are compact affairs in which you’re challenged to complete a simple task, such as taking on an army of robots invading town. Speed stages are like a super-fast race game: you just steer left and right, dodging objects and making massive jumps. It’s enjoyable, if rather harsh at times. The boss battles are impressive too, with some mighty beasts to fight and interesting tactics involved in taking them down.
There’s definitely some entertaining platforming action to be had here, and a two player, split-screen, co-op option to boot, but the fun is dampened by a couple of issues. When you bring a platformer into 3D, camera problems are always a danger, and they’re certainly a thorn in Sonic’s already prickly backside.
Sometimes the camera doesn’t behave itself and spins around as you’re in the middle of a tricky jump over a ravine, so suddenly you can’t see where you’re going to land and end up plunging to your death. And at other times, despite adjusting the angle manually, you can’t actually get the camera to pan around to where you want to look. It’s just plain awkward, and the rather sensitive controls add to the frustration at times.
A frustration which is further spiced up when a lack of in-level saves is thrown into the cauldron. While there are auto-save points at occasional intervals, you’ll still find yourself redoing the same sections over and over. And over again. It could be argued that this has always been part of the Sonic challenge, though, and perhaps we should be grateful that there are any saves at all. Not like the original, where you had to start the entire game over each time (and fail your philosophy of mind module the next day).