I feel like I've written the same review numerous times since Sonic went 3D. By now we all know that Sonic hasn't had the best of times since he left the 2D plane and started exploring 3D worlds, and the same is sadly true of his next-gen debut. The problem with Sonic the Hedgehog is that we all wanted it to be a new beginning for the series and to finally show that fast 3D platforming could work. What we've ended up with is an interactive list of reasons why 3D sonic games simply don't work, and the poorest 360 game to date.
The game uses a hub system that is frankly dull and totally pointless. These adventure-like sections ask you to complete trivial tasks and talk to people (actual humans), and as you progress you'll open up Action stages, which are essentially the fast, fairly linear levels we've been 'treated' to over the past few years. You get to play as numerous characters from the Sonic series, including Sonic himself, Tails, Shadow, new boy Silver with his telekinetic powers, and a few others. No matter who you play as though, the game feels unfinished and at times completely broken.
Playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 is like stepping back in time to when 3D was new and developers were struggling to find their way. The camera system and character controls are so outdated they make you wonder if the PlayStation, N64, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox and all the rest actually existed. Either I dreamt the fact that we're now in the third generation of 3D consoles or Sonic Team has been living under a rock for over ten years. As a next-generation game Sonic the Hedgehog is laughable, and somewhat of an embarrassment for SEGA.
The list of problems with the game is long, but I'll point out the worst of the bunch. The game's structure is the first offender. The adventure sections are dull in the extreme, and when you get into an Action stage you'll be continuously punished by the game's use of an archaic 'lives' system. While checkpoints let you continue from mid-way through a level, if you lose all your lives it's back to the last save point. Seeing as the game only auto saves at the end of an action level, you'll often have to replay lengthy sections over and over again.
'Sonic and his pals are about the most awkward characters to control in video game history.'
But why is it so easy to die? It's simple really: Sonic and his pals are about the most awkward characters to control in video game history. They're twitchy, meaning one slight movement of the analogue stick could see you careering into a pit of doom; the camera is auto inverted horizontally, so anyone who can't use this system is stuck with it; the camera gets stuck on objects and continuously gives you awful angles on the action; and vehicle stages are a nightmare, and actually make me wonder how the game got out of testing and onto store shelves.
Playing Sonic the Hedgehog can be kindly described as a struggle, but you'll be calling it much worse after a few minutes. Sonic is fast, but after a speed pad sends you flying to your death for the tenth time as it failed to point you in the direction of the bounce pad you needed to hit, you'll be cursing those super-hedgehog legs of his. Some of the levels are so badly designed that it's not even clear where you're meant to be going, and if you're not careful you'll wander off a cliff edge that was being hidden by the useless camera.
Positives are few and far between. On occasion there are glimpses of what could have been, where Sonic is running at speed, bouncing off things, smashing up robots and generally looking pretty cool, but these sections last for seconds in a game that will take hours to complete. There are moments when the next-gen power shines through and the game looks like something approaching what was expected, but, once again, this isn't all that often, and for the most part the visuals suffer from terrible pop-up, slow down and a lack of detail.
Audio is another area that has its moments, but misses more than it hits. The game's soundtrack isn't bad at all, but things come crashing down when you speak to NPCs in the hub sections. Voice acting for each of these NPCs might have been asking a lot, but the animal-like grunts that you're greeted with are terrible. There are a couple of two-player modes if you simply must play more, and a fair selection of Achievements to earn, but they really aren't worth the hassle.
Sonic fans might be able to stomach some of these issues, but they really shouldn't be tolerated. Sonic has been on a slippery slope for years and SEGA has done nothing about it, and this has culminated in what can only be described as a complete disaster. Coming from SEGA it's hard to believe and even harder to understand, as Sonic used to be 'it' as far as gaming icons were concerned. Now he's been dragged through the mud so many times that it's hard to see him ever finding his former glory.