At this year's E3 Sonic the Hedgehog made his first publicly playable next-gen appearance. I managed to get a solid half-hour of hands-on time, and things are definitely looking up for the blue hedgehog.
First off, this game is no Sonic Riders (thank goodness), nor is it anything like Shadow the Hedgehog (another awful use of the Sonic license). Sonic the Hedgehog is instead aspiring to be like its early predecessors, with insane speeds, creative level designs and unique boss battles. It's Sonic Adventure, minus the boring filler in-between levels.
That's not to say that there won't be any story (though I'd be just as happy without one), but expect much more of an emphasis on getting from point A to point B in the fastest time possible, much like in the 16 bit era. You'll find multiple paths to take, alternate characters to play as, and plenty of enemies to take out along the way.
The first of two playable stages in the demo placed Sonic on the top of a series of mountains, filled with grassy plains and waterfalls, all of which were bathed in gorgeous rays of sunlight.
You begin by navigating through narrow pathways, leaping across giant chasms, avoiding bridges that collapse when you come near them, and jumping from enemy to enemy in order to reach the next portion of the stage. You'll notice that Sonic has two major attacks now; the first of which has the blue hedgehog sliding through multiple opponents, while the second is the classic jump attack. All you have to do is jump in the air, land on the target and voila, that's one less robot to worry about. Like I mentioned above, this technique was used quite a bit in the first stage to cross a number of chasms. By jumping on one enemy, you have a split second to aim Sonic at the next, press X and take it out as well. In theory, if there were enough targets lined up, you could travel the length of an entire level without touching the ground at all, though the level I played only allowed Sonic to string five or six attacks together at once.
Aside from your usual lifts, moving platforms and boxes filled with hidden goodies, the coolest part of the level by far was the slipstream - a flowing bridge of water that connected two hillsides together. All you had to do was run up to it, jump, and you were off, riding the wave to the next portion of the level. Another great part had Sonic sliding across a series of connecting rails on his shoes, in similar vein to the last level in Sonic Adventure 2. And while this was the most exciting route, I counted at least two other pathways to choose from, one of which makes use of the game's numerous booster pads to launch Sonic from one bridge to the next.
The second and final level in the demo showcased a new addition to the series' roster: Silver the Hedgehog. He's everything Sonic is, but, well, Silver. Oh, and he has the power to move things with his mind.
This time, instead of lush, sun-drenched backdrops like in the previous level, Silver's stage takes place in what appears to be the aftermath of a large-scale war. Wrecked and abandoned cars litter the streets; the sky looks like something straight out of Oblivion, and it includes a number of buildings that have seen better days.
Instead of speeding through the level, Silver must instead make use of his telekinetic powers to lift objects and progress through the level. Scattered throughout the stage were plenty of boulders needing to be moved and dozens of cars that I used to hurl at enemies from a far. Silver's stage was much slower than Sonic's, but still offered plenty of exciting moments and was 10,000 times more fun than trying to find those damn Emerald shards with Knuckles in Sonic Adventure 2.
While I might be a little apprehensive about multiple playable characters being in the game - after all, who would ever want to play as Big again, yuck - Silver's stage was enjoyable and should offer a refreshing change of pace after the 300 miles-per-hour Sonic stages.
With smooth controls, breakneck speeds, and telekinetic goodness, Sonic's latest adventure could finally be the 3D incarnation of the series we've all been waiting for. Check back for more on this one as it becomes available.