Within this tired hedgehog beats the heart of a low-res werewolf

Sonic Unleashed (2008)

Alright, are you a day bird or a night owl? I’ve always been a creature of the night for various reasons, most of them either vain or alcoholic in nature. Let’s talk about my day disadvantages – first of all, I work during the day, and when you get to the dead of winter, then daylight hours are consumed by work entirely. I have before threatened to go full Travis Bickle and go cabbing at night-time, but I’d probably just get wound up too much by 200 decibel hen parties and end up on a murderous rampage. You sort of want to avoid that kind of thing, if you care about your social status.

Even on your weekends off, the daylight hours are a pain. The Saturday afternoon is just preamble, waiting to go gargling, or out to dinner if you have a bit of maturity. You might even have to spend the day visiting family or doing some other non-productive task. Meanwhile the Sunday day is usually spent nursing a dreadful hangover. And if you’ve ever had to go somewhere or make a public appearance with a stonking hangover, you’ll know how much you want to die.

You can times this death wish by ten if you’re out in public and it’s 30 degree weather. My skin colour isn’t too far off triple 255s on the old RGB scale, which means any hint of sunshine and I’m gonna suffer. I’ve never had a tan in me loife. Some severe reddening, yes. A lobstering of the skin, a boiling of the pores. But never a tan, and therefore never a cause to be out there in the sun. It’s great for an all day session in the local beer garden though, I will concede that.

But think about what the night has to offer. In the first instance, everyone looks better at night-time. People, and worse still their cameras, can catch my curves during the day. At night-time or under dark nightclub lighting, my podginess is a lot more concealed. That’s why you’ll rarely see me without my thick black drinking coat.

And on that note, what better fun than a night out? Well, to some people, a day out is better, which is fair enough. But let’s face it, the best memories are made at night-time, even if you won’t always remember them. New venues ventured, new bookings booked, new partners parted.

And it’s not just all booze and slap and tickle with me either, because night time is also the perfect setting for an introvert. Indeed, it could be the only time of the day that you truly have to yourself. How many hours, or full nights, have I spent sat in a room, the only one awake, at three in the morning, staring at the walls and angsting? Sounds depressing, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

I’ve taken you from the heady heights of alcoholism to the dizzying whirlwind of introspective depression, but fear not – I can do cosy nights in as well, and even a cup of tea or a Coke Zero will do me in fine stead. Then you can get properly stuck into a new video game until way past your bedtime, when the sun begins to break the day again and you take that as your cue to retreat back to bed, away from the new day and her harshness.

Of course I’m aware that night-time is when the nutters come out and the murders, assaults, rapes and muggings happen. I advise you to counter this by living and socialising strictly in high-rent, high-class establishments, and maybe having a top-drawer manservant, like Butler from Artemis Fowl. That should save you from all but the hairiest of situations.

But you’re still odds on to witness or even partake in a scrap when you’re out and about in times of darkness, so it pays to be able to fight back. You might even have to descend to the level of a beast, like the otherwise gentlemanly Sonic in Sonic Unleashed, another desperate roll of the 3D Sonic dice from Sega, specifically intended to clean up the mess left behind by Sonic 06.

Actually this is a game with two distinct versions, one for WiiS2 and the other for PS360. By all accounts the Wii version is actually better, although not by much. I was saddled with the PS3 variant, also the home of Sonic 06, and sometimes I wonder which of the two is truly worse. I’d have to say that Sonic Unleashed starts off with a brilliant series of cutscenes, pretty beautiful and action-packed, and far away from the Final Fantasy nonsense of Sonic 06. Obviously the story scenes in 3D Sonic games tend to be mutilating anyway, and Sonic’s eyes get a little messed up, but the intro cutscenes set the game up well. In the midst of all this, by the way, Sonic becomes a werewolf.

This is where it all goes a bit pear-shaped, unfortunately. Jesus, you couldn’t even get five lousy minutes out of Sonic games around this time. We’re on PS3 hardware, but you wouldn’t believe the choppiness and low-res model of the werewolf that populates the cutscenes alongside the latest and most annoying helper character that’ll have you crying out for Omochao.

After that, you’re caught in a hub world that, while it looks pretty, and might remind you of sunny Santorini, kills your interest when the characters you interact with remind you of a Pixar film. They could have been cute in some colourful JRPG, but why is Sonic going around talking to these human muppets?

And if you don’t think the game will make you seek out and talk nonsense with some nameless character who’s near-impossible to find, then you’re giving way too much credit to whichever clowns were running and developing for Sega at the time.

The gimmick this time is that you’ve got day and night levels. During the day, you play as Sonic, Modern Sonic, which is a kaleidoscope of colour where you can barely tell what’s going on, but you just know you’ll need to hold up on the analogue stick, and jump and homing attack every so often, and strangely they weren’t mapped to the same button. Your biggest enemy here is those tutorial bubbles that actually stop you dead in your tracks to tell you something painfully obvious. Were they too scared to question the stupid questions at Sega or something?

Anyway, those are the day stages. A bit mediocre, middling, inoffensive really. The kind of dirge that typified 3D Sonic. But then night falls, and the quality difference goes with it. It really does become night and day. Now Sonic is in the werewolf form that nobody asked for, and the action slows right down to become a button-bashing beat ‘em up, more God of War than Sonic.

OK, mightn’t sound too bad actually. But even if you’d find that tolerable, what about the dreadful animations, the combat that redefines clunky, and a framerate that slows to such a crawl that you’d be faster drawing each frame yourself by hand. Not to mention a battle theme that restarts fifty times a level.

That’s all vomit-inducing enough, and again I remind you that I’m talking PS3 power here. But probably the worst is the length of these crass levels. The first one cost me 22 minutes of my life, not including those times I got beaten to death, or fell into a chasm with a werewolvish scream that sounded unsettlingly close to being genuine, like the voice actor was a huge Sonic fan who’d just been told that the latest Sonic game was another bust.

22 minutes?! Leave it out, the old Mega Drive games used to bounce you out after 10 minutes, and that was only if you got caught up in the Casino Night slot machines. Life’s too short, and so are the days. This is a game that doesn’t get either day or night right at all, leaving it stuck, ugly and broken between the two. I diagnose Sonic with a bad case of the shouldas – shoulda stayed 2D, shoulda stayed as a hedgehog and shoulda never been unleashed.

20 January 2023

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