Sonic the Hedgehog
For those of us who are old enough, there was a time in our lives when we were able to sit down, switch on our beloved 16-bit Sega console and get straight into some super-fast side scrolling action of the nostalgically blocky variety. I'm of course referring to Sonic the Hedgehog - celebrating his 15th anniversary this year in what would seem at first glance to be a next-gen version of the original game he starred in. When Sonic the Hedgehog first dashed onto the videogame scene in the early 90's, the game was embraced for its never seen before ultra-fast style of gameplay, superior sprites and, of course, the "dude with the 'tude". The new version of Sonic the Hedgehog is no different and instead of being an updated re-release this is a brand new direction for Sonic in several ways.
The story for the game sees the usual villain Dr. Eggman in another bid to gain world domination. This time he's trying to use the dastardly 'flames of disaster' which, of course, wouldn't be possible without all seven chaos emeralds - one of which is in the possession of the Princess of Soleanna where the game starts. Sonic, Shadow and Silver the Hedgehog are the only playable characters this time round, which may come as a relief to some fans of the series, with the Sonic Team sometimes adding other irrelevant characters.
Each hedgehog plays a different role in the story, and as such has a different style of gameplay, from the information released since E3 it seems that Sonic will retain his role as the fastest of the characters. With Sonic games the sensation of speed is like an art form, and this time I think they've created a masterpiece. When Sonic runs there are four variations of how fast Sonic goes, from walking, jogging, running and sprinting depending on how much you move the analogue stick. When sprinting engages you really have to have your wits about you as you move faster than speedy gonzales after twenty cups of coffee. The level design has improved vastly and much of this is down to a brand new physics engine that has allowed Sonic to be mobile in more areas of a level than ever. Gravity can be defied with enough speed allowing Sonic to run on practically any surface and so far the camera work looks to be quite solid, which is unusual as that's one thing that Sonic games have problems with on occasion.
We've seen little of Shadow so far, but he will be able to operate a variety of vehicles that have been resurrected from his own spinoff - Shadow the Hedgehog. It seems the vehicles in Shadow's story are optional, perhaps only needed to progress through certain points of a level. Other than that Shadow may share a similar style of play to Sonic; as he will be able to cruise through various levels on foot too.
Silver is the most unique character in the game, supposedly from the future, he has come back to prevent something known as the Iblis trigger (Devil trigger to you and me) from happening. Unlike hedgehogs of present day that utilise speed, Silver has a form of telekinesis allowing him to move almost any object with ease. So if you're looking for an experience that doesn't melt your eyeballs from the sensation of speed, Silver is a good alternative choice. The pace is slower, almost that of a puzzle game, requiring you to think your way through a difficult scenario in order to complete the level.
It has been confirmed that all three hedgehogs will be crossing each others paths throughout the game as well as a few other characters making an appearance. Alongside the action stages that our hedgehogs will take part in, there are also town stages for them to explore too. Similar to the 'hub' areas from Sonic Adventure they slow down the pace of the game, allowing you to explore the area, interact with humans and even find a few upgrades to help you through the story.
Graphically the game is looking rich in detail and pretty much the best looking platformer that the next-gen has seen so far. The Sonic Team really have started from scratch this time, with even the character models built from the ground up to look realistic in comparison to the humans that also feature in the game. A lot of effort has gone into making the game feel realistic and crossing fiction into reality successfully, and even the cut scenes are looking fantastic and show off the attitude that made Sonic who he is today.
With a next generation game a new soundtrack is in order, with regulars Crush 40 having less of an influence. Instead, Ali Tabatabaae and Matty Lewis from the band Zebrahead have been drafted in to help create the soundtrack with the main theme incorporating a mix of classical, rock and punk genres from first glance. Usually Sonic games try to retain a few sound effects from previous games and try to incorporate a few new ones; this game is no different with the exception that they may have actually got the balance right this time. A number of sound effects from material released so far show a lot of older sound effects from the series whilst incorporating some newer ones to tie in with gameplay.
If there's one thing that can really let a Sonic game down, it is its longevity. Largely because there's rarely a good multiplayer mode offered and whilst you can usually find a 2 player mode, I think what Sonic fans are really crying out for is online play - how great would eight online hedgehogs running like crazy to get to the finish line be, boys and girls? But seriously, Sonic games need a little more spicing up with regards to multiplayer fun; fans are tiring of playing Sonic by themselves because most of the Sonic community is spread out across the world and now educated about the joys of online. With reference to the gameplay, there's going to be three different storylines and gameplay modes to play through, and provided the stories are intriguing enough and that levels can be replayed with new challenges, the game will provide plenty of fun for any gamer regardless.
With the re-invention of Sonic the Hedgehog for next-generation consoles, Sega will be hoping to broaden the audience subscribing to the cult of the blue one; providing a game that looks absolutely stunning and provides an intriguing story. My main concern is that the game should simply not end up having the same old plot we're used to, and to provide something that will keep gamers coming back to play more through expanded missions or online gameplay (if it happens).
The next-generation of Sonic the Hedgehog is close to release now (November) and is looking and as far as we can tell playing, superbly, with what looks like a good story for once. We will find out soon enough if Sega can deliver the revitalisation fans are hoping for.