With only a week to go until the next generation Sonic title hits the UK and Europe, we were keen to see the game in action in its complete glory. So we trotted to SEGA’s headquarters and asked for an advance test of Sonic’s new adventure. Luckily they said yes, otherwise it would have been a bit of a waste of 15 quid.
As a precursor to our ‘Countdown to Next Gen’ week (kicking off on Monday), we thought we’d give you a quick rundown of what happens right at the start of the game. The opening sequence runs very similarly to the many preview trailers we’ve seen before – Princess Elise of Soleanna is about to celebrate her country’s festival when Dr. Eggman rains on her parade. Literally. With missiles.
Elise seems to get these visions where her homeland is in ruins and flames, as during the intro she has a bit of a zone out. When Sonic gatecrashes Eggman’s… gatecrashing, the princess sees Silver within the blue blur for a split second. After an impressively characteristic rescue, the belligerent Doc heads the hero off at the pass (so to speak) and nabs Elise – who chucks a Chaos Emerald to Sonic as she is dragged into the Egg Carrier.
And thus introducing us to the game, with the first thing you see being a town stage not unlike Sonic Adventure-esque Station Square. Think of a cross between SA1 and Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Island and you’re pretty much there. There are plenty of people milling about, and you can chat to a hell of a lot more NPCs this time around – colour coded to show whether they’re just spouting rubbish, have a clue pertaining to the next stage or want you to undergo a side quest.
You don’t get much of a chance at the start though, for just ahead people talk of a two tailed fox running about. It can only be Tails, as the hyperactive furry convinces Sonic to have him tag along. First impressions of the character models and animations are very good – it seems after an age of Sonic being quite the cardboard cutout, his personality (as well as all the other characters) is finally nailed in this game.
To get to the first real Action Stage, Wave Ocean, we need to reacquaint ourselves with an old friend – the Light Dash technique. We realised that moves aren’t given to us right away – using rings we collect in the stages we have to buy additional manouevres. Sonic, according to the manual, can equip different ‘gems’ to his sneakers to perform unique actions using the Right Trigger.
As we’re poor, we’re left with accepting an old man’s plea for help in testing some new shoes in the town. Contrary to popular belief, the side quests you can find are quite varied in their range and don’t involve “Fed-Ex”ing yourself from NPC to NPC at all. We were tested to run through a set of rings within a time limit – upon completion we were given a ranking and a stack of rings that corresponded as a reward for our grade. Using this dosh, we bought the Light Dash move and entered Wave Ocean by way of a warp mirror. Because Soleanna’s weird like that.
Wave Ocean you would have seen many times before in screenshots and videos, so we won’t bore you with how it looks, because you’ll already know it’s pretty much an Emerald Coast-a-like. Upon running through loop-de-loops, Sonic will end up ‘surfing’ (or whatever the hell it is he’s doing) across the water, which looks a bit freaky (as it’s using his grind animation) but pretty cool.
Control wise, the inertia is strange to get used to, but is in actual fact pretty perfect – it’s not too fast and slippery like Shadow the Hedgehog, and it’s not too slow. Granted, the hedgehog’s movements appear much slower than usual, but the same inertia level can be compared with the original Sonic the Hedgehog on Mega Drive; when moving from standstill he doesn’t make much of a dash but can get to a pretty decent speed when he hits full pelt.
Homing attacks have been changed so it’s not quite so ‘cheap’ – you can’t just hammer the A Button anymore, instead you must hit the button again when Sonic has reached his peak height from the last attack. Sounds all too weird at first but you start to get a rhythm for it soon enough.
The levels appear to be split in stages, seperated by short loading times, akin to Sonic Adventure, and a later section sees you dashing through the water noticing a massive whale. You then get to do the inevitable, and dash through beach boardwalks all over again with the monstrous mammal chasing you. After a while, Sonic grabs onto the whale and yells at Tails to help him out. At this stage, you control Tails in an attempt to hit a switch to close the water gate. It’s an idea that works much much better than in Sonic Heroes, and the fact you play as them individually means controls aren’t too much different.
In fact, Tails is pretty much damn near perfect. He’s slower than Sonic, as you’d imagine, but his speed is increased when he flies (because he’s a fast flyer obviously). Controlling his flying can be a bit of a nightmare when trying to land precisely on a boardwalk strip, which we can see being a bit of a nuisance later in the game.
The main difference is in the attack, where Tails has fake item box bombs to lob at enemies instead of a hand-to-hand move. Hold down the X Button and you can aim your shot, but because there’s no aim sight and the camera auto-aligns every time you lob a box this way, it can be bloody annoying if you go to first person mode and actually miss your enemy.
After Tails helps with the water gate, Sonic makes a dash for the Egg Carrier in a “mach speed” stage, which has to be just about the most exhilirating (and hilarious) part of the game we’ve seen yet. Sort of like the upcoming Sonic and the Secret Rings, you don’t control Sonic’s forward movement – he’s constantly running you see. You have to instead move him left and right to avoid obstacles and reach the goal marker.
Because this part is so much faster than the rest of the level, it can take you by surprise – especially when you hit a wall or you jump and realise you’ve flung yourself into the ocean. Always results in a funny spin-death animation by Sonic when that happens. It took us several tries to complete, and we can see it getting frustrating if it gets too persistent, but in small doses the feature is great fun.
Overall, first impressions are fair. It does seem like a mixture of Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, and that will in no way disappoint some fans out there. We had a few control issues with Sonic, and at times we had instances where Sonic wasn’t meeting the boosters and he instead fell to his death. Annoying, that. But for the most part it was very enjoyable. Time will tell whether minor niggles occurring now will prove to be a big pain in the arse later on – you’ll just have to wait for our review for that won’t you?
Sonic the Hedgehog has a hell of a lot of throwbacks though, the majority of which we won’t spoil for you – yet (or rather might in the General Information section, but you can choose to ignore that). The music is back with a vengeance (in a very good way) and we can safely say the first few hours of play holds a distinctly interesting experience.