Most Community Days have been situated at Nintendo’s rather swanky Wii Flat in Central London, but yesterday a troupe of Sonic fans were collectively invited to Sega Europe’s Headquarters in Gunnersbury to have a taste of Sonic Unleashed on Xbox 360, a week before the rest of Europe will get a chance to. Naturally, there were a lot of happy faces around at the mere thought of being in such an illustrious temple, let alone having the chance to play a high-profile Sonic game before release.
A few of the usual suspects were there – myself, T-Bird, Violet, Sonic Yoda, B’man, Fastfeet and Vger were joined by Jemnezmy, Flyboy Fox, Shadz, (DJ) Dan Dyer, Paul Street from TSSZ and some more friendly faces as Kevin kindly took us through the basics of Sonic Unleashed. When Jemnezmy and I arrived, we had just come from Leicester Square, enjoying the treats of the Japan Centre (and scoffing a Bento Box on the train to Gunnersbury, earning a few scornful faces from the people in the carriage) and were therefore a little late, but it was OK as Kevin was showcasing the game in the best way he can. Slowly Thoroughly.
After a briefing on the controls for the Sonic stages, the Werehog stages, what the whole EXP deal was about, the type of levels we may face and a few of the key opening cutscenes, we were all set loose to give the latest Sonic game a spin. Many of us went straight for Werehog action to see how it was like, while others started from the beginning, and a couple decided to blast through Sonic stages to get a feel for the speedy sections.
Difficult as this may seem to grasp to both the classic and modern fanboy – and I will be writing a Preview on Sonic Unleashed which will elaborate on this further – but the general feeling for the game was positive. And we’re talking a group of Sonic fans from all angles and opinions here. It comes from throwing away whatever preconceptions you had about what Sonic Unleashed is or rather, SHOULD be.
A few of our attendees felt the Werehog stages were a nice change of pace compared to the speedy Sonic stages, and were enjoying taking things slowly while beating the crap out of things. Some of us experienced the ‘forced’ gameplay that a lot of Americans have been seeing with the Wii and PS2 versions, in that you have to play a few Sonic stages, then a few Werehog stages, then a few minigames and explore two towns to actually get the chance to take on any stage and mission at your own free will.
T-Bird and I particularly enjoyed Chip’s character in the game – the English version of the little flying mite has a very different voice to the squeaky, high-pitched Japanese counterpart, and suits him very well. It’s a bit more of a “teenage pop-punk rocker” kind of voice. We’ve seen cutscenes where Sonic and Tails have to find a professor, who is mysteriously missing. Chip rants about how it’s your duty to save him, and while saying “I’d rather be dead!” (or words to that effect) pushes his body to the ground, leaving his spirit floating around. It’s that kind of randomness that made us warm to Chip. Plus he manages to magically produce chocolate from his arse, so we’re thinking of patenting some sort of mechanism for that.
We played through from the start of the game, into the first continent – Apotos, and then into Mazuri and a little bit of Spagonia with some Tornado flying in between – before playtime was over and Kevin had set us a challenge. The prize? A PlayStation 3. The mission? Fastest time in Sonic’s very first stage – not Apotos, but the training stage that occurs after meeting Chip. We had some good runners, and (DJ!) Dan Dyer got 48 seconds on the clock; but who ended up winning?
Yep, muggins here. There was no PS3 to actually take home (apparently it’s in the post – I trust you, Sega) so we had a celebratory picture taken with the nearest Sony item to hand. God knows why there was a random Sixaxis lying around, as the booths and consoles that were playing Unleashed were all Xbox 360s.
I managed to do the Training stage in 42 seconds by the way. I was taking note of all the traps that could slow you down; there was a spring that you had to home-attack to get across a chasm, a group of enemies to blast to open a pulley, and my use of the Quick Step to avoid the spikes on the long stretch towards the end secured my victory.
Once I had gloated tirelessly about my win (and had been hit for it) it was time for another treat, as the audience was gathered around to watch the ‘Night of the Werehog’ animation in its entirety. Those with a violent bent against voice acting will enjoy this ten minute short, as the whole thing carries itself with a gesture-based charm that is very Pixar-esque. Based in a haunted mansion where two male ghosts live to vie for a female ghost’s attention (by taking photos of scared kids faces), Sonic and Chip come calling during one stormy night and explore their surroundings.
Chip becomes more and more scared as the two ghosts constantly freak him out, taking photos of his contorted face. The female ghost enjoys this tirade of creepiness until she notices Sonic, not even flinching at the haunted nature of their house. The cartoon then becomes a contest to see who can scare the blue blur first, but when they try to take on the blue blur a full moon comes into view…
Cue Werehog, and his beat-down of the two ghosts, which leads to a huge fight with the two ghosts – who had merged into some crazy transparent bull-ghost. Chip finds that taking photos may reveal where the hidden enemy is, so there’s a hilarious segment during the mayhem where Sonic the Werehog is snapping pictures left right and centre to try and find his foe. It’s a really well made animation, and the plan was for it to be shown in cinemas across the country. Apparently that’s no longer the case, but Kevin said that Sega were looking into options to show it beyond a simple extra on the game – Television specials, perhaps?
The sun was setting in Brentford though, and that meant it was time for all of us to shove off before the full moon comes out for us as well. We didn’t leave empty handed though; we all received a cool Werehog keychain and a special Sonic the Hedgehog advent calendar! Everyone was slightly happy about the latter really, as we’d never seen anything of the kind for… well, 15 years.
And that definitely looks like new Yuji Uekawa artwork. Ah, to see his Sonic artwork again after loads of CG is definitely pleasant to see. Needless to say, I think we’re framing these calendars, never to open them for the chocolatey goodness inside. Although Violet took the plunge and unfortunately the chocolates weren’t Sonic shaped.
So ended a crazy day in London. The rest of the story after that? We went to the pub, in true Joscelyne fashion. And then had food. Then went home. And slept. Everyone had a great day though, and much love was projected to Kevin for setting up another fab event for the community. To round this off, here’s a bunch of us posing with a massive Sonic model, which all of us had designs to steal. Now, to wait for my PlayStation 3…