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Want the Fun of a Caffeine Rush & Crippling Pain of the Following Crash? Try Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Unleashed was condemned to critical hell upon release in 2008, and that means it’s one of the primary reasons aliens will judge us as brainless chimps undeserving of freedom when it comes time for the Great Takeover™.

Seriously, Sonic Unleashed (the badass 360/PS3 version) reinvented the Sonic formula in such a stylistically bold, thrilling, and visually stunning way with its daytime levels that no one with a true need for speed should deny themselves the pleasure of playing the game over and over until the day they die. These stages manage to translate the adrenaline rush of Sonic 2 and Sonic 3&K’s “oh shit Sonic’s going so fast he’s about to fly off the screen” moments into a breezy 3D experience that finds smart ways to reward player focus and skill.

Furthermore, Unleashed’s levels remain some of—if not THE—best-looking environments in any Sonic game. Visually, besides maybe Sonic Frontiers, Unleashed remains the technological king of the franchise, with gorgeously rendered vistas all mimicking various places from the real world. Want Sonic to bumrush a Parisian cafe for baguettes or run across a whale’s back in Antarctica? Play Unleashed!

Some (many) folks will point out that half the game is the antithesis of Sonic, with regards to the slow “werehog” levels wherein Sonic becomes Kratos from God of War and lumbers around smacking shit. The great irony is the werehog is supposed to be stronger than normal Sonic, yet he takes about twenty punches to do what normal Sonic accomplishes in a single homing attack.

Now, yes, slogging through some serviceable but out of place brawler-platformer levels in a Sonic game is less than ideal; the game’s critics have a valid point there! However, indulge me: Imagine someone invents a universal cure for all cancers but also happens to shit themselves in public. Surely you wouldn’t discredit the magnitude of their accomplishments all because of a little shit, right?

That’s the argument I use to justify why you should try Unleashed. The speedy daytime stages are such an absolutely perfect blend of visual beauty, complexly branched level design, and insane speed that they vastly overshadow the game’s problems. Unleashed truly revolutionized the franchise in a stunning revitalization effort most long-running series are never fortunate enough to receive. Not to mention, the game has incredible cutscenes (the CGI is Pixar tier) and a cohesive, logically written story that puts recent Sonic games to shame. Top all that off with one of the series’ best soundtracks and you have a certified gem on your hands.

Unleashed is definitely for you if:

  • You have the most aggressive need for speed and are sick of being relegated to car games
  • Miss the days when SEGA went all-in on big-budget, blockbuster Sonic experiences
  • Love ambitious platformers that swing for the fences with bold design choices

Unleashed may not be for you if:

  • You don’t want to indulge a cute but only middlingly satisfying God of War knockoff for a large chunk of your overall playtime
  • You dislike games that are so fuckin’ fast that one poorly timed blink will send you straight to the gulag

The badass version of Sonic Unleashed referenced in this article is available on PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X & S. The less incredible, but still fun, “reduced” version is available on Nintendo Wii and PS2. The Gameloft-produced mobile version is available on some Android APK download site somewhere since God knows that port is all but lost to the ages.

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