It all kicks off, rather excitingly, with a space-based showdown between Sonic and Robotnik (yes, yes, we know he's called 'Eggman' now, but we're flying the flag for tradition here) in which, shock horror, the blue wonder's nemesis actually convincingly gets the upper hand for once. He steals the power from the Chaos Emeralds, splits the planet into pieces, awakens a big monster and fills Sonic with a dark force that transforms him into a werehog before sending our favourite little blue chap headlong to Earth/Mobius/wherever Sonic lives now below. Things are not looking good…until Sonic squashes a little red flying chihuahua and teams up with him to save the world yet again.
What's the reason behind the werehog, then? Officially, it's to lengthen the game, as creating a game with 'proper Sonic' levels alone would have been tiny due to the amount of time, effort and money needed to create them. We can't help but think, however, that another reason is that Sonic Team have become set in their ways of offering more gameplay styles than are strictly necessary. They've been a bit sneaky this time, too, by saying there are no new characters (Chip the flying chihuahua-thing excluded) - technically true, but werehog Sonic is so drastically different to normal Sonic that it might as well be another addition to the ever-growing roster of friends. Still, only core characters such as Tails, Amy and Robotnik are with Sonic this time aside the throwaway humans, so we can't whine too much.
Sonic Unleashed is basically two games spliced together: daytime, normal, speedy levels as the Sonic we love, and night-based beat 'em up levels as a mysteriously stretchy armed werehog Sonic, who actually isn't as bad as he sounds (though we still think it would've made more sense to put Knuckles in the beat 'em up sections and whack a big 'Sonic & Knuckles 2' sticker on it). In the Wii version, Dimps, take the helm for the day stages - Sonic Team still deal with the night - and so it plays a bit like a big screen version of the Sonic Rush games, only not as frantic and without as many death pits. Good. The action smoothly switches between 2D and 3D on a fairly regular basis, there are no significant camera issues and, generally, it's the probably the best 3D that Sonic's been involved in, with the exception of the HD versions of this very game which, quite frankly, are superior to the Wii version. Dimps have really gone to town with random set pieces and sections of pure speed that glides of your control (but only briefly) too.
With Wii's obvious lack of power in comparison to PS3 and 360, all the levels aside boss levels have been entirely reworked. This works in its favour on some stages, particularly werehog ones, but on others they just seem bare compared to their HD counterparts, which is a crying shame when you see levels like Cool Edge Zone day, which are completely different between both versions but are both excellent in their own ways. We were thankful when we didn't have to sit through the stupidly long HD Eggmanland again, which has been chopped into nice pieces for the Wii edition. The Wii version is much more linear than HD versions and leads to you sitting down playing the same day time level three or four times in a row with different objectives - similar to the optional missions in the HD versions and in Sonic and the Secret Rings, but made mandatory. They don't take too long so it isn't a major deal, but it would've been nice to have seen extra, all-new acts rather than 'collect 270 rings' challenges. Dimps have also chucked in a couple of nice touches that you don't see elsewhere; Mega Drive-stylee spikes and, more significantly, when you go extra fast by boosting just before you hit a speed ramp Sonic curls into a ball and actually does a spin dash. We nearly wept with joy, but then just opted for a big grin instead.
The day time levels are great then. Don't expect to see much of them, though. In fact, the Wii version's title should probably be Sonic Leashed, as that's would be a more accurate reflection of normal Sonic's status throughout the majority of the game. For every proper day Sonic stage, there are at least two night time werehog stages. Right at the start you get to literally play a few tutorials and a level as normal Sonic and then have to play six or seven night stages before you even catch a glimpse of the sunshine again. It's very poorly paced and well over half the game is spent as Sonic doing a wolf impersonation, probably even edging towards the 70% mark. For reference, you spend half, or just under half, the game as a werehog in the HD versions. Why, then, is the lion's share of Wii Unleashed set at night? Oh, we get it; motion controls.
See, in the day, the only motion necessary is a quick thrust for boosting and the same for homing attacks. At night, though, you've got big claws to smack things with, so obviously it's essential to use motion controls for every single attack. This acts as a warning to other Wii games; don't use motion for standard attacks, because the combat will degenerate into a boring waggle-fest. In addition, you also have to swing the remote around to propel Sonic across poles and even have to do a climbing motion to clamber up posts by moving the nunchuk and remote alternately. Thankfully there are options to use Gamecube or Classic controllers. Use these options, because you'll have a lot more fun with the game when you do.
Despite our complaints about the night, it really isn't too bad. Yes, there's way too much of it, but the design of the levels is far, far better than it is in the HD versions and they're manageable sizes, too, with each only being a maximum of around ten minutes; the HD versions can clock in at up to four times that on a first play, which is frankly ridiculous. The stages really are totally new and separate from the HD versions; there aren't as many needless deaths in the Wii version, and it's just more fun and inventive, with a lesser emphasis on continually hitting things. In some ways the Wii night stages are more like the old Mega Drive Sonics than the actual Sonic stages. Another plus that the Wii edition has over HD is the linear progress mentioned earlier; in the latter version you have to go exploring around looking for medals to open up new levels, but not so in the Wii version. Levels open automatically for you and medals are just used to open up optional doors, so no need for ridiculous treasure hunts just to play the game that you bought in this one. Ratios of day to night stages and optional motion controls aside, we actually don't have major problems with either of the styles of gameplay, and that is an absolutely massive compliment to the game, both Wii and HD, with what's come from Sonic on home consoles the last few years (Secret Rings excluded).
We do have one glaring problem with the Wii version above all else, though, and it's this that pushes along to our conclusion below. Levels are cut, including practically two entire continents (Mazuri and Empire City) and Tails' plane levels. We can see no real reason why this has been done, but it leaves a couple of gaping holes which were filled with delicious gameplay on other formats. Most insulting is Tails' introduction towards the start, where he is threatened by an absurdly-sized monster in a cut scene. The movie ends, you're revved up for battle and then…another cut scene comes in showing were-Sonic talking to Tails having just dispatched the monster. We might, might, excuse it if the reason was Wii couldn't do the battle justice, but the fact is it's a fairly standard battle with an over-sized foe rather than a proper boss, plus all the other bosses are in tact. Big red cross for that one, Sonic Team.