Release Date: March 23rd 2007
In the spirit of Sonic’s 25th anniversary, I thought it was time to examine the game that many consider to be the black sheep of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The game was almost universally hated, shunned by the gaming press and most of the Sonic fanbase. However, I wanted to give this one a fair chance, and when I actually played it, I was surprised at how it wasn’t entirely as bad as people claimed.
It comes as a shock. I had wanted to at least try the game since I was 12, because I didn’t have a PS3, and wouldn’t have for another five years, but only now did I pick up the game, despite all the negative press. Although the game suffered from more than a few gameplay problems (including the numerous loading screens), my experience wasn’t as frustrating as I thought the game would be, and at some point I had to consider that maybe the critics were wrong, or at least just exaggerating.
Make no mistake though, the story is still incredibly clumsy, poorly-written, and needlessly convoluted. The game’s plot follows the stories of Sonic, Shadow, and a new character named Silver the Hedgehog, all intertwined in their respective episodes. Sonic’s story follows his quest to save Princess Elise from Dr. Eggman, who seeks the “Flames of Disaster” from her. Shadow’s story sees him chasing Mephiles the Dark, a creature that takes on his image, and discovering his role behind a disaster that occurs several years in the future. Silver’s story sees him travelling from the future in order to stop the disaster, unaware that he is being used by Mephiles.
The first problem, as I see it, is that they tried writing a massive story, but it made absolutely no sense, and the story itself seems out of place for a Sonic game. I wouldn’t have minded if Silver was the star of his own game, but that’s not the case here. That being said, I actually found the script and cut-scenes to be worse. The voice acting pretty cheesy, though I pretty much expect this from the modern Sonic games, but this game suffers from some pretty ham-fisted acting. Silver’s voice-over is a particularly hammy actor. I’ve heard that the character is supposed to be 14 years old, and the voice doesn’t come across as very convincing.
If anything, the minor characters were far worse, and by minor characters, I of course mean the townspeople. Like in Sonic Adventure, you also get to walk around a hub area (in this case the city of Soleanna), and as you might expect, the majority of the townspeople are useless, save for giving you hints. These minor characters also have worse voice acting, reduced to awkward-sounding grunts. It doesn’t help that on Sonic’s part of the story, you’re required to complete at least a few of the sidequests, which means dealing with those annoying minor characters.
If I have one more thing to say about the story, it’s that they should have tried for a Sonic Battle-style plot, which would have been more sensible and would still have allowed the developers to make a game like Sonic Adventure. In fact, I think the game itself should have been called “Sonic Trinity” (referring to the three main characters). That would have worked far better than shoehorning the name of the original game just to sell it as an edgy reboot. Any Sonic fan could have written something better than the story Sega went with. Hell, I could probably have written a better story for the game at age 12. Of course, the worst part about the story is the cutscenes. The game’s story ultimately suffers the same problem as all of the new Sonic games do – there are way too many cutscenes and all of them feel ridiculous.
Now, I should talk about the game’s presentation, as that’s the first positive thing I have to say. The graphics were actually quite good for the time, especially the full-motion cut-scenes (which, in my copy of the game, suffered from a stuttering audio problem that made them almost unwatchable). It seems like Sega did well in the graphics department, and the playable characters are rendered quite nicely. However, I can’t say the same for the townspeople, who were given some of the worst character models I’ve ever seen. As for the character designs, a lot of people objected to the new design Dr. Eggman got in this game, and I must admit that it was off-putting when I was 12 and the game was revealed, but I don’t mind it now. They certainly did a better job at redesigning Eggman’s robot minions, which seem to show a step up in enemy design that, sadly, has gone ignored in later Sonic games.
Another high point for the game was the music, mainly the stage music. The Sonic games have almost always had great music, and this game is no exception. I was exposed to the game’s stage music well before I actually picked up the game. I found it by accident, and it quickly grew on me, and it’s one of the reasons why the game didn’t exactly push me over the edge. However, I think the music is probably best on its own, since it sometimes doesn’t fit the gameplay of some of the slower characters.
Now it’s time to address the gameplay, perhaps the most contentious part of the game. We all know the story – Sega forced Sonic Team to rush the game for a Christmas release, so they ended up releasing a game that apparently wasn’t completely debugged and not quite finished yet, and so we’re left with a cautionary tale for aspiring game developers. Strangely enough, my copy of the game didn’t seem entirely broken. Now, given that nearly everyone who’s played and reviewed the game will tell you that it’s broken, beyond unplayable, and that’s essentially what I expected to play, so I’m kind of stunned to find that it wasn’t as broken or as unplayable as the commentariat of the online gaming press had implied.
First, let’s talk about the characters and their playing style. In each of the episodes, you get to play as a number of characters (three per episode), but instead of giving you the option to play as any character, the game switches to another character at a certain part of a stage. Sonic’s gameplay is pretty self-explanatory. In fact, it’s mostly in line with the kind of speedy platforming that was great in Sonic Adventure 2, except you have to buy upgraded abilities for him in the town stage (you do this for Silver and Shadow as well). There’s also the mach speed sections of the game, where he runs so fast that you can’t really control him (more on that a little later), and if you don’t steer the control stick carefully enough, or jump at the right time, you lose a life. Tails’ gameplay is alright, but his movement in the ground is quite slow, which is odd considering how fast he can run in Sonic Adventure. He can fly very high, and much faster than he moves on the ground, but sometimes you can’t see where he’s going to land, and so you have to fly carefully. Another thing that’s odd about Tails’ gameplay is that his sole attack is throwing fake rings. What happened to the tail swipe attack? Even the Sonic Advance games had that, and those were on a handheld console. Knuckles’ gameplay is alright, but it’s a far cry from the fun treasure hunting gameplay of the Sonic Adventure games. Here, Knuckles is just around to solve puzzles, and once again, his movement is pretty slow. The climbing and gliding felt weird here, and the combat doesn’t have the same effect that it does in other Sonic games, and I guess this is one of many areas in which Sonic ’06 was simply inferior.
Moving onto Shadow’s episode, and Shadow’s gameplay is actually pretty cool. Much like with Sonic, Shadow’s gameplay is focused on speed, but Shadow is basically a more action-oriented character. If you press X repeatedly after a homing attack, he perform a spate of martial arts strikes, where are particularly handy against bigger and bulkier foes. Shadow also comes with his trusty Chaos Spear, which you finally get to use in normal combat. It doesn’t really do any damage, but it stuns enemies, leaving them open to an easy combo. Another move that doesn’t come into play that often is the Chaos Boost, which is triggered if you press R1 when his energy bar is full. It makes his attacks more powerful, but it rarely needed. I’m inclined to think that Shadow’s gameplay is actually better than Sonic’s, but the main problem I have with it is the vehicles, which handle poorly and make the stages they appear in take longer to finish. The exception to the rule would be the gliders, since they only take up a short part of a stage, and handle rather decently. Rogue suffers much the same problems that Knuckles does, she’s slower than she was in Sonic Adventure 2, and her fighting style is similar to Tails, except she throws bombs. Omega is unsurprisingly quite slow, but his combat isn’t exactly intuitive (he fires shots at enemies, but I’m not always sure they even hit the enemies).
In terms of gameplay, Silver is a very interesting character. He’s slower than the other hedgehogs, but that’s okay, because his gameplay revolves around use of his telekinetic abilities. While using his psychic abilities, you have to keep an eye on his energy gauge, which quickly refills if you don’t use his abilities for a brief moment. Naturally, his stages are slower in pace and generally take longer to finish, and that’s because you spend them moving objects, solving puzzles and defeating enemies. I honestly felt that Silver’s gameplay had a lot of potential, and it’s certainly fun grabbing an enemy’s missiles with your psychic power and firing them back. However, the level design in Silver’s episode tends to be rather off-putting, and his version of the game’s desert stage is home to an absolutely infuriating ball puzzle that requires you to push a ball with you psychic power (and you can’t lift it either). The music was the only thing keeping me from throwing the controller against the wall. The other two characters are a mixed bag. Blaze isn’t too bad, and she’s much faster than Silver. Her attacks are similar to her moveset in Sonic Rush, but her attacks, save for her homing attack, aren’t very reliable, and they’re more likely to get her hurt than do any real damage, so if you’re playing as her, you’re more likely to speed through the stage than attack enemies. The last character, Amy, is the worst character in the game. She’s slower than anyone else in the game, her attack is slow, she doesn’t get a mid-air attack, and she’s only playable in one stage, and again in the last episode.
Now that I’m done talking about the characters, I think I should address the most common gripes people had with the game, and I’ll start with the most immediate complaints. The game is perhaps infamous for its jarring load times, but to be honest, the load screens aren’t even terribly long (usually they’re around 20 seconds each), but the problem is that there are so many of them, and for me, it’s the most annoying when its in the town stage when you’re doing side-quests. I’d say the bigger problem, which isn’t really raised that often, was the lack of an autosave. If you just started the game, and died in the first level, you would be forced to relive everything all over again. It’s not something you can’t get used to, but it’s still jarring when you consider that both the Sonic Adventure games, Sonic Heroes, and Shadow the Hedgehog all had autosave, and were all superior games.
Next up is the controls, and honestly, I think the complaints towards the controls were only half-true. The control scheme is actually not bad, but some parts of the game feel awkward, like the vehicles in Shadow’s episode. The thing I hated most about the controls was that sometimes the camera would pan under the floor on its own, but that has only happened during boss battles. As I mentioned before, the mach speed sections in Sonic’s episode are pretty awkward. Once the mach speed section starts, you have to keep your hands off the control stick until the camera pans behind Sonic, or else he steers off course and dies. Also, whenever you take a hit, Sonic does this weird break dance, and he does this after losing a life, and still moving. That being said, I managed to play the game normally, and the first mach speed section, which many gamers found to be glitchy and awkward, I managed to get through it without dying once. In fact, it turns out that on a mach speed section, you’re actually supposed to hold forward on the control stick in order to make Sonic run faster, and it also gives you better control of Sonic’s movement. Either I’m particularly good, played the game patiently, or that part of the game clearly isn’t as broken as I feared it would be. I think a lot of the problems came from trying to play the game too fast, or straight up playing the game improperly, and unfortunately, most of the levels aren’t exactly built around speed. I admit that might be part of the problem, but just because you can’t go super fast without causing a lot of problems doesn’t make the game broken.
What about the infamous fight against Silver? Supposedly that’s one of the most broken parts of the game because if Silver gets close to you, you can get caught in a loop where he can constantly pin you against a building, whether you live or die. That’s another case that can easily be explained. The thing is, you aren’t supposed to go close to Silver at all. You’re not even supposed to use the homing attack on him, because that’s the easiest way he can catch you. In fact, this fight is the precise reason why the developers gave Sonic and Shadow the kick attack. Everyone who complains about Silver being the hardest boss just because you can’t constantly using the homing attack on him is doing it wrong. You’re supposed to keep your distance from Silver until he lifts a few objects. When he glows screen and shouts “how about this”, that’s your cue to go up to him and kick him while your running, making sure you keep a safe distance from him after you either hit or miss him. I figured this out pretty quickly after dying the first time, and it seemed to me that the fight against Silver wasn’t actually broken. In fact, if the kick was introduced specifically for this fight, then I think even if the game was completely finished, you still wouldn’t really be able to use the homing attack on Silver, and if he catches you and you can’t break free of him because you keep rings as he’s trapping you, there’s always the restart option on the pause menu. If you’re playing as Silver and fighting against Sonic or Shadow, the strategy would be to keep your distance and keep throwing objects at them. Once you figure this out, the character fights are actually insultingly easy.
That’s the thing about this game, it’s actually far easier than people make it out to be. If anything, parts of the game are too easy, and some are easy but simply long-winded. As for the glitches, I didn’t encounter as many glitches as people claimed, and most of the glitches I did encounter where found while playing as Rouge. I found one glitch in the Kingdom Valley stage where she would jump and be propelled to the stratosphere for a brief moment. Her climbing is really buggy, and I say this because often you can try to jump off a wall and not get off until you repeatedly jump or fidget around a bit. That was the most broken part of the actual gameplay. Most of the “difficult” parts of the game were simply tedious. Yes, there are legitimate game design issues that could have been fixed, but to say that it’s completely fucked is just an exaggerated claim, one that you can only prove or disprove by playing the game. I’ve played the game, and I’m not entirely convinced that it was broken, and that’s tough for me to explain because you have to play it in order to truly understand. All I can say is either I got a copy that was somehow not screwed up, or people were simply exaggerating. In fact, while writing this review, I found out that there are videos out there on YouTube that can show you how to get around some of the game’s problems, and I suggest you look them up because they might be able to do a better job at explaining it in more depth.
Through all of this, I hope I’ve made a good case for why Sonic ’06 isn’t as bad as the gaming press will have you believe. In fact, I swear some people only dislike the game because of the negative press it got. I was like that until I finally played the game, and now I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not unplayable, only partly broken, and decidedly much easier than people claimed. Is it a far cry from what it could have been? Undeniably, and that’s mainly because of the horrible production constraints Sonic Team had to put up with. Is it the worst Sonic game of all time? Hardly. I’ve been a dedicated Sonic fan for over a decade and a half, and I can tell you there are worse Sonic games out there. Sonic Unleashed was much worse, and that was because it has you go around the world hunting for medals just to advance the plot. Sonic Rush Adventure was a derivative DS game with a tepid seafaring mode. Sonic the Fighters was basically a bad fighting game from the era of choppy polygonal brawlers, and I don’t even want to talk about the disaster that was Sonic R, a game that was actually more of a broken-down mess than everyone makes Sonic ’06 out to be.
In closing, I’d like to advise you not to take the word of mainstream game review outlets too seriously (besides, sites like IGN, Kotaku and Polygon are all corrupt anyway), and don’t give any credence to anyone who tells you that a game is bad “because it’s just garbage” and doesn’t give any cogent reasons why. Yes, I can come up with a number of ways the developers could have improved on the game, but all in all it’s not too bad. As for Sonic himself, I’m surprised the franchise still survived if the game was as legendarily awful as people claimed. As long as fans like myself continue supporting the series, then the blue blur will always have another shot at redemption, and maybe we’ll get to see the kind of Sonic game we actually wanted. Besides, we all did things we weren’t proud of when we were 15.