Out of all the Sonic games I’ve ever played, I’m glad that I’ve never touched Sonic the Hedgehog, 2006 edition. Also known as Sonic ’06 (among a bunch of other nicknames), the game was plagued with numerous glitches, a messy plot concerning crying and time travel, a bad physics engine, collision detection problems, lots of long loading times, and so much more. It was released as a launch title for the XBox 360 to celebrate Sonic’s 15th anniversary, leading to many unhappy gamers and sinking Sonic’s reputation in one fell swoop. This obvious beta was rushed to be released on time, regardless of how complete it was, and Sega paid for it. Six years later and they are still trying to restore the blue blur’s image.
This catastrophe starts off in Soleanna, a kingdom ruled by Princess Elise. A festival for the kingdom’s deity is underway and as the ceremonial torch is lit, she has a vision of the entire city engulfed in flames. Dr. Eggman coincidentally attacks soon after, wanting to kidnap the princess and unlock the secrets of the “Flames of Disaster” so that he may rule the world throughout time. His actions spur the coincidentally visiting Sonic to spring into action and save the fair damsel. It doesn’t really matter since moments later she becomes captured, tossing Sonic a Chaos Emerald. The rest of Sonic’s story involves trying to get Elise back, losing her again, rescuing her again, time travel via Chaos Control, more kidnapping, and a bleak, fiery Soleanna in the future linked to Princess Elise’s kidnapping.
Shadow and Silver, a telekinetic hedgehog, have their own stories that intertwine with Sonic’s, culminating in a confusing plot that makes absolutely no sense even when the game is over. Some of the more maddening bits involve: a specific Chaos Emerald getting handed around to different people, which should have resulted in a paradox; Shadow having an important role to fulfill at the same time he was supposed to be sealed on Prison Island, also creating a paradox; the main villain’s plan hinging on Elise crying; inconsistencies in cutscenes, such as parts of Soleanna being on fire during Sonic’s story and not during Silver’s after Eggman attacks; the moon still being whole at the end; and Amy, Sonic’s long-time self-proclaimed girlfriend, allowing someone else to kiss her crush without a fuss. It’s a train wreck and not even the sometimes over-the-top-but-mostly-really-bad voice acting can keep you distracted from the fact.
Sadly, the gameplay is worse than the story. None of the characters move very quickly unless propelled by springs, dashpads, or floating rainbow rings. Usually Sonic’s levels would focus on speed, but his famed ability has been nerfed. He’s not as fast as he was in any previous Sonic games, and any titles released after that, and without his natural speed factor his levels come down to destroying enemies and moving forward at a comparably sluggish pace. He has Mach Speed sections where he runs forward at a surprisingly insane speed automatically, but barely touching anything solid, even the edge of a column or step, will send him tumbling into a break dance if not outright kill him. Combined with ridiculously tight controls these portions quickly become frustrating. Barely moving the control stick sharply moves Sonic, making precision a must.
Shadow’s close combat tactics from Shadow the Hedgehog are back as is his preference for riding in useless vehicles, and he has thankfully ditched the guns. Although this doesn’t really matter much as the vehicles can’t always go where he needs to and they tend to explode. Silver uses his psychokinesis to grab crates and enemy missiles to attack with, solve puzzles, and float over bottomless pits. However, with the problematic physics engine that’s just there his abilities prove to be hard to grasp, especially when dealing with the infamous billiard puzzle where the player has to move a ball around pits and crates while only using Silver’s powers on it nine times. The number also counts down gradually. Thankfully there’s a glitch to bypass the entire segment. All three hedgehogs can purchase upgrades in Soleanna’s hub to help them out, like the Light Speed Dash. This brings up the question of why couldn’t they all be free like in the Sonic Adventure series since old moves are being brought back? They’re mostly useless anyways and there’s no way to go back into completed levels to get easy rings in Soleanna and the stage select from the main menu doesn’t seem to add to your file’s total, so if you really want to get every upgrade you will have to complete the last levels for all three characters repeatedly. Makes you wonder why the developers bothered making a hub in the first place. Perhaps a way to enter previous levels from there was in the works but had to be scrapped.
Coming along for the disastrous ride are six other characters, two per hedgehog. At seemingly random moments throughout the game, the hedgehogs will switch out with one of their companions, something that is more disorienting than entering one of Sonic’s Mach Speed sections for the first time. Tails joins his long-time buddy, flying over obstacles and throwing fake ring containers at enemies. Holding the attack button can allow you to throw them in a first person view, but accuracy doesn’t get much better. It’s weird and out of place for the kit who has used his namesakes and the transformed X Tornado mecha to fight before, not to mention it is easy to lose track of your own lost rings among the fake ones. Granted, it does make a tiny bit of sense if you’ve ever heard of the little known Game Gear title Tails’ Adventure. In it, the fox builds his own weapons, mostly bombs, from objects he finds scattered around his island home. Unsure why he wasn’t just given bombs in Sonic ’06, though. It would have at least made more sense than an exploding ring container. Both attacks still make less sense than whacking enemies with his tails, however. In addition to this is a decrease in the kit’s stamina. His flight time has been shortened since Sonic Adventure and his fall speed is likened to that of a rock.
Then there’s Knuckles and Rouge who have gone back to their treasure hunting ways from Sonic Adventure 2, although Knuckles glides like he has gained fifty pounds since then and Rouge throws bombs for some inexplicable reason. Both of them can easily get caught up in the wall glitch where they are unable to jump and glide away at will. When that happens, you can either crawl around for a couple minutes to try getting back to the game or give up and restart the stage. Reuniting Team Dark from Sonic Heroes is E-123 Omega, a robot who shoots everything in sight and can float for a while using his thrusters. His speed, like everyone else’s, has been reduced and his gatling gun attack seems to be missing. Instead he shoots what looks like arcing lasers at enemies. Amy Rose shows up, turning invisible for no real reason and having next to no use in combat. She has to get so close to enemies to attack successfully that it’s a wonder why she was put in at all. Lastly there’s Blaze the Cat returning from Sonic Rush, only not since apparently this is not the same Blaze from an alternate dimension who protects the Sol Emeralds.
I have no idea; time and space are messed up in this game.
Anyways, she’s as fast as Sonic – the fastest character in the whole game aside from her – and uses the power of fire to launch her own version of the homing attack. She’s not quite his clone as she has an amazing double jump and a fiery twirling attack.
Add in long stages, ridiculously short missions that are necessary yet have nothing to do with the plot, game-breaking bugs, a screwy camera that’s too slow at times and doesn’t lock onto bosses (unless they target you), a physics engine that allows you to break the laws of physics (such as going up at a 90 degree angle, stopping, and not falling), and countless glitches and you have an awful milestone of a game.
In-between all of this are the loading screens. There are PS1 and PS2 games with equal or faster loading times. Almost all of them are ten seconds long, slipped in at the beginning, middle, and end of levels as well as when generally anything happens, like doing a mission for a citizen of Soleanna. Those missions have multiple loading screens, beginning after accepting an assignment. A loading screen leads you to a text box telling you what to do. Then one pops up before and after completing the mission. The citizen remarks on how you did, sending you into the results screen before finally making you wait ten seconds to be plopped back into the hub. That is four loading screens for one task, and should you fail you will be kicked back into the hub after the remark with no option to redo the mission before that. It’s nuts! It’s worse if you lose all of your lives since you get kicked back to the main menu. This normally wouldn’t be so bad, but then you have to deal with more loading screens to get back to the level you were on. Guaranteed, this will happen to everyone at one time or another and should it occur during the first stage, you will be thrown back to before the first cutscene. Autosaving early on was apparently a foreign concept.
The horrible controls don’t help either as they make maneuvering a tricky business. It has to be seen or experienced first-hand to understand just how unrefined the controls are. Even gamers who have mastered the controls in other 3D Sonic games will have trouble surviving and not falling to their doom through water, fire, and various other ways of dropping out of a level. Although that’s only half of the reason your life counter will drop. The other half is composed of glitches. The stuck-on-the-wall bug is fairly common but so is Sonic falling off rails while grinding, defying gravity, and missing enemies with the (slow) homing attack. Other glaring flaws include Silver being able to one-shot Sonic in a boss fight by pinning the blue blur to a wall, invisible or otherwise, and throwing him repeatedly without pause; being able to break out of the Silver versus Sonic boss fight as the latter; falling off or through loop de loops; and flying off from the main path during Mach Speed levels after taking a hit. It’s amazing that anyone ever got to the end of this terror.
Now, it wouldn’t be a Sonic game without something to collect, would it? There are no emblems or cute Chao to take care of and the Chaos Emeralds are collected throughout the story so no Special Zones. Instead there are collectible medals that do nothing. Whatever their original purpose was for is unknown. They exist and can be collected obsessively, although nothing will come from those efforts.
Outside of the jumbled main mess of Sonic ‘06 is a multiplayer mode for two people. There are two modes, one where both players cooperate to finish stages and obtain Chaos Emeralds and a Battle Mode where they race to the end of a level a la Sonic Adventure 2. Downloadable content includes a Very Hard Mode for each character (sold separately), Boss Attack (again, sold separately for each character), and Team Attack Amigo wherein you play as Tails, Blaze, and Omega in an eight part marathon consisting of parts from other stages with a boss battle at the end. Unlockable content that doesn’t need to be paid for is confined to a theatre to look at past cutscenes and an audio room to listen to music.
Absolutely nothing could salvage this game. Not the music, which is all right with a handful of good tracks to be found, and not the graphics, which are what you would expect from a 360 game: high quality and beautiful, particularly in the cutscenes. For the time anyway. Dr. Eggman and every other human are more realistic looking than in previous games, which is quite jarring when looking at Sonic and his big-eyed friends, staring at everything with shiny, jewel-like eyes. Then there’s the bit where Elise kisses Sonic, perhaps one of the most disturbing things to have ever been seen in a Sonic game. No amount of graphical enhancement can make that all right. In fact, it would only make things worse.
Sonic the Hedgehog was hyped up and pushed for release before it was ready and that was its downfall. The developers just couldn’t deliver something of quality with the higher-ups wanting to get their latest game out in time for the Christmas season. Loyal fans had high expectations and they were crushed and buried. The story made no sense, the gameplay was unpolished, a lot of the planned featured were dummied out, and somewhere at Sega HQ was a shredded pile of paper that, when taped together, made a list of bugs and glitches that needed fixing. The game was just about unplayable and although it got placed on the Platinum Hits list, Sonic ’06 effectively destroyed the hedgehog’s good name. Altogether it’s an awful game that’s better off being watched as others are driven to insanity by it.