When I first saw the screenshots and videos for Kingdom Hearts, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Square-Enix, the game company known for its epic storylines and angsty, spiky-haired heroes, was making a game which crossed over the Final Fantasy series with Disney animated films.
Everyone I knew was sure that they’d lost their minds. We thought that putting Sephiroth and Winnie the Pooh in the same game would cause the world to implode! Then everyone actually played the game, and was wowed beyond description. The gameplay was addictive, and involved frantic, furious swordfighting using unique weaponry. And while the plot was pretty much par for the course, involving a megalomaniacal villain who was defeated by the power of everyone’s hearts, it wasn’t half bad either. The whole crossover aspect was even believable, although seeing Pooh wax melancholy over the end of the world was just a little bit creepy.
Kingdom Hearts has spawned several sequels already. And from the looks of things, we’re starting to see games put out by other companies now that were inspired by it. Is Sonic Unleashed, Sega’s new Sonic the Hedgehog game, one of them? I’ll lay out the evidence here, and you can decide for yourself.
Strikingly similar gameplay mechanics
In Kingdom Hearts, you run around beating up random mysterious creatures, that appear to come from some alternate universe and only bear the faintest resemblance to actual lifeforms. When they explode, all these little spheres come out, and you’re supposed to collect them. The more things you collect, the more powerful you become, using a system of gaining experience points and levelling up.
In Sonic Unleashed’s “Werehog” stages, you run around beating up random mysterious creatures, that appear to have come from some energy being at the core of the Earth and only bear the faintest resemblance to actual lifeforms. When they explode, all these glowy things of energy come out, and you collect them. The more glowy things you collect, the more powerful you become, using a system of gaining some kind of points and levelling up.
Of course, Sonic Unleashed also has Sonic’s stages, which play very differently from the Werehog levels. But Kingdom Hearts also had more gameplay modes than that. For instance, the “Gummi Ship” minigame, which was involved in transit between worlds … and is similar to at least one rail-shooter sequence in Sonic Unleashed’s PS3 version, involving Tails’ biplane.
New faces and places
In the Kingdom Hearts games, a lot of the appeal came from being able to visit the worlds featured in Disney movies. One could swing through the jungle with Tarzan, undergo military training alongside Mulan, or battle undead pirates in Port Royal. Meanwhile, characters like Chip and Dale sold useful items alongside Square-Enix’s familiar Moogles, in “town” areas that were relatively free from combat.
Sonic Unleashed got its name from the iconic “Werehog” transformation that Sonic undergoes, but in Japan it’s actually known as “Sonic World Adventure.” This is because Sonic travels around the world, visting places from Mediterranean Greece to an African village. He runs along the Great Wall of China, meets penguins and blue whales in the Antarctic, and pings off of skyscrapers in New York City.
Of course, it’s not actually New York City that he goes to. The locales in Sonic Unleashed was inspired by real-world places, but given fictionalized names like “Apotos” or “Empire City.” Still, while it’s not quite the same thing as going between Disney movies, the aspect of travelling between numerous interesting places is another thing Sonic Unleashed has in common with Kingdom Hearts. You can even wander around inside the cities and visit the shops, in Sonic Unleashed’s PS3 version.
So what is the point of all this? You tell me! Maybe someone who liked Kingdom Hearts will decide to give Sonic Unleashed a try. Or maybe somebody who’d been leery of picking of Sonic Unleashed because of its “Werehog” mechanics will be a bit less wary of it!
Personally, I just thought it interesting how much the new Sonic game looked like Kingdom Hearts, and decided to point it out. I didn’t actually play Kingdom Hearts much myself … I just tried it for a few minutes, then watched my brothers plow through it. But I didn’t think it was a bad game.
Likewise, I don’t think the much-maligned “Werehog” stages are that bad. And I love the around-the-world aspect of Sonic Unleashed, just like I loved watching the crossovers in Kingdom Hearts. But there’s one thing Sonic Unleashed has that Kingdom Hearts doesn’t have … and that’s the Sonic stages, which have greatest pure Sonic gameplay ever. Ever! Try Sonic Unleashed for yourself, whether you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan or not, and you’ll see what I mean. And have fun!