Genre : Action
Developer : Sonic Team
Publisher : Sega
Release Date : January 27, 2003
Sonic Heroes has everything. It is a melding of all significant elements of Sonic games, past and recent.
It has Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. It has a supporting cast. It maintains a feeling of blinding speed combined with the appeal of platforming-the same things that made the 16-bit versions memorable. It marks the return of the Special Stages which the Sonic Adventure line had cast aside; speedy, eye-blistering challenges which allow you to race for the Chaos Emeralds and extra lives. It continues, storywise, where Sonic Adventure 2 left off, and even contains the same style of graphics and music. Missions return as well, though not nearly as annoying as before. It brings back both heroes and villains of old, and puts all of this into one nice, neat analog-controlled package.
Sonic Heroes is the quintessential Sonic game, with even more new things thrown in to add to the fun.
Please note, however, that "quintessential" is not synonymous with "perfect".
That last sentence is a very important fact; because by keeping it in mind, it is much easier to enjoy the game.
This latest installment of the Sonic the Hedgehog series aims to be everything to everybody, and when it works, it's one of the greatest gaming experiences in the world. However, it's got some fundamental issues, which keep it from being perfect. I'll get to those in time. Right now, here's the overall skinny.
Heroes's biggest addition is the team play feature, which allows you to play as three characters "at once", spread across four playable teams. You've got Team Sonic (Sonic/Tails/Knuckles), which gives you the balanced, normal-mode game. Team Dark (Shadow/Rouge/E-123 Omega) is the hard mode. Team Rose (Amy Rose/Cream/Big) is the annoy-erm, easy mode, and Team Chaotix (Espio/Charmy/Vector) is the oddball mission-based mode, where completing objectives completes stages.
Switching between the characters in your team is essential to your success; your Speed character allows you to blast across stage terrain in record time and unleash wind attacks. You Power character lets you smash enemies with the power of fire. Your Fly character (naturally) lets your team go airborne, and brings down airborne enemies themselves with the power of thunder. When their powers combine… no, you don't get some green freak in crinkle-wrap pajamas, you get a Team Attack that wipes out everything onscreen and has other beneficial effects (depending on the team).
You'll need all three of your teammates to get through stages, because they're long, have lots of gaps, and are much, much harder than previous Sonic games. Allow me to elaborate.
The stages you play through are long. Really long. We're talking upwards of twenty minutes long, especially if you're playing through the game for the first time. There are also fourteen of these babies, not including bosses. My clock time for defeating the entire game was just above twenty hours. That's not far from your average RPG. In addition, there are several spots with flying enemies, or gaps that only your flight character can get you through. In addition, sometimes it's just safer or smarter to fly over a stretch of terrain or group of enemies that you're unsure about. Finally, your power character is needed because Eggman's bulked up the armor on his robots since last time. Gone are the days of robots taking one hit to kill, or Eggman's ships taking eight bops on the noggin. No, no, Sonic sometimes needs to hit your average robot two to four times. The stronger Eggman bosses can withstand hundreds of Sonic spins. Everything's got an energy bar now, baby-everyone that is, except your little furry guys, who still die when they lose all of their rings and get hit. Ho-hum.
It's hard to miss a Sonic game on sight, or to mistake it for something else when heard. It always has been. The music itself sounds like a cross between the Sonic Adventure games and songs from the old Genesis titles. Add in a healthy dose of '80s-esque rock (once again, a la Adventure), and you've got yourself a recipe for a bouncing, healthy Sonic Heroes soundtrack any fan of the blue blur wouldn't be proud of. (As far as the rest of the world goes, however… well, their mileage may vary.) The sound effects have been ported over from the old Genesis games-they always have been, and I doubt anyone wants this to change anytime soon. The voice acting is a mixed bag, but not because it's bad --rather, it's because the characters that are the toughest on the ears are usually the most annoying characters to begin with (Cream anyone?) It still fits.
The game is something else to look at though. The level design is great, even for stages of its length. The graphics look like the Sonic Adventure games taken to the next level. The bustling, hovercar-laden streets of Grand Metropolis, the mind-boggling Bingo Highway, and the dizzying Rail Canyon are all sights to behold. The pristine Frog Forest will have you wishing you were on vacation, and both the Egg Fleet and Eggman's Final Fortress, when you first see them, are so intimidating that you can't help but be a little scared. What Sonic Heroes lacks in graphics originality, it more than makes up for in atmosphere.
Everything mentioned above makes for the perfect game-or rather, it would be the perfect game were it not for some fundamental flaws that just shouldn't be there anymore.
The camera in Sonic Heroes is not unlike a living thing; as you interact with it, you will find out that it has thoughts and feelings, and wishes to be loved. You will not be able to love it, however, as it also has a sickening rebellious streak. It will clip through walls, face the wrong way, and hit you with impossible angles; and it will do so only when it matters. At all other times, it will actually behave rather well, so as to annoy you all the further when it does act up.
Another issue is with control. It's not as bad as the camera; but the trouble is, it often works in tandem with the camera. This can make for some very strange play. Outside of that, it's quite loose, and takes some getting used to. Characters can sometimes stray from preset paths, rail-grinding requires a level just short of mastery in order to be proficient at it, and Homing Attacks are still very much hit-or-miss. The Special stages are the worst offender, as sometimes your characters will slow down, or magically end up at the top of the tube simply by nudging the analog stick.
In all fairness, as with the Sonic Adventure titles, these problems can be overcome and dealt with by simply employing practice and patience. However, one can only wonder why Sonic Team hasn't caught up with most of the rest of videogaming when it comes to making a stable platformer, and one can only wonder further how long people will continue to forgive them for it.
The only other gripe one could raise with this game is the lack of extras. Once you've beaten the game proper, the only thing of significance that awaits you is a Super Hard Mode, and extra stage missions. After the 3D rendition of Green Hill Zone in Sonic Adventure 2, this is most disheartening. While multiplayer modes are unlockable, they go by at a much lower framerate than the one-player game, which makes all the difference as far as fun factor is concerned.
Still, this game will keep you busy for a good long time, and if one can overcome these problems (it doesn't take much except time and patience), it's a worthy purchase. The only question, then, is which version is worth owning, now that all three have been released.
For the tech-heads, both the Gamecube and Xbox versions have progressive scan mode built in, and every version also comes with Dolby Pro Logic II support. As for the rest of us:
Both the Xbox and Gamecube versions run at 60 frames per second in the one-player game however, the Gamecube version is the only one that keeps this framerate consistently. The Xbox version almost does, but there are some times when the action will slow down, or play catch-up, for seemingly no reason.
The Xbox version has a couple of perks to it: slightly faster load times (and I do mean slightly; in some cases it's the same as the Gamecube, other times it's twice as fast). Otherwise, it's the same as the Gamecube version (which really shouldn't be the case, especially concerning the multiplayer modes. Why not use that extra horsepower to give 60 frames per second there?) The analog control is also a bit more precise, which is a godsend in the Special Stages.
As it stands, the Gamecube version is the most stable and playable, with the Xbox version right on its heels. Why haven't I talked about the PS2 version yet? Because that thing's in a league of its own: the minors.
Conspiracy? Who knows? I just know the results aren't pretty.
Picture a Sonic game that struggles to go at 30 frames per second, in an age where even the Dreamcast didn't do Sonic that injustice. Sometimes it's like playing a slideshow on fast-forward. It's impossible to be precise with one's movements, or sometimes to even see where the characters are going. Not fun at all.
Add this to the PS2 analog stick control being the loosest among the three systems, the load time being by far the longest of the three, the lack of anti-aliasing, and the multiplayer mode being nigh-unplayable thanks to the framerate issues, and… well, there's really no reason to pick this version up at all. Seriously, even if the PS2 is all you have, and you can't afford another system--go find a Gamecube or Xbox-owning friend and play their version. This is just horrid.
The Sonic series continues to be a mixed bag any way you slice it, but Heroes promises good times ahead for all if this sort of design continues, and if the engine's fundamental problems can ever be fixed. Right now, however, if you're willing to take the bad with the good, get ready for a whole lot of high-speed fun.
Fun, that is, unless you got the PS2 version. Then no one can hear you scream.
More articles about Sonic Heroes