Sonic Heroes Review
Any fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series will tell you that the key element of the entire franchise has been the speed of the gameplay. Heck, during the 16-bit console wars Sega even invented a term called "Blast Processing" that they claimed gave the blue blur his speed. Unfortunately, with Sonic's arrival into the 3-D realm, that speed wasn't anywhere to be seen. The Sonic Adventure titles were decent games, but plagued by slow gameplay, not to mention some shoddy camera angles. Sonic Team knows that the people want an old-school Sonic game, complete with blazing speed, and in Sonic Heroes they've attempted to provide just that. However, while the game is fast, there are numerous issues, especially in the Playstation 2 version of that game, that keep it from becoming a classic.
Instead of being focused on exploration like the Sonic Adventure titles, Sonic Heroes focuses totally on speed. Through the game's 14 levels you will whiz up, down, over, under and through familiar looking locales like a casino level and a beach level that even has giant jumping orca, just like in the original Adventure on the Dreamcast. Where Sonic's gameplay differs from others is that it involves the teamwork of three characters during each and every level. There's a total of four teams, each of which consist of three (sometimes) familiar characters from the series. This could probably have been whittled to two teams of three, because, quite frankly some of these guys have no place being in another Sonic game. Each team has a character that you'll use in speed situations, another to use in power situations, and another that can fly. For example, on Sonic's team, he's there for speed, Knuckles for power, and Tails is there to fly.
As you progress through each level, you'll come across sections that are tailored to a specific character's skills, and you can easily switch between team members by pushing the face button that corresponds to the character you wish to control. Sometimes you have a choice of which direction to take and which character you would like to use, which is a nice choice, especially if you have a favorite character you like to use. The level objectives are simple enough - just get to the end and collect the golden ring. Along the way, there are rings to collect, enemies to spin in to, and just like in every Sonic game, once you get hit you lose all your rings, and you must frantically pick as many of them up as you can before they disappear.
The basic concept of the game is a solid one, and at times, Sonic Heroes feels like a perfect extension of the original Sega Genesis game. Unfortunately Heroes has several flaws that hold it back. Many of these are technical problems, but one of them is that the game can be quite frustrating as well as tedious. It's cool to be able to switch between characters, but often it seems like the developers have you switch just to slow you down a little bit. If you're blazing through a level, spinning through enemies and collecting rings at a feverish pace, it's annoying to have to switch to your power character to bash through a rock, ceasing all momentum. Having different teams does a decent job of branching out the story, but frankly, the story is so lame that it's doubtful you will appreciate this feature. The game's 14 levels are also quite short, and an accomplished player can blow through them in a matter of hours. Given the game's shortcomings, perhaps this isn't such a bad thing.
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat; if you're trying to figure out which version of the game to purchase, the PS2 Heroes is by far the worst looking of the three. Generally there isn't much of a change in a game's visuals if it's designed for all three consoles, but the underpowered Playstation 2 really takes a beating this time around. It doesn't help matters much that the game looks like an enhanced Dreamcast title to begin with, and none of the effects that help out the GameCube and Xbox versions are present in the PS2's.
The key offender in the game's bad visuals is a horrible framerate. While the other two ports roar along at 60fps, the PS2 only hits 30, and it struggles to maintain even that mediocre rate. Lastly, the game's camera has shown no improvement over any of the earlier games, and as a result you find yourself experiencing many frustrating and unnecessary deaths because you had too much faith in your "leap of faith". It's not all bad, as the game does have some huge levels, and in typical Sonic fashion they are nicely detailed and brightly colored. The animation of the characters is solid, and the CG sequences, despite being very hokey, are nice looking.
For better or worse (most would say "worse") the cheesy guitar rock that has become a staple of the series is back. There's really not much to say about it other than the fact that it's so bad you feel embarrassed for the person that thinks it's cool. There are some familiar themes that you hear in the background, but other than that the music is poor. Not helping matters is the game's miserable voice acting. We're talking sub-anime quality and with every character yelling out a lame catch-phrase after each attack, you will find yourself reaching for the mute button rather quickly. The only thing that's even remotely good about the sound is that all of your favorite sound effects are present and with the game's Pro-Logic II they sound terrific. If you don't find yourself smiling at the sound of Sonic collecting rings or the familiar little jingle at the end of the level, then you're playing the wrong game.
As it seems is the case with every Sonic game to come out since 1999, Sonic Heroes manages to be fun despite its bevy of shortcomings. The new team gameplay element is innovative and adds a lot to the title. If the levels where made a bit faster, some of the weaker Sonic characters eliminated, and for God's sake, the broken camera fixed once and for all, this game would be a return to glory for the series. As it stands, the ease in which it can be beaten and its numerous flaws relegate it to the "rent only" category, and if you've got the choice, get the superior GameCube or Xbox version.
2/11/2004 Arnold Katayev