Review by Mariner
According to Jak and Ratchet, platformers should have big freakin guns and lots of vehicles and stuff. Sly says we should have stealth. And even the king, Mario himself, seems to think we should spend our time collecting stars. I feel like I'm Charlie Brown walking amid all the aluminum trees, searching for the true Christmas spirit, or platforming spirit as the case may be. Doesn't anyone know what platforming's all about? And then I see it, the only real Christmas tree there. Sure, it's tiny, ugly, bare, and half its needles fell off when I picked it up. But it wasn't fake like all the others. I found Sonic Heroes.
See, unlike these other strange games that people claim fall under the platformer lable, Sonic Heroes is actually about getting to the end of the level. Not collecting junk, not telling a stupid story (well ok, that's there too, but it's certainly not the focus), not performing other random actions, but merely running and jumping and dodging and fighting and flying your way to the goal as fast as possible. Yes, Sonic is linear. Yes, it has very few secrets. Yes, that's a good thing. You, the player, never have to worry about whether you're moving in the right direction or what weapon to use or anything of that sort. Instead, you are focused on gaining speed, blasting your way forward, and making all those robots go boom as quickly as possible. It's mindless, but it's fun. Sonic tries to get back to the pure platformer style of Super Mario Bros, dealing only with a few actions but allowing the challenge and complexity of the game to evolve from them. There's no denying that the Sonic levels were the best in SA2, and thankfully Sega finally killed the boring other stuff. What we have here is something that at least has the appearance of an old classic, and that appearance is the best part of it. It provides an experience no one else seems to be aiming for, one of mindless, linear fun.
And Sega did a pretty good job of putting that in there. For instance, you are given incentive to replay levels until you become perfect at them, as you are graded on your performance at the end of each level. Going through as quickly as possible, collecting as many rings as possible, and not dying gets you an A rating, and achieving this can get pretty tough. Since you can't make a game without saving anymore, this is as close as we can get to the classic platformer scheme. Also, the levels themselves are well made. There's a wide variety of actions involved, from blasting enemies to speeding through loops to flying over pits to grinding on rails to blasting through fortifications to wall jumping to playing pinball to, well, you get the point. By mixing things up, you get a wide variety of thrills, and simply making it to the next level, or even the next section of the level you're in, is worth it. It helps to give you the satisfaction of constantly moving forward in a linear game, as you are constantly seeing something new. It's beautiful.
And speaking of all these different actions, they're all done through a three man team (the main one being Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles). Switching between the three can be done with a press of a button.Yeah, it's a gimmick, but it ain't a bad one. Like I said, it means you have a ton of different actions available to you. It also means you can go through the levels in a variety of ways. Suppose you prefer the safety of using Tails to fly over jumps slowly rather than quickly hop across with Sonic. Or do you prefer attacking with Knuckles to running straight through. Use Knuckles if you want to aim a cannon, Sonic if you want to quickly jump between walls to a new ledge, or Tails if you need to stun enemies from a distance. Unfortunately, it seems like all too often only one character works, or one is clearly the best. It would have been nice if Sega created the levels allowing for more freedom to choose your favorite methods, but oh well. Some amount of freedom and experimentation is still available, and the team idea is still pretty fun.
Sounds like a pretty good game, right? But wait, something must be up, judging by all the negative reviews you see. Charlie Brown's tree may have been real, but it was still short and dying. But hey, he still stuck with his tree despite the naysayers, and so I tried to do the same. I dug into the game with relish, determined to have fun. But sometimes faith and determination just aren't enough, as Charlie Brown and I both found out. "Rats, I killed it."
Or rather, it killed me. Multiple times, thanks to poor controls. Good ole Sonic often just ran off the cliff, or when hit flew backward into oblivion as if he was Simon Belmont. Thanks to the poor camera, I couldn't see where Tails was flying to, and it was often difficult to judge where I was with respect to the ground. I was never quite sure where Knuckles was and what he was doing, so combat tended to consist of rapidly pressing A and hoping stuff happened ("stuff" being defined as Knuckles not running off a ledge). Imagine having to swing from a pole over to a rail, and simply falling rather than landing where you wanted to. Imagine having to outrun some lava or something to the top when you have no idea where you're supposed to go. Or playing pinball without being able to see where you're shooting. Or trying to outrun some crocodiles and the camera switches to second person view (ie, you're running towards the camera). Do you think you can enjoy a game when you die for no fault of your own? When you are never sure if that jump is going to work, or what attack you're using? I can't.
This is made worse by some really, really long levels. It will take you a good fifteen minutes to get through each one, and that's if you don't die. Yes, the levels are broken up so that you don't have to start all the way at the beginning if you bite the dust, but 15 minutes is ridiculously long. See, I prefer many short levels to one long one in a platformer, as it tends to work better. A short level has better cohesion, as it can focus on a few aspects only. Thus, the level will become more memorable, as each one can focus on a unique aspect or combination of aspects in the game. Instead, you just keep playing and playing the level, wondering when it will be over. Everything runs together, becoming a blur, as you repeat the same sort of levels over and over again. Nothing ends up standing out, and each level becomes a forgettable mush of standard ideas. And repeating levels, particularly if you ended up losing near the end, becomes more of a chore rather than something fun. Would I have enjoyed the game more if there were three times as many levels at a third of the size? Probably; it just ends up making the game run smoother.
It's bad enough that the level are so long, but the game forces you to play through them multiple times too. You see, there are three teams (Sonic's, Amy's, Shadow's, and Team Chaotix), and all of them have to play the same levels. Sure, there are minor differences (Amy's are shorter, Shadow's have more enemies, and Chaotix's are mission based), but it's still the same design. Forcing you to do the same thing four times over is not a good idea. Why should I want to play the game through as Amy when I already did as Sonic? Why should I want to fight more enemies as Shadow? This was a cheap attempt to increase the length of the game, and it just feels hollow. Does anybody really care about all these other characters anyway? Couldn't Sega create twice as many levels and cut out the repetition? Nobody wants it, and the game really doesn't need it. It's just more proof that Sega has a long way to go before their platformer's inner beauty can shine.
Sadly, unlike Charlie Brown, I don't get a happy ending, don't see Sega standing around the now beautiful tree humming Christmas carols. Sonic Heroes may be one of the very few modern games that attempted the classic platformer style, but far too many elements just didn't work out or weren't implemented correctly. The linear levels and loads of platforms were cool and all, but they were just too long. Having three characters was a neat idea, but the controls killed any enjoyment I could have had. And having to go through the levels with multiple teams is just a stupid way of creating false replay value. It's a shame, since there is still potential in a 3D Sonic game, even after three relative failures. So if you're reading this Sega, take note. I never thought it was such a bad little game, all it needs is a little love.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 01/03/05
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