Review by Malorkus
Video game villains are known for their persistence, no matter how may times they fail. Dr. Eggman is a prime example. He's trying yet again to dominate the world. Feeling invincible, he ignorantly informs Sonic of his plan through a letter, saying that in 72 hours, the world will be his. Sonic's up for the challenge, but he's not alone; Tails and Knuckles are coming along, too. Meet Team Sonic. Meanwhile, in Eggman's abandoned laboratory, Rouge the Bat has sneaked in, hoping to find some abandoned treasure. What she finds instead is a capsule containing Shadow the Hedgehog! A robot codenamed E-123 Omega suddenly awakens and starts going berserk. Shadow also awakens, and begins attacking Omega. Rogue stops the fight, and suggests they work as a team to seek revenge on Eggman for locking them up. Say hello to Team Dark.
Amy Rose is relaxing on the beach, wondering where her dear Sonic has run off to this time. Cream the Rabbit is desperately searching for Cream's lost friend, Chocola. And that big dumbass Big the Cat is also there, for Froggy's gone missing. AGAIN. The three decide to form into Team Rose to search for their missing comrades. And lastly, a retired detective agency known as Chaotix is resting in their old office when they suddenly get a call. It's their first case in years, as it seems someone has been kidnapped and is in dire need of detective help from Charmy, Espio, and Vector. And there's supposedly a nice, tasty reward in it, too. It may have been a while since their last job, but work is work. Welcome back, Team Chaotix. Unfortunately, you picked a bad time to come back.
Sonic Heroes does not have you play as just one character. You're controlling three at the same time. Sonic Team has implemented a teamwork gimmick, if you will, to drive all the gameplay this title has to offer. Each character on a team falls into one of three categories Speed, Power, or Flying. You can switch between characters at any time by use of the X and Y buttons. Obviously Sonic is a speed character, and he and the other characters in the category specialize in running. Speed characters can also execute spin jumps that home in on any nearby enemies, swirl around poles, and jump between walls. Power characters, such as Knuckles, specialize in beating the crap out of stuff. Certain blockades and giant granite structures can only be broken with pure power. Power characters can also hurl their teammates at enemies (with auto-lock). Third, flying characters do what you would expect them to fly. They can't fly for very long, but they can hover above otherwise un-crossable chasms and launch other teammates in lightning balls.
Unfortunately, the teamwork system is its own worst enemy. You're so tied to it that you're given basically no freedom with one individual character, or any freedom whatsoever. The game literally has you switching between teammates every 3 seconds or so, making each stage a very tedious and repetitive romp. You can't experience any true Sonic speed without being immediately interrupted by having to do some menial task with another character. Flying characters have it the worst. You can't control them regularly; you control them stacked on top of the other two characters, making any non-aerial movement virtually impossible, meaning you can't do anything normal with them. The teamwork system may have worked out okay if only you were not so tethered to it. I can't enjoy speeding through one good series of loops without being immediately interrupted.
In the long run, this also results in the lack of overall speed, which is what the Sonic games have built their foundation around. Your typical Sonic Heroes stage will have your objective being to simply get to the end of a stage. The stages are generally long; much longer than the Sonic Adventure stages. Each one lasts anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes, which can easily become boring and repetitive. Some of them are fun, yes, like speeding through the bustling skyway of Grand Metropolis, or grinding full-tilt on the dangerous rails of Rail Canyon. Even the serene atmosphere makes your romp through the flora of Frog Forest an enjoyable one. Others are just a bore, such as fighting your way through the extremely long and tedious halls of Mystic Mansion, or struggling through a giant pinball machine in Casino Park that depends entirely on luck. Like the two Sonic Adventure games, the Sonic speed is there, but there's just way too little of it.
The game's repetition is only enhanced by the differences between each team. Why? There virtually isn't one. Each team goes through the exact same 14 stages as one another, only with relatively minor changes such as enemy count. This, in my mind, is the ultimate of lazy. With that in mind, if you play through the game with one team, you've basically played through all of them. Team Dark's stages may be slightly harder than the others, but they're vaguely different. Team Chaotix actually has different objectives, though, even though the stage layout is exactly the same. You'll go on treasure hunts. Not like the kind in the Sonic Adventure games, but rather collecting objects or defeating enemies as you go through the level. Unfortunately, these take a very long time. It's boring, tedious, and not to mention having nothing to do whatsoever with the plot, but rather some busy work Sonic Team inserted to lengthen the game's duration. If you're really digging for a challenge, each stage gives you a certain ranking for how quickly you completed it, and there's incentives for completing every stage with every team with an A' ranking.
To add even more overbearing on an already-forsaken style of gameplay, the camera is perhaps the worst I've seen in any game I've ever played. Even worse than the previous 3-D Sonics. It's absolutely impossible to turn the camera around. If you've passed an important object, there's no turning back, as the camera permits you from doing so. This is the 21st century, and a still camera in a 3-D environment is simply inexcusable. The camera often gets in your way, also. About 50% of your deaths in the game will not be because of human error, but technical error. The camera will become trapped behind a wall, not allowing you to see what's happening to your character. If it gets stuck, it's almost impossible to adjust. And the fact that the various deadly glitches the game has to offer don't help the technical aspects of the game one bit. You could be falling and suddenly freeze in mid-air, forcing you to reset the entire game.
I suppose the game is redeemed slightly by the inclusion of a multiplayer mode, even though it has very little to offer. You can compete in races or battles, and more multiplayer modes are unlocked the more emblems you collected. The multiplayer races were perhaps one of my favorite aspects of Sonic Adventure 2. Unfortunately, the races in Sonic Heroes are extremely short, and only cover about one-quarter of the actual stage. Miscellaneous races, like the bobsled races, are also far too short-lived for their own good. Multiplayer almost feels like a cheap last-minute tack-on to enhance replay value. There are better and harder races to unlock, but they require you get 160 out of the 180 emblems, and it requires a lot of wit and patience to go that far.
If you look at this game from a visual standpoint, all is pleasant. The character models are much more solid and less grainy than they were in previous outings. But there's little change in emotion, and nothing too detailed. Environmental graphics are a mixed bag. Some objects are very flashy. The casino stages have an excellent usage of colored lighting and transparency. Water looks unusually realistic for a cartoonish game. But if you'd zoom into to some of the stairs and walkways, you'd notice immense blur. If something looks incredibly stunning from far away, it suddenly becomes smudgy and ugly up-close. On the whole, however, Sonic Heroes is more graphically appealing than its Dreamcast counterparts.
The soundtrack the game has to offer is perhaps its highest point. It's a diverse mix of rock and techno that seems fitting for even the most serene atmosphere. And there's nothing too cheesy to bear, fortunately. Each team has their own fitting theme, ranging from the lighthearted Team Rose theme to my personal favorite, the heavy techno beats of Team Dark's theme. Character voices, on the other hand, were most likely recorded at some random pre-school. Remember Tails' annoying 8-year-old voice? Well, this time, he sounds like he's four. Big sounds like he's on crack (he may very well be), Charmy's high-pitched voice is extremely irritable to the ears, and Knuckles does not sound nearly as deep as he should.
The teamwork system is its own worst enemy. There's no freedom, no speed, no fun. Actually, playing with speed characters is fun, but the constant switching usually interrupts your time with them. That, combined with the excess technical errors, makes for an almost unplayable game. It's not that a teamwork system is impossible to make good in a Sonic game, as Sonic Advance 3 did it beautifully. But that particular title gave you complete freedom with your character. Sonic Heroes only puts limits. The sad thing is, if only they bothered to have a few people test out the game for bugs, this game might have actually been enjoyable! If you want a solid 3-D Sonic experience, do yourself a big favor and go play Sonic Adventure 2 instead.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 03/19/07
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