Review by Malorkus

"Sonic wipes out."

The demise of the Dreamcast saw both Sega and Sonic Team at a crossroads. Sonic was clearly still a viable franchise in spite of becoming a 3rd party asset and a mixed reception to the two Adventure games. In addition, fans just did not know what they wanted at the time (and arguably still do not). Still tinkering with Sonic in 3D but wanting to break free of the Adventure formula, they created Sonic Heroes - a new multi-platform Sonic title that brought back old characters among new ones, and ditched the occasionally unnecessary story elements of the Adventure games for something more straightforward. Gone would be the tedious fishing and treasure-hunting stages in favor of more linear platform stages that focused on speed. Unfortunately, they ended up making only one-quarter of a game, and then slapped it over four times in an attempt to pass it off as a brilliant new Sonic title.

Video game villains are known for their persistence, no matter how may times they fail. Dr. Eggman is a prime example. 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 and a robot named E-123 Omega. Rouge 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 with Cream the Rabbit, who is searching for her friend, Chocola. And that big idiot 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 Team Chaotix is resting in their old office when they suddenly get a call. It's their first case in years, as it seems someone is in need of detective help from Charmy and friends. Unfortunately, they picked a bad time to come back.

Sonic Heroes does not have you play as just one character, and you instead control three at the same time. Sonic Team has implemented a “teamwork” gimmick, if you will, to drive all everything. Each character on a team falls into one of three categories – Speed, Power, or Flying. 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. Third, flying characters do what you would expect them to – fly. They can't fly for very long, but they can hover above otherwise long chasms and launch other teammates in lightning balls. Unfortunately, the teamwork system is its own worst enemy. You are so tied to it that you're given basically no freedom with one individual character, or any freedom whatsoever.

The game has you switching between teammates every three seconds or so, making each stage a very tedious and repetitive romp. Each stage's momentum suffers because you are repeatedly interrupted by having to do some menial task with another character. Flying characters have it the worst. 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. 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 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, like speeding through the bustling skyline of Grand Metropolis. But most 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.

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 is the ultimate form of laziness. 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 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 3D Sonic games. 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 multi-player mode, even though it has very little to offer. You can compete in races or battles, and more modes are unlocked the more emblems you collected. The multi-player races were 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. Multi-player 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. The game's soundtrack is actually one of its better points, being fun and cheesy but rarely embarrassingly so like some of the Adventure themes. 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. The others are not much better.

Sonic Heroes was an interesting idea that ultimately turned out to be the final tipping point in Sonic's decline to awfulness. 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 game also has a weirdly prominent number of bugs, and having to play through each stage four different times just reeks of a rushed and lazy product. If you want a solid 3D Sonic experience, do yourself a big favor and go play Sonic Adventure 2 or one of the more recent titles instead.

Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 03/19/07, Updated 03/24/14

Game Release: Sonic Heroes (US, 01/05/04)

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