Review by JD Fedule

"A Hero's Parade for Sonic Team!"

For the last few years, Sonic Fans have been going through some serious withdrawal symptoms. It's been two and a half years since an original major Sonic Game was released on a console - besides GBA, of course. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle was a port. Sonic Adventure: DX was a port. Sonic Mega Collection was a huge collection of ports. They were enough to keep the interest up enough - and they did boost Gamecube sales a lot.

And then, a small ray of light in the tunnel. E3 2003 - Sega announces Sonic Heroes.
Life is worth living again.

Notice the plural - "Heroes". The implication of "more than one". And "more than one" is what this game is all about. During the last two years, Sonic has undergone something of a revolution. He has decided that his travels have been a bit lonely - and now brings company wherever he goes. Between the three members of a Sonic Heroes team, anything is possible. There is no such thing as an obstacle. No gigantic boulder that cannot be outrun. No wall that cannot be broken through. No bottomless pit that cannot be flown over. Nothing can stop them.

As the name implies, Heroes contains a lot of heroes. In fact, Heroes contains just about every hero (main character or otherwise) from the last 12 years of Sonic History. Besides Sonic himself, and his two best friends; Miles "Tails" Prower and Knuckles the Echidna, there are nine other heroes to choose from. Three old characters have made a welcome return - and have bought some controversy with them. Shadow the Hedgehog is back from Adventure 2- despite being presumed dead. Rouge the Bat, also from SA2, joins him, along with a new E-100 series robot turned good - the successor of Sonic Adventure's E-102 Gamma, who sadly cannot join us in Heroes due to death related problems. His name is E-123 Omega. The next team is for the easy going. Team Rose is lead by Amy Rose - Sonic's self appointed, and most persistent, girlfriend. It also includes Big the Cat from SA1, and making her 3D debut after first appearing in Sonic Advance 2, Cream the Rabbit (along with her trusty pet Cheese the Chao). The final team marks the surprise 3D debut of the Chaotix Crew from the best game on Sega's unknown 32X console: Knuckles Chaotix. Vector the Crocodile, Espio the Chameleon and Charmy Bee have made it into the third dimension - but Mighty has sadly (for some) been axed.

And also returning is the infamous Dr Eggman - Sonic's arch enemy. You can always count on Eggman to be waiting for you behind the wheel of some machine of destruction, and this has been a constant in Sonic games since the very first appearance of the demolition ball craft in the original Sonic the Hedgehog game. Besides Eggman, another long forgotten villain has returned - Metal Sonic. After a lack of significant story related appearances in the Adventure series, Metal Sonic has finally returned and is now more badassed than ever.

Let's get this review underway...

Gameplay - 9

This latest installment in the Sonic Series revolves largely around the new team element. Due to the fact that you can now switch between Speed, Power and Flight modes at will, the levels have had to be made much, much bigger and less linear. In this, Sonic Team have succeeded admirably. Levels take upwards of 6 minutes on average to complete and are hugely expansive - they feel even more massive than they really are. The inclusion of a speed character in each team has allowed Sonic Team to do something fans have been asking them to do for years: reintroduce the speedy, roller-coaster style levels and gameplay that made the original Sonic games great. Of course, no level is completely speed based - there are areas where you have to use Power or Flight characters as well, included to save them from becoming completely redundant. Despite this, you are very rarely "forced" to use a particular character. There are signposts that advise you who to use, but the choice is always down to you.

In an attempt to reinstate the old Zones and Acts system from the Genesis days, the 14 levels come in pairs - similarly themed but different places. Like in Sonic 3, the music changes to either a similar theme or a remix of the previous act. There is a seaside Green Hill themed pair, a futuristic "Energy Plant", a classic Casino level set, a Sky Rail (SA2) themed mountain based grinding level, a Forest level, a Haunted House level, and an Airship level.

To add some replayability to the levels, there are numerous routes to take depending on which style of gameplay you like. Also, there are hidden choices - minor details in the levels that change depending on which character you're using. A typical example of this is encountered in the very first level. You enter a big room with a cannon in the middle. There are springs on the walls that lead to the exit at the top, but these springs are only reachable via the cannon. If you are using Speed Formation when you jump into the cannon, you are fired straight into the springs and are bounced into the exit. If you are using Flight Formation, you are shot straight up to the exit. And if you are using Power Formation, you are blasted into a secret room with a 1-up. See how Sonic Team subtly encourage you to experiment?

The characters themselves can now do a whole lot more than previously. The three characters on each team are built from generic profiles and then had some unique moves added for variety. Each of the Speed Characters has a Homing Attack similar to that used in the Adventure series, and a Tornado Attack (new) used to disarm and damage some enemies. Moves like the Light Speed Dash (from SA2) are exclusive to Sonic and Shadow. Chameleon skills (invisibility) are, unsurprisingly, only available to Espio. That irritating Piko Piko Hammer is only usable by Amy, and so on. All the power characters have a basic punch attack and a glide move, while Vector can body slam and Big can use his fishing pole with it's incredible umbrella attachment. Finally, all the Flight characters, besides being able to fly, have a move called Thunder Shoot used to disable flying enemies. Charmy has his pointy ass, (he's the only bee in existence that can sting people without dying), and Cream can send Cheese away to pick up items from afar.

Finally, each team has a unique move called "Team Blast". It is activated by filling the Blast Meter by collecting rings and defeating enemies, and then pressing a special button. Each Team Blast damages or destroys all enemies on screen, and also has a unique side effect that lasts for a few seconds after the Blast. Team Sonic's Team Blast enables Sonic to use the Light Speed Attack (from Adventure series), Team Dark's utilizes Chaos Control to freeze time for a while, Team Rose's powers up all characters and gives you invincibility and shield, and Team Chaotix's enables you to pick up rings for killing enemies.

As if this wasn't getting complicated enough, each character can operate at four levels - 0 to 3. As they level up, Speed Characters can run faster and use better homing attacks. Power Characters get stronger, and Flight Characters get to fly longer. To level up a character, you have to find level orbs (blue, yellow or red for speed, flight or power respectively). These can be found in capsules or dropped by enemies.

Finally, Sonic Fans have been delighted by the welcome return of the Special Stage. This incarnation of the Stage sees the team running down a long pipe, chasing either a Chaos Emerald or a bunch of 1-ups. The target can move faster than you, so you need to dash to keep up. Dashing involves collecting Power Spheres to charge the Dash Meter (similar to Team Blast) then hold down a button to dash. This can be frustrating, but it is also pretty fun. Getting to these Special Stages can be a challenge. You have to find a key in one of the levels and then take it to the Goal Ring - without getting hit. If you lose rings or die, you lose the key. This can get annoying, but not as much as in Sonic Advance 2, which was basically the same thing times 7.

And no Sonic Game would be a Sonic Game without bosses. After every two levels, you will have to fight a boss. These bosses are actually quite challenging when compared to the bosses from previous Sonic Game. There are three kinds of bosses. Eggman bosses - in which you fight Eggman in one of his contraptions, Team Battles, in which you fight other teams, and Enemy Rushes, in which you fight hordes upon hordes of enemies.

Now, the one flaw in the gameplay - and it's one that Sonic Team have been struggling against since the very first fully 3D Sonic Game - the camera. Yes - it's still bad. It is too easy to throw off and can get in the way, in a big way. However, this doesn't happen very often, and camera problems are by no means exclusive to Sonic Games - so it only knocks one point from the gameplay total.

Graphics - 10

Each version of the game (GC, PS2, Xbox) runs off the same graphics engine - meaning that there are going to be some differences due to hardware limitations. The game seems to have been optimized for Gamecube and then simply ported to PS2 and Xbox. The Xbox can easily handle GC's graphics - so for this game, GC and Xbox versions are graphically identical. The PS2 version, with it's slightly dated graphical technology, suffers considerably. In Single Player mode, both GC and Xbox average around 60 frames per second - a very pleasant viewing experience. In Multi Player, however, it drops to 30 frames per second - a noticeable difference, but not a hinderance. The PS2, however, averages only 30 frames per second all around. It's not really a problem, though, as the graphics aren't BAD.

The actual graphics are brilliant. There are little to no long distance "spriting" errors - far off buildings do not simply materialize when you get close. The levels are done to an astounding level of detail, from the checkered walls of Seaside Hill to the rocky cliffs at Rail Canyon, the environments are so real, one may believe that they actually existed somewhere. The character sprites are well designed, shiny, and animate beautifully - and they look awesome up close. A graphical masterpiece.

Sound - 8 (PAL/NTSC), 9(Japanese)

Sonic Team have realized the incredible success of the digitally re-mastered Green Hill Zone theme in Sonic Adventure 2, and have returned the stage music in Heroes to the old school style - and they have done well. NO stage theme has lyrics. Whether or not these tunes are actually good or bad is, quite frankly, irrelevant. They will stick in your head for months to come and will not go away. The Special Stage music is incredibly catchy, too. Each Team has it's own theme, too - and these have lyrics. Team Sonic's theme is a total letdown. Team Rose's theme is surprisingly good, and Team Dark and Team Chaotix have some decent themes too. The main theme (suitably titled "Sonic Heroes") has generated mixed opinions, and I, personally, am still undecided on whether or not I really like it.

Voice Acting - from the point of view of logic - the voices are perfectly done. Each character has a voice that fits their personality. They sound like what we are told they are. However, this is not always a good thing. Amy, Cream and Tails in particular can get very annoying to listen to, and this is why the Japanese version is more recommendable in the sound department - they have better Voice Actors. It's nothing too big, but if you're really picky about voices, you may want to consider getting the Japanese version and a freeloader or mod chip.

Replay Value and Lifespan - 9

The four teams will take you approx. 8 hours to beat - assuming you get everything right first time. Which you won't. Then there's the 7 Chaos Emeralds. Getting these takes a few more hours. Once you've beaten all four teams and got all the Chaos Emeralds, a new story opens - this one taking maybe an hour to beat. And that's just the beginning... There are 120 Emblems to collect through completing the various levels and accomplishing objectives and goals. Getting all these will take you a long time, and then you have 141 A Ranks to get by doing the same thing again... only really, really well... And THEN... you unlock Super Hard Mode, containing 14 levels for you to complete. The reward for completing Super Hard Mode is a sense of self satisfaction.

There is a 2 player mode, too. Initially, there is only one mode available to play - Action Race, in which you race through shortened versions of some levels. After collecting some emblems, you can eventually unlock Team Battle, in which you fight another team directly, Special Stage, in which you race through a Special Stage, Ring Race in which you race through a stage and collect rings to win, Bobsled Race, in which you race through one of the bobsled courses, Quick Race in which you... race... quickly, and finally Expert Race - A much longer, harder version of Action Race.

So, put simply, this game is going to last you a very, very, long time.

The Verdict?

If you're a Sonic fan, you'll be buying this anyway. If you're not a Sonic fan, come along and discover what you're missing.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/09/04, Updated 06/14/04

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