Review by nintendosega
Reviewed: 02/13/04 | Updated: 09/22/09
Sega follows up the great Adventure series with a mediocre game
The Sonic series has been in a pretty weird place lately. Though I remember everyone loving the Sonic Adventure games back in 1999 and 2001 on the Dreamcast, apparently, public opinion has shifted drastically on them following the Dreamcast's death. SonicTeam seems to have responded by making changes that, frankly, weren't needed and in fact have created a game that I think will test most Sonic fans' patience, young or old.
Graphics; the game looks great, there's no denying that. FMV's are great, and the character polygon counts really have gone up from the DC days. In 2-player mode, the game's loaded with slowdown and washed out textures, though. And up close, the characters look like plastic action figures (particularly Sonic and Knuckles.) On one player, though, very few frame rate drops, and sometimes the levels (the final ones, for example) look amazing. Very little to complain about here. The visual style, in stark opposition to the more subdued Adventure series, is deliberately bright and cartoony, which is somewhat refreshing.
Story; In an effort to take the series back to it's roots, what was included was a story that would have been great in a Genesis game. The fact is, there's hardly any plot here at all. Each of the 4 teams suffers from an under-developed scenario and the characters (especially Sonic/Tails/Knuckles) are almost entirely missing any sense of attitude or personality. Team Chaotix's adventure is really the only plot MILDLY acceptable, because their story offers a cool, (although, eventually, expected) twist and their characters are at least pretty funny.
Team Dark's story has somewhat of a surprising ending...although due to the poor writing/translation, nobody's sure what the hell the ending is trying to say about Shadow. This comes after a (frustratingly mysterious) scenario in which Shadow is apparently back from the dead..for no given reason at all. I spent the whole game waiting for some explanation, but it never happens. What's even more pathetic is the various characters' reactions to seeing their "dead" friend back alive. I think Rouge says (in a very mildly excited voice,) "Shadow," when she sees him. Sonic calls Shadow "stubborn and full of surprises." (Although I don't know if he was referring to Shadow being back alive, or to the fact that Shadow was now challenging him to a fight.) Other characters simply have no reaction at all.
It's not that I expect a Final Fantasy-like plot in a Sonic game, but a plot that makes sense, or at least provides a compelling reason to continue the game, would have been nice. Sonic Adventure 1 featured a pretty cool backstory involving the angering a beast that later took revenge. Sonic Adventure 2 for the first time showed us what Robotnik's doing when not challenging Sonic to fights, and the game's two plotlines lead up to an action-packed ending. Sonic Heroes, though, features a final act that comes out of nowhere, where the villain (I don't need to say who he is, he's on all the trailers) appears fully for the very first time.
A person playing this Sonic game without having played SA1 and SA2 will not expect much in the way of plot, so they won't be too disappointed, I guess, (although it's still weak for the genre.) Those of us who played Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, though, probably will be let down. The stories weren't great but for what they were, they were interesting and they really made the games a lot more memorable. Sonic Heroes doesn't have that. This plot just doesn't go anywhere, folks, with only 8 second cutscenes (sometimes even shorter) between levels. And unlike the Sonic Adventure games, which I could play in front of people without feeling like an idiot, Sonic Heroes's story is a lot more...childish, as if they were targeting a younger audience. This is clearly not the same Sonic that provided the Dreamcast such a cool and memorable launch back in 1999.
Gameplay; All the different modes of play for individual characters are now gone, combined into the level. So during a level, you not only get to run, but you have to use power and flying. This is because Sonic now goes through levels with Tails and Knuckles by his side (amazing that they can keep up,) and (as the script constantly reminds us,) "through team work, they can get the job done!"
No longer do you have to spend levels hunting emeralds or shooting enemies, or even fishing. It's all about "getting to the end." Problem is, in the Adventure games, I was able to tolerate the other characters' gameplay if it meant I'd have Sonic levels loaded with pure, unrelenting speed. Heroes, on the other hand, combines the other characters' gameplay into all levels, and as a result, there are very few moments in the game where you get to go truly fast. The game constantly throws enemies at you (so you can make use of your Power character,) and they constantly have to throw things at you to fly over. It ends up dramatically slowing down the game. The only time it really seems to pick up speed is on grind rails. And I know the "variety" of the Sonic Adventure games was criticized, but I've gotta say, Sonic Heroes could really use some. No matter which team you play as (and you have to play as all of them to unlock the Final Chapter,) the game pretty much plays exactly the same, with the same levels and nearly the same level designs for each team. To be fair, (setting aside the fact that this is a Sonic game,) the gameplay itself can at times be pretty fun, and some of the levels are creative and there are some nice moments of speed (although way too few and far in between.) Sonic Heroes also introduces a pretty interesting "level up" system that adds a fresh touch to the Sonic gameplay. None of these changes really add any much-needed speed to the proceedings, though, and this game's just not fast enough to be a Sonic game. We also see the horrible addition of enemies with health meters, so rather than hitting the enemy and running, you must now stop and fight enemies constantly, hitting them several times until their health meters drain. The whole idea of this completely goes against what Sonic was always about; a constant sense of momentum.
As I mentioned earlier, the levels are the same on every team, with only minor differences. Adding this to the paper-thin plots, it makes a game that very few people will be compelled to finish. Plus, after beating the game on everybody, you don't just get to beat LAST. You have to collect 7 chaos emeralds first, which involves running through frustrating tubes, filled with B-button mashing and clipping issues. It's a completely pace-killing move and while it does add a few hours to the gameplay, it ends up being a few hours of frustration rather than fun.
Bosses are another problem. Like the Sega Genesis games, there are bosses after every 2 acts, or levels. (Yes, this game brings back the "2-act" system, so every 2 levels end up looking pretty much the same, further adding to the game's repetitive feel.) The problem is that these days, having boss fights occur so often really dulls their impact. It doesn't help that the bosses are some of the least inspired and lazy I've ever come across in a video game. For example, a "boss" might consist of fighting a bunch of robots from the game's levels in an arena, as Robotnik hovers above you out of your reach not lifting a finger. There ARE some story-related bosses. Characters run into each other and then start fighting for extremely stupid reasons. Early in the game, Amy runs into Sonic, and says "alright, Sonic, now there's no way out of marrying me." She then proceeds to attempt to beat the crap out of your team. Uh....sexual assault, anyone? Did I mention that this takes place on top of a skyscraper, where team members could fall off and get killed? That should show you how pointless and forced these team fights are. Just not very well thought out. Gameplay-wise, Sonic Heroes is repetitive, slow, and often boring.
Overall it's really not a bad game in the gameplay department, and those who have never experienced Sonic in 3-D before might have a lot of fun here. But to those of us who know how fast Sonic can move...this game just feels slow and the team-based gameplay feels clunky. The "Act 1, Act 2" system worked well in the Genesis games when acts lasted only a couple minutes, but levels here are over 14 minutes long in some cases later in the game, and doing 2 levels at that length (each) in a row just gets repetative. The levels also, while cool-looking and pretty big, aren't particularly memorable or inspired. Add in the frustration of losing all your lives and having to start a 14-minute level over again and you can see where the gameplay starts to fall apart. The game's clearly targeted at little kids but the gameplay will frustrate the hell out of them.
Sound; They stopped the guitar music during levels and bosses, instead opting for techno-sounding music. Again, very 16-bit, and some of it's pretty catchy. Not nearly as memorable as the 2-D games or Sonic Adventure 1 (or hell, even Sonic Adventure 2) but it's a perfectly suitable soundtrack. Rock songs are kept to character themes only, and they actually happen to be very good. Team Sonic's theme, while incredibly corny, is solid, and Team Rose's song's at least an improvement over Amy's headache-inducing theme from Sonic Adventure 1. Team Dark and Team Chaotix have awesome themes, which were stuck in my head for days. Voice acting, though, like usual, is a mixed bag. Voices range from Good (Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow, Eggman) to Tolerable (Rouge The Bat, Amy Rose,) to completely horrible. Why does Cream the Rabbit sound like she's drinking helium? Why does the bee on Team Chaotix sound so much like a girl? Big the Cat's voice actor does an interesting job playing the mentally challenged cat, who, by the way, makes a ''welcome'' return here, and I'm sure the 2 people who liked him in SA1 can rejoice because he's once again a main character. Tails's voice actor was replaced by a person who sounds about 6 years old. Enough said.
The voices, though, don't matter much in the long run. Aside from yelling out the same commands over and over again during gameplay, they don't have much to say. As I said, plot-wise, this game is much smaller scale in story, and cutscenes rarely last longer than 8 seconds.
Replay value- you could replay through the levels and get all A rankings to unlock different things, but why would you? The levels in general aren't much fun, and having to play through them again to get the Chaos Emeralds was annnoying enough. And in case you're wondering, no, there's no chao raising in this game.
So, the final verdict? Sonic Heroes seems to do more to take the series backwards than take it forwards. It falls far behind SA1 and SA2 in terms of plot, character developement, and fun factor. It also loses whatever remaining edginess this series had left. They tried to take Sonic back to its roots by adding as many bosses as possible, but the bosses are completely unimaginative. And very little of Sonic's trademark speed is present here. (I should have known to expect the worst when I found out that they removed Sonic's famous spin dash.) The ending of this game seems to hint at a Sonic Heroes 2, and hopefully, it will offer more in the plot department, as well as giving us levels that are actually fun to play. Or, they can simpy scrap this idea, cancel the "Shadow the Hedgehog" spinoff that they currently have in developement, and instead, focus on giving us Sonic Adventure 3. What we have here is a solid platformer with some creative levels, some decent music, and RARE moments of fast speeds. The game's pretty well-made and features nice graphics, and there were times when I was mildly interested in the events that happened in Team Chaotix's (and Team Dark's) paper-thin storylines. But by removing the fast speeds, the attitude, and the level variety, (all characters play the same levels, all characters must play each level twice!!!) SonicTeam's ended up giving us a very average platformer with nothing much to it. Sonic fans should give it a rental, nobody else really needs to bother.
Update; When I originally reviewed this game, I awarded it an "okay" 6/10 score. Over time, though, the more I thought of the game and what it ended up doing to this series, the more I started to dislike it. I revised the score to a 4/10 and added several sentences where I called the game "horrible" and other words to that extent. In this final update, I went back in and removed those sentences, (it's really not fair to let a bitter opinion overwrite my initial comments on the game,) and while I just can't bring myself to give this game back the 6/10 score I originally gave it, I decided to compromise and bump it up to a 5/10 score.....Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 would have received 9's (or 8's) had I reviewed them when I first beat them on Dreamcast all those years ago. Here's hoping the Sonic series one day regains its glory.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Sonic Heroes (US, 01/05/04)
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