Review by discoinferno84

"We can be heroes, for just one day..."

I walked into my local Gamestop a few months ago. I had a wallet full of overtime cash and absolutely no idea what I wanted. I stood in front of the Gamecube rack, hoping to find something that would catch my eyes. My hopes were answered in the form of a certain blue hedgehog. When I saw Sonic Heroes sitting proudly with the other new releases, I knew it was the game I'd be getting. Little did I know what would be waiting for me when I popped the little disc into the Gamecube. Sonic Heroes serves as a step in a whole new direction for the Sonic franchise, but it still has all the qualities that made its predecessors great.

What I appreciated about the previous Sonic games is the presentation of the background story. Sure, the plots were rehashed over and over again, but at least we knew exactly why Sonic and his friends were on the adventure. When it comes to Sonic Heroes, we're given only a mere skeleton of the tried and true Sonic plot. Dr. Eggman has returned and has created yet another scheme for world domination. This time, he's created some sort of deadly weapon of mass destruction. Once again, it's up to Sonic and his friends to stop the evil doctor from the realization of his evil scheme.

Of course, there are plenty of ulterior motives for each character. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles run blindly into the thick of Dr. Eggman's forces with only the intent to stop whatever the doctor has planned. Amy has returned with her obsession with Sonic in full swing. Big and Cream are looking for missing friends. Shadow and Omega have been revived by Rouge. And the bumbling trio of Espio, Vector, and Charmy are being paid to take out Dr. Eggman's robots. Despite the characters having their own agendas, the presentation of the storylines is lacking. We know that everyone is on the adventure for a reason, but these reasons aren't emphasized and contribute little to the progression of the overall story.

Luckily, the gameplay almost makes up for the lacking plot. Unlike the previous Sonic games, you're given control of three characters at a time. Every three characters are designated into separate teams. Each character adds their own unique attributes to balance out the strength of the overall team. Each team will always have someone that specializes in speed, like Sonic or Shadow. There's someone that can fly over obstacles, like Cream or Charmy. And to round out your fighting force, there's will always be someone with awesome strength, like Knuckles or Big. While the characters vary in appearance, their abilities will boil down to one of these three attributes.

You are given control of one of the teams. Each team has a preset difficulty that can either make or break your gaming experience. I blazed through the Team Rose scenario with little effort. But when I tried the Team Dark Scenario for the first time, I got killed more times than I'd care to share. But this variation in difficulty is where the difference ends. No matter what team you choose, you'll still being going through the same levels. You'll just be facing more puzzles and enemies depending on the difficulty. And once you've played through the levels with a few of the teams, the game starts to get old really fast. You may be flying around with Rouge, but you still get the same experience as if you were flying with Cream or Tails.

Luckily, the levels are designed to break up the repetition. You will be faced with various obstacles that require strategy to overcome. You need to learn to use this combination of speed, flight, and power effectively if you want to progress through the levels. You will be presented with sections of levels that apply to the character's specific attributes. If you're trying to cross a wide chasm with nothing but flying robots in your way, you can use Sonic's Homing Attack to use the robots as stepping stools. Or you could switch over to Tails and try to fly to the other side before his energy runs out. The levels are designed to give you strategic options. It's just little things like jumping on ledges or attacking enemies, but it adds more to the progression of your game. Which approach is more effective? It's up to you to perfect your battle strategy in these fast-paced environments.

Also, each character has signature moves and abilities. Sonic has his classic Light Dash attack. Amy has her trusty Piko Piko Hammer. But the characters also have special team abilities that are used to progress though the level. If you come across a strong updraft of wind, you need to switch over to a character that specializes in power. When you jump into the updraft, the characters will link hands and fly in skydiving formation. If you don't switch to someone with power attributes, the characters will float around aimlessly. You need to learn how to make use of the character's team abilities efficiently of you want to beat the level in a timely manner. It's little puzzles like these that can occasionally mess up your gameplay if you're not paying attention.

With so many changes to the standard Sonic gameplay formula, there's only one enduring quality prevalent throughout the game. For simplicity's sake, the game designers threw out the exploration level design of Rouge or Knuckles. Instead, we are presented with massive linear and platform levels. Your characters will blaze through the levels along pre-determined tracks. This overall design will be nothing new to seasoned Sonic fans. Despite the simple linear design, the levels are massive and there are courses that apply to the specific attributes of the characters. If you like Speed, you're going to be staying on the standard track. If you want to fly, you can jump from platform to platform. And if you want to wade through countless enemies and obstacles, you can choose the path that specializes in the power characters' abilities. There are many ways to get around a level, but each path follows the basic linear setup.

Despite the complex levels and gameplay choices, there are still a few problems that seem to be inherent in all the Sonic games. Once again, the camera makes automatic shifts depending on your position. Sometimes you'll be running along the track and the camera angle will change, leaving you jumping awkwardly into the unknown. Sonic games have always placed an emphasis on speed. The problem is that Sonic can run just a little too fast for his own good. If you're going fast enough, there are places where you can run right off the edge and into the abyss. Also, the attacks are inconsistent. I've come across enemies that can be taken out by merely jumping near them. Sometimes Sonic's Homing Attack will go at an awkward angle, causing Sonic to fall to his death. These little attack glitches can occasionally make things easier, but they take away from the overall presentation of the game.

With so much going on in Sonic Heroes, you'll likely miss the amazing graphics that the game has to offer. The game designers have clearly learned from their mistakes of the previous Sonic games. When you finish each level, you are presented with a brief cut scene that helps the progression of the overall story. These cut scenes feature some of the best graphics that Gamecube has to offer. You can see the amazing texture of Big's fur or Amy's brilliant eyes. While these cut scenes are brief, they are beautiful. But the excellent graphics don't end there. All of the in-game characters have excellent detail. The seamless character design creates a more realistic set of characters. Every in this game is rendered with realistic effects and textures. You can see the light shimmering off the water. You can see the sold texture of the buildings. The excellent graphics draw you into the game and creates a more realistic sense of your surroundings.

Also, the sound effects are well done. This game has an excellent soundtrack that we've come to expect with this generation of sonic games. All of the correct sound effects happen right on cue, like the jangling of lost rings or loud boom of explosions. I do have one problem, however. There's the old idea of having too much of a good thing. I'm all for great voice acting. And they've made huge advancements in the voice acting since the last Sonic game. The problem is that there's far too much of it. The characters all yell when they attack. They yell when you change from character to character. They encourage each other as they progress through the level or are faced with numerous enemies. But there's just too much of it for my liking. Once you've heard Cream yell, “Leave it to me!” enough times, her voice will give you a headache. Tails sounds like he's gotten a sinus infection. And Big…well, let's just say that some things are better left unsaid. The voices match perfectly with the character personas, but there's just too much talking during the gameplay. Despite the annoying voices, the overall sound effects are executed perfectly and add to your gaming experience.

So, where does this leave our trusty band of heroes? This latest installment of the Sonic series boasts some of the best visual aspects that can be offered today. Sonic Heroes has taken the traditional Sonic game setup and twisted it into something completely new. Sonic doesn't have to face evil alone anymore. Instead, he's got a team to back him up. This game isn't going to appeal to everyone. If you prefer the old Sonic game formula, I suggest that you stay far away from this game. If you want to experience a new spin on an old idea, give Sonic Heroes a shot and see how it grabs you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/09/04

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