|Title||:||Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg|
|Review by||:||Jeremy Bell|
"The night makes people gloomy and brings out the darkness that resides deep within their hearts." So advises a friend as Billy Hatcher begins his quest to restore the sunlight to "Morning Land." Any fan of anime will probably not find it terribly surprising to hear these kinds of weirdly ominous pronouncements spouted by cute, fuzzy animals. I have always wondered if Japanese cartoons and video games really are as strange as they seem to my American ears, or if something is lost in the translation. At any rate, Japan's preteen pop culture delivers a delicious combination of the syrupy and the surreal that has earned it a cult following from English-speakers of all ages. Sega's Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, for the Nintendo GameCube is a good example.
Morning Land is a world, much like many video game worlds, where the laws of nature and physics become more like loose guidelines, and logic never gets in the way of a good time. Here, Billy Hatcher feeds cherries and watermelons to unhatched eggs, and then hatches them by yelling, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" (or the Japanese equivalent). The eggs then burst open, giving birth to adorable little killing machines that dutifully assist Billy in defeating his equally adorable foes. The eggs themselves can also be used less adequately as weapons or as modes of transportation in areas that would be otherwise impassable. Aside from the regular eggs, there are also the precious golden eggs which, when hatched, reveal wise old roosters who impart wisdom and dispense "Courage Emblems," which allow access to subsequent levels. And finally, there is Billy's ultimate goal: The Giant Egg, the whereabouts of which are detailed only in riddles.
What initially attracted me to this game was that it was made by Yuji Naki, the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog — truly, one of the best games of its kind. But it quickly became apparent that Morning Land was hardly as ambitious in scope as the vast, expansive worlds that the hedgehog hurtles through. The graphics are reasonably good, but they'll probably look a little flat to the ardent Sonic enthusiast. And while the game has some fast-paced moments, it certainly can't keep up with the lightning-fast pinball machine action of Sonic.
But let's not sell Billy Hatcher short. After my initial disappointment wore off, I found myself getting drawn in, and I was soon pushing that egg around with the single-minded determination of an Everquest junkie. As the levels progressed, it was fun to discover what new egg animals were available, and what attacks they would perform. And don't let the child-oriented aspect of the game fool you; after a few levels, it starts getting fairly tricky. Pushing a giant egg definitely adds a level of complexity when maneuvering through the game's various obstacles and conveyances. Billy's enemies are formidable, and there don't appear to be any power-ups that restore health. And don't forget that both Billy and his eggs can take damage, and if a golden egg is destroyed, so is Billy!
While the game is certainly no match for the Hedgehog series, there are similarities between the two. Anyone who has ever played Sonic Adventure has probably noticed by this point in the review that this egg-hatching scheme sounds a lot like Sonic's Chao World. In a way, it is, but if you're looking for a glorified Gigapet, you best look elsewhere. Billy doesn't really "raise" his animal helpers, nor can he do anything to modify their capabilities. Once they've performed their allotted number of attacks (five or so), they're gone. Still, I preferred the animal-raising routine in Billy Hatcher because it was incorporated into the gameplay, instead of being kept wholly separate from the action, as in Sonic Adventure.
I noticed no major flaws in the game's presentation and technical workings. The camera movements are a bit sluggish, but thankfully the game offers adequate manual control of the perspective. The camera includes a feature that I think all games of this type should have: a single button press to automatically reorient the camera to its default position behind the player. The handling generally reminds me a little of Super Mario Sunshine (and, come to think of it, Billy Hatcher's whole storyline is a bit derivative of that title). And as for the audio – most of the music is annoying and repetitive, and the effects sound like they were sampled from a Scooby Doo cartoon. But this is not a huge problem, since most modern televisions now come equipped with a volume control.
The game also has a multiplayer combat mode which seems totally unnecessary. There is nothing about Billy Hatcher that particularly lends itself to multiplayer fun; the creators seem to have simply inserted a multiplayer game into a single-player environment. This is certainly not a fault of Billy Hatcher alone. As a rule, if a multiplayer mode is simply an extra feature, it probably won't be worth playing.
I'm still not sure what hatching giant eggs has to do with restoring sunlight to the world. And I don't particularly care. I wasn't blown away by this game, but I did have fun. So if you're a fan of Japanese kids' stuff, you might want to put down your Gigapet and your Pokemon DVDs and spend a few hours with Billy Hatcher.
This article is copyright (c) 2004, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Gamebits, 03-Feb-04