|Platforms||:||Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Sonic the Hedgehog has been a mainstay of the entertainment industry almost as long as Mario. Yet Sega's mascot has not successfully transitioned to as many genres as Nintendo's plumber, with mediocre racing and party games to his name. Whereas Mario's leap to 3D essentially defined what a 3D platform game should be, Sonic's adventures on the Sega Dreamcast were less inspired, thanks in part to the hedgehog sharing the spotlight with several playable castmates. This tradition continues with Sonic Heroes, the hedgehog's first multiplatform release. [GameCube version reviewed here]
The variety of gameplay styles in this 3D action game is similar to that established in the episodic escapades of the Sonic Adventure games, except less divisive. Whereas previously, each level would feature a different protagonist, in Sonic Heroes, players remain in simultaneous control of a trio of heroes. Switching between characters is a snap, and a constant necessity, as each has unique moves and strengths necessary to advance past each stage's many obstacles.
A total of twelve characters, familiar from past Sonic games or new to this installment, offer four unique paths — sometimes treading the same ground, sometimes intersecting with the other heroes (or anti-heroes). Each team has three archetypes: a speedster (such as Sonic), a flyer (Tails, the two-tailed fox), and a powerhouse (Knuckles the Echidna).
Whether it's fighting or fleeing, solving puzzles or flying to new heights, the Sonic squad can do it all. There are some excellent moments of high-speed freneticism, which have always been what Sonic does best. Unfortunately, such moments comprise only a third of the action. Sega had the wisdom to split various gameplay styles further among the different teams — Team Chaotix, for example, has goal-based missions, such as finding specific hidden items on each stage, while Team Rose is aimed at beginner players — but this doesn't change the fact that a sudden burst of Sonic speed may be just as suddenly halted by a hurdle only Knuckles can overcome.
Other gameplay vices are present. The game exercises the archaic practice of bottomless pits, where one misstep can send players to their doom, no matter how much health they have or progress they've made. One character's main attack often sends him charging forward, regardless of his proximity to precarious perches, which decreases the usefulness of his primary function.
The presentation is enjoyable but not without flaws. The prerendered sequences that advance what passes for a plot (as though we needed one) are gorgeous enough to warrant lamenting their rarity. But once inserted into the actual gameplay, players will find the camera is often tightly focused on Sonic's destination, presenting a poor view of his immediate surroundings and leaving him open to attack. Mostly cheesy, yet catchy pop tunes compose the soundtrack.
Given the game's ternary nature, a cooperative multiplayer mode would seem natural. Instead, only a two-player, split-screen, competitive option is available, and doesn't offer much beyond standard races and ring-collecting sessions.
The gameplay provided by the hedgehog's pals is not poor, but it does create unbalanced enjoyment which ultimately drags down the whole product. Perhaps it's time for the hedgehog to go back to his roots and take his next adventure solo.
This article is copyright (c) 2004, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Tech News, 03-Feb-04