SONIC HEROES for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Gamecube, $69.99. Rating: NNN
EXCLUSIVITY : None. Although the last couple of Sonic games have been for Nintendo only, Sonic Heroes marks the hyperactive hedgehog's debut on the Xbox and PS2.
ADDICTIVENESS : Not exactly gaming crack, but it'll keep you up late enough to catch Conan.
AUDIO : Bad music. Bad dialogue. Bad acting.
NOSTALGIA : Brings back misty 512-colour memories of the Sega Genesis.
It's taken longer than I expected, but Sega's finally hauled its little blue cash cow out of the barn for another milking. Sonic Heroes, the latest game in a long line of platformers starring the world's fastest hedgehog, has arrived. Sonic blasted onto the gaming scene back in 1991 on the Sega Genesis and immediately become a monster hit with gamers everywhere.
Unfortunately, as gaming hardware improved, the 2D platform game pretty much disappeared, prompting the Sonic series to move to 3D a few years ago. The results haven't been spectacular, as the games strayed farther from their roots with every iteration. I'm pleased to report that Sonic Heroes is an attempt at a return to form - and it comes pretty close to succeeding.
Sonic games are all about speed. You careen through huge levels at a breakneck pace, collecting rings and destroying enemies. The new wrinkle in Heroes is the addition of a team. Instead of controlling only one character at a time, you now control a group of three. Each member of the team represents a different ability: speed, power or flight. Selecting different team leaders changes the powers and special moves you have available.
The team concept is very cool and leads to some interesting game play since you must constantly switch characters to make it through the enormous levels. You also get to choose between four different teams: Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles), Team Dark (Shadow, E-123 Omega, Rouge), Team Rose (Amy, Big, Cream) and Team Chaotix (Espio, Vector, Charmy).
Although the game remains essentially the same regardless of the team you choose, your goals and challenges change. The result is that your choice of team ultimately affects the difficulty of the game.
The only problem with the team idea is that the game tells you which character to use, making it too damn easy. It would be a lot more fun having to experiment and figure things out on your own. Maybe there could even be a few puzzles that could only be solved by using the right character at the right time.
Sonic Heroes is aimed at a younger audience, which probably accounts for this simple approach. But it seems like a waste not to exploit this great concept to its fullest.
Graphically, it gets the job done. It won't be the game you pull off the shelf to showcase your Xbox, but some nice water effects and spectacular environments definitely make this the best-looking game in the series.
The controls are straightforward and intuitive with the exception of the camera, often an Achilles' heel in 3D platform games. As in countless similar titles, you'll find yourself plummeting to your death because you couldn't see where you were going. Annoying? Hell, yes. Unusual? Sadly, no.
Speaking of annoying, the voice acting in the game is some of the worst ever. Throw in the fact that each character only has a couple of grating lines that repeat endlessly and you'll be wanting to deafen yourself with a knitting needle after the first 20 minutes.
Despite the audio and camera issues, Sonic Heroes is the blue blur's best 3D outing yet. It's the closest 3D Sonic has come to the feel of his 2D roots - just furious, high-speed fun. The new team concept, though a little underdeveloped, is a blast. The levels are beautifully designed, fun to play and huge. If you're a long-time Sonic fan or just looking for some fun platform action, you'll want to grab this one right away.