Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform OTHER Release 6th February 2004
- After the success and mainstream appeal of Sonic Adventure 2 but after the unfortunate bankruptcy of SEGA - the corporation now being owned by Japanese amusement company: Sammy, forming the new SEGA-Sammy holdings - the company now needed to utilise their key assets to their full potential, said key assets being it's back-catalogue of iconic figures of the 90's, the most pronounced and beloved of all these was, you guessed it: Sonic. Sadly, SEGA-Sammy saw this as an opportunity to exploit their intellectual properties, warping them into -- with a lack of a better phrase -- Cash Cows, which SEGA would wrench away at their tender money-lactating udders until they keeled from over-exposure. Sonic Heroes was the first game released under the new ownership, a game which had been in development for a good while before SEGA was sold, but was primarily developed while SEGA was bleeding money on the verge of bankruptcy.
Sonic Heroes is a unique game in the Sonic series, one which somewhat resembles the ill-fated SEGA-32x game Knuckles Chaotix which saw two Sonic characters almost literally tied together by the hip thanks to some unexplained mystical elastic sparkles
, using each character's unique abilities and attributes such as their weight, ability to climb walls and so forth, to clear a stage. Heroes builds upon this to incorporate three characters playable at 'once'. The game consisted of 4 'teams', each team consisting of three characters each having one of three types; speed, power and fly. Switching between the three characters is handled by pressing designated buttons on a rotating carousel in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Each stage is designed to have you switching between the three different types to progress.
Got to be awkward when they invent talking toilet paper...
But before we get ahead of ourselves, lets talk story. Since Sonic Adventure, SEGA has decided that Sonic games need increasingly complex
plots which follow the same generic structure: Eggman makes/releases some evil onto the world to aide his conquest of world domination/creation of Eggman Land, said evil betrays Eggman and it requires Eggman and Sonic to team up to defeat it. And Sonic Heroes is no exception to this structure. Eggman's creation of some age: Metal Sonic, (of Sonic CD fame) has returned after somehow acquiring the ability to turn itself into Liquid Metal ala Terminator 1000
-style, meaning he can now transform into just about anything it likes.
Knowing this from the start helps make the story completely fall apart
at the first hurdle. See, for most the story Eggman is goading on various characters, notably Sonic who he delivers a sheet of talking paper whi--wait, what? Talking paper? Are you serious? Why talking paper
of all things? And why does it have text on it? If you're sending a video note... I... This is already too stupid for me... Well, anyway, after hearing out the note which has both written and audible script
, Sonic and co. embark on their quest to constantly
run into Eggman and constantly
defeat him and his severely underwhelming robotic forces. Only later we find out that Eggman was actually Metal Sonic all this time. And rather than just transform into a giant robotic dinosaur
capable of destroying the planet, decides it's a good idea to allow Sonic and friends to gather all-powerful precious stones, which so far have been used to defeat every single one of Eggman's Doomsday machines, an ancient mythical being and a giant space lizard. How did he think this was going to end?
To further complicate the story, it's set in a rather abstract world which somewhat resembles earlier Sonic titles. Where as the Sonic Adventure games took place in a more Earth-like environment full of metropolitan areas inhabited by human beings, Sonic Heroes does not. And perhaps this was alluding to the fact that the Sonic games don't really
have a very serious canon to follow, or that perhaps these events happened before
the Sonic Adventure games somehow... But then the "hard mode" of the game; Team Dark is filled with characters introduced during Sonic Adventure 2 (with the exception of the robot; Omega, who was introduced in Sonic Heroes)... With their Speed-type; Shadow, being created in that human world, by a human
. And let's not even get started as to why Shadow came back, despite the fact it was made pretty clear at the end of Sonic Adventure 2 that he had died saving the Earth and had redeemed himself. No, instead they bring him back and then give him his own game... But that rant's coming, oh yes, it's coming.
Team Rose, the game's "easy mode", consists of every character you've ever hated through the Sonic series. From Big the Cat to Cream the Oh-God-Why-Wont-You-Shut-Up-Please-Shut-Up-I-Beg-Of-You-Shut-Up and Amy, that pink hedgehog you hated playing as in just about every Sonic game. Their little story is that Big's frog-companion, ingeniously named "Froggy" has gone missing, as well as Cream's Chao companion's ... Friend? Family member? Who knows?
"Chocola"... And Amy, as usual, just wants to stalk Sonic and engage in more awkward, slightly sinister confrontations with him. The more interesting team is Team Chaotix, which consists of 3 characters returning from the aforementioned Knuckles Chaotix game; Vector, Charmy and Epsio. Sadly, Mighty -- a character which looks suspiciously a lot like Sonic, not to mention wearing his shoes -- didn't make the cut. Chaotix's story is also vastly different from any other as they complete specific missions
such as find X number of things
as directed by a mysterious
client who... Oh hell, I'll just say it. It's Eggman, who has been locked away by Metal Sonic.
Are you kidding? This is how the game ends? No resolutions? I hate this game.
In the end, it turns out that Metal Sonic was going around collecting DNA samples of various characters... For reasons never explained, hence why he called them out, posed as Eggman to throw them off his scent and mask his true motives (whatever they are) and... Then just turns into a giant robotic dinosaur thing, which perhaps would have been more useful at the start of the game
. But hey, it was a good job he summoned all the main cast of characters which he allowed ample time to collect all the Chaos Emeralds, to a single place where they could team up and pose a significant threat
to him. The whole plot doesn't really make any sense. There's no conclusions to the game, Metal Sonic's ambitions were never made clear... Just sort-of implied
he would take over the world by somehow being a giant robotic dinosaur. The only closure the game gets is that Big and Cream find Froggy and Chocola about three-quarters through their story, but they still end up on Eggman's battle fleet anyway... The game just sort of fizzles to an end once Metal Sonic has been defeated, in which Sonic lets him go free, ready to cook up even more stupid evil schemes rather than going American History X on his head while it is down. Oh, but hey, everything's okay because they're SONIC HEROES
! (Direction: Freeze-frame mid-air in awkward poses as unintelligible main theme song starts.)
But enough of that noise, let's get to the real meat of the game: The game. It takes what Sonic Adventure had accomplished -- a pretty coherent 3D Sonic title which, although perhaps wasn't as iconic or nearly as fantastic to play as Super Mario 64, was still a very good transition to 3D -- and screw everything up. For starters, the game's pace is a lot slower. Mostly because you end up swapping between the three character types every 20 paces and the fact that most stages in the game have two 'acts' to them, each taking about 5 minutes to complete. The game still have the unfortunate series-staple of rail-grinding, which seeing how well people just loved and appreciated
Sky Rail in Sonic Adventure 2, they made the sequel: Rail Canyon for Sonic Heroes. Complete with more rail-hopping and frustration as they throw stuff at you while you're grinding on nearly endless stretches of not-very-much-control. So let's kick things off.
Here's another protip. Spam tornado attacks.
As stated before, there's three different types of character in a single team, each one can be swapped in at any time. Speed-type characters; Sonic, Amy, Shadow and Espio all have the same general theme, they run the fastest and are moderate at dealing damage to enemies, each of these characters have an 'action' command, usually something to do with throwing an enemy into the air. Sonic and Shadow have tornado attacks which encircle enemies and either throw them into the air or remove things like shields, enemies already airborne will be mostly unaffected by this move. Espio has a similar move, but unlike Shadow and Sonic, the move wont home-in on the enemy, instead, a tornado simply forms around Espio and any enemy in the radius or just happens to walk into it gets thrown upwards, the main reason why you would do this attack is mostly to turn yourself invisible and enemies wont notice you and you can phase through laser grids. Amy's take on this is also slightly different where she throws the tornado at enemies, meaning it can be done at distance. All Speed types have a 'spindash' like move in which they can power through lines of enemies and possess the Homing Jump/Homing Jump to hit enemies easily and the Light-Ring Dash from Sonic Adventure 2 in which they can quickly travel along lines of rings. Any team member can be levelled up by collecting balls which correspond to the team-mate's type, blue spheres power up Speed-type characters, yellow Fly and red Power. Once at Level 3, the highest level, Speed types can remove enemy shields by Homing Jumping them, rather than create a tornado and from some
level, you can also avoid having to tornado-attack poles to interact with them, simply just homing-jumping at them will do the trick.
Power-types do as you expect, they're your main attacking type against enemies. Unlike Speed or Fly, they can destroy heavily armoured enemies, boulders and generally do more damage per-hit to an enemy, Power-types aren't very quick, though. Characters; Knuckles, Big, Omega and Vector are the Power-types in the game and all generally have the same moves. By pressing the action button on the ground will cause the Speed and Fly types to create a new formation, for Knuckles, Omega and Vector, this means rolling to a ball and being held by the Power type, Big simply has them on his shoulders. Pressing B repeatedly will cause Knuckles and Omega to use these rolled up characters as punching-gloves to hit enemies or clear obstructions, Vector spits them out his mouth towards enemies and Big bats them towards enemies from a distance. Once you're out of throwable characters, pressing the B-button again initiates a secondary attack which means Knuckles explodes and sends out projectiles at random to damage near-by enemies, Omega fires an assortment of weapons from machine guns to flamethrowers at enemies in a 360-degree rotation depending on level, Vector has flame-breath for some reason and Big uses his fishing rod and swings it around. When mid-air, hitting the B-button will generally cause all characters to throw the other characters towards enemies like Big and Vector does on the ground, once all throwable characters are gone, Vector and Big perform a belly-flop move.
More pinball tables
Fly-types have their unique formation in which they create a tall tower of characters, each hanging onto the feet of the next. From this formation, you can jump and hover mid-air infinitely, but moving causes the "Fly" gauge to deplete. Once the Fly gauge has completely emptied, you can no-longer fly and you fall, usually into a bottomless chasm. Either mid-air or on the ground, you can kick the Power and Speed types of your team into other enemies, usually stunning them -- only at their final, third level of does their attacks actually destroy enemies. Once out of kick-able characters, Tails and Rouge spread fake rings around which damage/stun enemies, Charmy attacks enemies with his stinger (usually ending up getting Charmy hurt more than the enemy) and Cream attacks with Cheese (like in Sonic Advance 2). Fly is by-far the most worthless of the three types, mostly because they're only ever used for crossing short gaps since their fly gauge is so short-lived, they don't pick up speed when grinding on rails and they're weak and completely ineffective against any type of enemy, having limited use against airborne enemies since Power or Speed types usually have to finish off enemies once they've been stunned and brought to the ground.
Team Rose's Team Blast
Every team has access to a "Team Blast" move, which is built up by destroying enemies or simply spamming standard moves like the Speed-type tornado attack, the Power-type punch move or the Fly-type kick move when there's no enemies about. Each team blast does something different after the move has been completed, however the general function of the move is simple, deal massive damage to enemies near-by. After the move, a team has special abilities they can make use of until the Team Blast bar in the corner of the screen depletes and becomes available to fill again (the 'reset' duration). Team Sonic can perform a mini-Team Blast, Team Dark has time frozen for the reset duration, Team Rose gets invincibility and a level-up for all team members and Team Chatoix turns any enemies destroyed into rings during and after their blast while the gauge resets.
The main complaint I have with the game is the fact that it gets so boring
. Stages are varied in theme and the odd stage here-and-there is quite interesting in design, but most of the game just seems bland. It ends up being the same monotonous romp through differently coloured stages fighting slightly different enemies employing the same tired strategies to complete the stage. And while you make double-take what I said, being that Sonic games themselves are basically all about jumping on enemies through the entire game, there's just something which is very off-putting with the lack of entertainment you get out of Sonic Heroes. Perhaps it's because in older Sonic games or even Sonic Adventure, you had more variation on stage design. Stages like Speed Highway were radically different to say: Lost World. Where as in Sonic Heroes, Seaside Hill (the first stage) is no different to Final Fortress (the final stage) in the fact that all you're doing is following a single, pre-ordained path which pretty much slaps you in the face telling you what character you should be to pass a certain area. You have the odd path split here-and-there, but they're nothing more than a slightly longer or shorter route through an area which is about 20 feet in length at best. Doesn't help that all teams in the game, apart from Team Chaotix, are all the same stages only perhaps a bit longer or a bit shorter and a little bit easier or harder depending on team. And Team Chaotix's missions get stale pretty quickly, obscure mission types like "collect 10 shell crabs" or the more infuriating "complete a stage without being detected" will frustrate you while simultaneously bringing the whole game to a dead stand-still.
Don't be fooled by the high-res textures, it still looks in Sonic Adventure 2.
The only really interesting stages in the game is the Hang Castle and Mystic Mansion stages which are as trippy as they are interestingly made, if not full of annoying grinding gimmicks, silly on-rails tobogganing -- tabogganing being a strange gimmick which rears it's head at unusual times to frustrate you. Basically, you control a weird vehicle where the Speed type powers the car, the Fly type makes the cart jump and the Power type steers. As you hit obstacles you either plough through them, usually collecting items as you do, or get damaged and lose a team member in the process, crippling mobility or speed, basically dooming you to failure as you can't avoid obstacles or don't have enough speed to jump over them. Three hits and it's back to the last checkpoint. I mean, why does a Sonic game even need a driving section? Was being the fastest organic life on the planet not good enough for Sonic? -- and strange leaps-of-faith where either the camera isn't helping your ability to continue or the level design doesn't make it clear that there is an invisible walkway around.
Team Battles... Oh boy...
Bosses also rear their head every "third act", as it were. Bosses are generally quite easy and completely unengaging. The first boss, Egg Albatross is Eggman sitting in a giant mechanical eagle fleeing from you. Hardly a menacing posture
for an evil scientist hell-bent on world domination to be taking. Later into the game, you fight the boss again, only this time it rests on-top a giant battle zephyr which you're supposed to travel along obstacle-ridden platforms to defeat... Until you realise you can just Homing Attack the balloon constantly and never have to deal with any of the obstacles. However, if you do a few laps of the obstacles, you at least get some level-up items to get the battle over-and-done-with quicker. Which is perhaps the preferred option since you're actually graded on how fast you defeat bosses this time around. Occasionally you'll get the odd "developers didn't have enough [time/creative ideas] to put more bosses into the game" moment in which they implemented Survival-like bosses where you defeat waves of enemies, each time you encounter one it gets more frustrating. Team Dark's "Robot Storm" boss near the end of the game is particularly annoying since if you die in the battle, you start from the beginning and enemies can be as cheap as hell
when you're confined to a small area.
Protip: spam homing jump.
The Final story mode isn't much different here either. The first battle here involves fighting a similar boss pattern with different characters, despite the fact you'll only ever really use the Homing Jump, the Power Throw and the Fly Kick moves which all teams in the game have and operate in the exact same way
, but it's basically an excuse to buy more game time as each time you swap teams, your team levels drop back down to 0. On the flip-side, it's also a checkpoint within the boss, something which would have perhaps been more appreciated during the much more difficult/tedious Robot Storm boss. The main gimmick is that you can only hit him with certain character's attacks at a given time. Generally, the best strategy to employ in this boss is to jump into the cannon they give you with the Power Type and fire your team mates at the boss (but not firing yourself, lest the game throws you off the stage and you die. The whole fly-off-platform thing is mostly the reason why you'll want to hide in the cannon, the best tip I can give you is to never use the Speed type and homing-jump at the boss, because that will
end with that character dying 9 times out of 10. Hiding in the cannon also makes you immune to any attacks he throws at you, yeah, it's cheap but you know what? I don't care.
It's supposed to show pain, but it looks like he's laughing, personally.
Even the game's obligatory Super Sonic battle at the end of the game is weak, posing no challenge to you at all. Essentially, you play a game of 'guess what move disposes of this attack', a game so full of trial and error that in the end, the game starts throwing audio hints in the form of other characters somehow projecting their voices across a great span of air to basically moan at you for beating the boss wrong
. Like they somehow have encyclopaedic knowledge of it's weaknesses... Which I suppose does make sense given that nothing else in the game makes any kind of sense
. Anyway, getting enough guesses right fills up the Team Blast bar, fill it up and execute the bar three times and that's it, game's over.
But wait! Before you can get to the final boss, guess what? Special stage time! Oh yes, Special Stages. I've had some pretty long rants about these things so far, will Sonic Heroes be any different? Of course not! See, in order to get into a Special Stage, you must first find a Key hidden in a level somewhere. But once you find the Key, you can't die or... Get this, even take a single hit
else you lose the Key and it disappears into the ether of time and space. You can't just pick the Key up again, it doesn't drop with the rings. It just vanishes, kaput. The game is kind enough to generally have two keys in each stage, but if you missed one and got hit once when holding the other, that's it. Restart the level and don't suck next time
. Of course, being me, I found an easier solution to this problem. Because the game basically has no 'safe' ways of dispatching of a lot of enemies, there's zero point to collecting the Chaos Emeralds with any team other than Team Rose, the easy-mode to the game. This works out quite well, actually, since Chaos Emeralds are shared between Teams in this game. Once you have a Chaos Emerald with one team, you have one with all teams. Something which Sonic Advance 1 and 2 should have done. If you just love
pain and frustration enough to smash the Earth's crust while you fling your controller towards the floor, by all means attempt to get the Keys to all Special Stages
with Team Dark. Go on, I dare you.
Yep, that text is 3x harder to see when playing.
Once in Special Stages you're thrust into a pipe -- Because, you know, in Sonic 2 there was a half-pipe
Special Stage, so hey, got to improve on that, right? -- in which there's multicoloured balls scattered in various formations, these balls fill your Boost Gauge, which as you may have already guessed gives you a speed boost. Depending on how much energy in the gauge you have is how fast you will travel when boosting. Along the way there's spiked-balls which slow you down, speed boosters which take control away from you, as well as springs which throw you into the air and through rings which are equally pointless and a strange encounter with some hot-air balloon which has little Chao inside throwing you special balls which fills your gauge quicker than usual or spiked balls which trip you up, you have to make an almost split-second decision as to whether the thing they threw at you was good
. Of course, the later only takes part in the "Score Attack" Special Stage, which you're unceremoniously given if you collect the Key on the "first act" of any stage, so basically uneven numbered stages give you access to the Special Stage you want in which you acquire a Chaos Emerald. To get the Chaos Emerald, it's a simple task of collecting balls and dashing for a few seconds as the Emerald tries to out-race you to the finish. If you finish the course without the Emerald, you don't get it. It's a simpler take on Special Stages, one which proved extremely easy... Probably because of the implied difficulty of actually getting to the Special Stage in the first place. Perhaps Sonic Advance 2 should have beared that in mind.
The game's camera is terrible, it does a half-decent job of staying behind you but often finds less than helpful angles at times where you need it the most, like being chased by giant boulders in the second stage, the camera is directly infront of you as you run towards it. So you can't really see what's coming up, not that it matters since the game generally takes a lot of control away from you with speed boosters dotted all over the place, when in the Power Plant stage, you are ascending on an elevator upwards with obstacles like fireballs being placed above you, however, you can't really see how far they are from you since the camera lingers too close to your character to see even 4 feet above you, although someone had the good grace to make the balls project a glow on the ground where these fireballs are above. You can control the camera some-what by using the shoulder buttons to rotate it around, however it's hardly an improvement since it doesn't adjust distance from you, which is generally your number one complaint with it.
Amy: Defining creepy since 2000.
Visually the game is on-par with Sonic Adventure 2, which is hardly saying a good thing considering 3 years had elapsed between Sonic Adventure 2, designed with the limitations of the SEGA Dreamcast in mind and Sonic Heroes having relative power-houses like the Nintendo Gamecube or Microsoft's Xbox to play around with. One could say that the game's art-direction was to blame for this, but I am often very lenient when it comes to stylised visuals. Instead, the game just looks bad with huge masses of jagged edges all over the place and the odd modern-looking visual asset here and there, most visual inadequacies were thinly veiled by a strange gloss-like effect characters in the game seem to have, like they were made out of latex. A stark contrast to the CGI made for the game which most definitely shows any character to be no-where-near as shiny as they are in-game. If you removed the gloss effect you'd be no better off, however may show up where they skimped out of texturing character models. If you played on the PC or Xbox, you were greeted to slightly nicer visuals, with some effects being omitted from the Gamecube or Playstation 2 version of the game for reasons unknown... Well, on the Gamecube side, anyway. The Playstation 2 version looks comparably worse than any other version of the game, mostly because the Playstation 2 was a pretty under-powered console at the time and may explain away why Heroes looks just marginally better than Sonic Adventure 2 did in 2001. My bet, however, would be on the fact that the game was rushed out the door and any polish which would have gone into sprucing up the visuals transformed into actual
polish that got dumped all over the character models.
And interestingly enough, I'm not just going to one-sentence away my inability to properly critique any sort of audible noise which my TV emits either. While Sonic Heroes has quite a fitting and well-made soundtrack, there are a few... Strange things about it. For one, the main theme song of the game is completely unintelligible. I've had 5 years now to try and work out just what the hell Crush 40 are singing in the aptly named "Sonic Heroes" song, which seems to be a random mash of "cool" sounding sentences sung in a deliberately distorted manner to mask the fact that hardly any of the song makes any sort of sense and I still don't know half the lyrics and I could be completely wrong for about half of them. I even looked up lyrics online and each one I found differed from one-another at various parts (unless they were just blatantly copy-pasted from another site
). There's also the odd moment in just about any lyrical song in the game where you notice rather unintentional innuendos as heard in Team Rose's theme with the line "Follow me inside, outside, through the stratosphere
" or Team Sonic's theme with "The best thing's in each other
" or "So much better than alone
", which I'm sure furry-slash-fiction writers must have just loved
. The Gamecube version, which I conducted this review on, also has some problems with storage space. With a few voice clips omitted from the game to save space.
Yes, kick that fax machine--I mean Metal Sonic. Smash it good.
Sonic Heroes then is a mash together of poor design ideas, mixed with a pretty weak gameplay concept with a poor story, poor camera controls, lacklustre visuals and an underwhelming soundtrack. It's a pretty big disappointment which continued SEGA's conquest to remove control away from the player where-ever it could to mask the fact the gameplay sucked, was a rushed title designed to accumulate easy-money, riding on the back of a popular video game franchise and offered very little to the series. I didn't understand why critics panned this game back in 2004, although that's not saying much considering Metacritic
has the Xbox version of the game at 73/100, a definite "average" score, you can bet now in 2011 I understand why the game sucks so badly. If this game wasn't at the the start of the declining era of Sonic, then this game perhaps wouldn't have the benefit of a doubt it had back then. But perhaps most worryingly, it keeps getting worse from here-on in.