Retro Review – Sonic Heroes – GameCube
Publisher: SEGA Developer: Sonic Team Genre: Platformer Players: 1-2 Age Rating: 3+
Other console/handheld formats: PS2, Xbox
Sonic Heroes is the first Sonic the Hedgehog game to be released on multiple consoles and is set after the events of Sonic Adventure 2. The plot features the usual and follows Sonic as he, and his friends, thwart the evil Doctor Robotnik-not-rubbish-Eggman and his new plans to build a huge Egg Fleet and prevent him from taking over the world. However, as was the trend at the time, Sonic’s arch nemesis is not the main villain of this story.
Sonic Heroes was the first game in the series in which players could control multiple characters at once, and was recognised in the Guinness World Records in 2008 for having the most playable characters in a platform game. There are a total of four stories, with three characters teamed together for each story. Sonic, Knuckles and Tails are the main heroic trio and are ‘imaginatively’ called Team Sonic. Also along for the ride is Team Dark, featuring Sonic’s popular doppelganger Shadow the Hedgehog, jewel thief Rouge the Bat and Doctor Robotnik-not-rubbish-Eggmans rogue robot E-123 Omega; Team Rose are also involved, featuring Sonic’s self-appointed girlfriend Amy Rose, her best friend Cream the Rabbit with her pet chao, Cheese, and Big the Cat, on the hunt, once again, for his pal Froggy; Team Chaotix make up the final group, featuring the detective trio of Vector the Crocodile, Charmy Bee and Espio the Chameleon.
Each team member have their own skills comprising of three formations: power, speed and flight. In Team Sonic, Sonic possesses the speed ability (naturally), Knuckles is the brawn of the group, and Tails can fly using his special tails. Shadow, Amy and Espio also have the speed ability, with E-123 Omega, Big the Cat and Vector the Crocodile providing the muscle, and Rouge the Bat, Cream the Rabbit and Charmy Bee possessing the ability to fly in their respective teams.
Sonic Heroes is an ambitious game with Sonic Team wanting to try something new with the blue blur, and it is certainly an interesting concept. During the gameplay, players control one team member, with the other two members AI-controlled, but are able to switch between them with a click of a button in order to use the appropriate character for certain sections of the levels. During the levels, there are also checkpoints that will automatically switch characters that are required for use in the following section of that level.
As much of an interesting concept as it is, it is a shame then that, overall, the execution is lacking. With 12 playable characters and four separate stories, you would expect the plot and gameplay to be engaging, though it feels as though Sonic Team thought up the gameplay style first, and then built the rest of the game around that idea. There are 14 levels in total, and within all four stories, each of the four teams traverse through those same exact levels, leading to a defined sense of monotony. Looking at this differently, perhaps Sonic Team felt this would add more replayability, though players, in reality, are merely playing through the same levels albeit with different characters, who all, basically, have the same skills. It would have been an improvement had Sonic Team added some variety to the levels, perhaps even designing levels specific to each team. Team Sonic, Team Dark and Team Rose all have the same gameplay style, except with differing difficulties. It is only Team Chaotix that offers a different style of gameplay, with their investigative skills being put to the test. With Team Sonic, Team Dark and Team Rose running, jumping and attacking their way through each level, with Team Chaotix the pace slows down and players, instead, search for hermit crabs or destroy a set number of enemies. With three Teams playing in a similar manner, it is refreshing to play as a Team with a different objective, though the levels aren’t exactly designed in a way that encourages exploration, so hunting for hermit crabs and enemies can become quite a chore.
As with the majority of Sonic games, the level design is bright, colourful and engaging, with lots of detail and activity happening in the background. The levels feel like they are constantly moving, and they are fun to dash around full throttle, though that is probably not advisable as the speed mechanics aren’t exactly smooth and any speed character may haphazardly dart off the side of a platform or walkway. However, many interesting elements have been added to the level design, including blue pathways in which characters float upwards to higher platforms and levers that need to be pushed by all three characters in order to access certain areas. Grinding also makes a return and is used to a greater extent, with characters needing to jump from rail to rail to avoid obstacles and enemies placed on the tracks. Buttons can also be pushed that change the direction of the tracks which lead the characters to the next area. Characters can also latch onto a pole and elevate themselves by using a special manoeuvre known as the Blue Tornado (with other teams having a variation on this name), whirling around the pole and flinging themselves to higher areas. A lot has been added to give the levels some diversity, and on a first play-through, it never becomes boring. The backgrounds in the levels mesh perfectly with the foreground and is designed in such a way that they feel very open and immense, and when a character climbs to higher platforms, in some places it certainly gives you a sense of vertigo with how high up they are.
The enemies are also varied and designed with each character skill in mind. Some enemies hold shields that can be knocked off with the speed character in order to attack them. Flying enemies can be stunned with any fly-type character, and there are also enemies suited for the muscle of each group, needing to be attacked a certain number of times to be destroyed. Enemies are also colourful, though not particularly memorable. However, when it comes to battling enemies, the speed and flight characters are sorely underused, and even though enemies have been designed with each character skill in mind, with many of the enemies the power characters will be most likely be used; any character can still attack any enemy regardless of their skill, and power characters make attacking enemies all the more easy and is far quicker. During boss battles, players will most likely use the power characters to defeat the boss, meaning that, in the case of Team Sonic, you will most likely be playing as Knuckles as opposed to Sonic. Boss battles could also have been designed better. Here, the flight character will be underused, with player’s most likely taking control of speed and power characters to attack certain points on the Boss to gradually weaken and then destroy it. Bosses consist of basically throwing everything it can at the characters; they don’t require much skill to defeat, with players only needing to use the power characters and mashing the buttons. Bosses have no real pattern to their attacks other than landing somewhere and bombarding you with attacks and then flying off to the following section to rinse and repeat.
To attack enemies, each Team, as mentioned before, have their own skills, but other attacks have been included so that, not only can they attack alone, but can also attack as a team, depending on what formation they are in. Defeating enemies will increase the Team Blast gauge, an attack that allows the group to simultaneously attack a horde of enemies and defeat them in one go. Once the Team Blast has been activated, an amusing scene will follow showing the Team combining their abilities and attacking the enemies, with the attack being able to be used multiple times until the gauge has emptied. This move is most handy during swarm boss battles; otherwise enemies are usually easy to escape in the main levels, even when they are grouped together. It is a fun attack to use, and Team Chaotix’s scene is especially amusing, with the group forming a band, then singing and playing very badly until the enemies are destroyed by a terrible musical number.
As mentioned earlier, there are four stories in total, but the plot and characterisation is the weakest part of the game. The cutscenes don’t really pull you in to the story and only long time Sonic fans may really care about what is going on, though even they might struggle. The animation is poor and compared to Sonic Adventure 2, both the animation and voice acting has certainly dipped in quality – not that Sonic games are known for great voice acting. Controlling the characters is also difficult as they tend to be very slippery, and the AI-controlled characters tend to randomly dart to a fro all over the screen as opposed to staying by the player-controlled characters’ side. Camera angles have always been an issue with Sonics transition to 3D and it’s no different here, with the camera automatically changing directions at a whim.
Sonic Heroes is a fun game with an interesting premise, but with no real pay-off and one that doesn’t require much thought or skill. The level design is definitely the best part of the game, though it is a shame that players will need to play through levels multiple times as different teams, with nothing new to experience on later runs. Team Chaotix offer some variety with their hunting missions, though Team Dark and Team Rose feel as though they are rather pointless and unnecessary additions after playing through with Team Sonic. Still, points do go to Sonic Team for being brave and trying something new with the Sonic formula, though perhaps most Sonic fans would have just preferred a Sonic Adventure 3.