Sonic the Hedgehog has a lot to answer for. I'm not talking about all the rubbish merchandise he's spawned over the years, but the fact that he may well have killed off the Dreamcast. Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 - the first Sonic games in 3D - were a bit shit. Sure they had their moments, but they were hardly the must-have masterpieces you expect from a company mascot.
Now, four years too late, Sega is finally starting to get 3D Sonic right, and Sonic Heroes is the highly likeable result. Eschewing all the woeful adventure' elements of recent titles, Sonic Heroes puts the focus back on breakneck dashes through mad architectural dreamscapes, with all the loops, corkscrews, bounce pads and boss battles your watering eyes can handle. The gameplay is still remarkably simple - go fast, collect rings, bop the occasional robot on the head. The key difference here is that instead of running solo, you now control a team of three characters. In the case of Team Sonic, that means the blue streak is flanked by Knuckles and Tails, though there are three other teams to choose from as well - Teams Dark, Rose and Chaotix.
At the flick of a button (or mouse-wheel if you must), your team changes formation, and with it the character you're controlling, giving you access to a different set of abilities and insane special attacks. Sonic is fast, Tails can fly, Knuckles can punch through blocks. You get the picture.
The action is bewildering and frenetic, the challenge is minimal and the usual camera problems persist, but this is still an exuberantly entertaining game.
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Ever since Sonic Adventure 2 (for GC and Sega Dreamcast), Sonic's status among the pantheon of top-tier mascots has been in jeopardy. That ill-conceived title unsuccessfully tinkered with the traditionally speedy Sonic experience by forcing players to suffer through tedious crystal excavation and hovering stages that simply sucked. Nearly every review (be it critical or from li'l Jimmy the consumer) boiled down to "I just want to run!" Thankfully, Sonic's handlers listened: Heroes has the 'hog doin' what he does best in a rewarding return to form. Heroes' basic gameplay echoes the classic, side-scrolling Sonics of yore, but with an interesting twist--team play. The four teams you can choose from have minor differences (see below), but with each one, you're simultaneously controlling three characters: one speedster, one powerhouse, and an annoying, chirpy one that flies. A simple button press switches leadership among the three guys, and the clever level designs basically guarantee that you'll have to switch leaders in order to break a few walls and soar over pits to succeed. This constant switching seems confusing, clunky, and forced at first, but after a few levels, it becomes natural, and it's fun to experiment with different leaders to find new paths. Plus, by the time the gameplay clicks, the Milquetoast early levels give way to wildly cool areas that have you spinning through giant pinball machines, reversed-gravity haunted mansions, and stratospheric airship armadas. Heroes offers a surprisingly long experience (for a Sonic game), and it's one that gets better the longer you play. In classic Sonic fashion, the game looks spectacular, with dazzling Day-Glo colors, ultrasmooth movement (well, on GC and Xbox at least--scope the sidebar), and trippy effects: Every single stage explodes with breakneck speed, insane loops, absurd corkscrews, and other gravity-defying razzamatazz. It's a breathtakingly gorgeous game that's unmistakably Sonic. So, what's not to like? Mostly stuff that no 3D Sonic game has managed to get right, including an annoyingly touchy camera, lame bosses, and an overabundance of deaths caused by falling off edges. These issues seem almost endemic to the series at this point, but it'd be nice if a future update could clear 'em up. Still, don't let these quibbles (or the hateful grumblings of the other reviewers) deter you--Heroes is worthy.
I could go on and on about how Sonic just doesn't work well in 3D, but it wouldn't change anything. He's here to stay. Thankfully, most of what made the Adventure games a bore--in particular, everything that didn't star Sonic or Tails--is gone, and as a result, Heroes plays more like the balls-to-the-wall Sega Genesis Sonics. It's even got a classic-style casino stage, something that the previous 3D efforts didn't even dare to try. But for each brave step forward, it takes a few back. Racing full speed through stages that take 10 or more minutes to complete while constantly switching characters for the most mundane of tasks becomes exhausting. It's even worse when you consider that you have to play through the same stages four times (once with each team) to get the real ending. I don't have the patience for it, especially when the terrible camera and hit-or-miss lock-on attacks that leave you plunging to your doom (and spelled trouble in the last two Sonics) still haven't been adequately addressed. Once at the forefront of platforming action, the Sonic series hasn't aged well. And while Heroes is better in some respects than the last two, it still leaves me disappointed.
For a character as recognizable and symbolic as Sonic the Hedgehog, you'd think Sega would spend a little more time polishing each of his adventures before shipping them to stores. Sadly, this is not the case. As with the previous two 3D Sonic outings, Sonic Heroes is a solid platformer that could've been a lot better if the developers had spent more time balancing the levels and tweaking the unbelievably frustrating camera. The team-based gameplay is interesting enough, but instead of having four separate teams, three of which play virtually identically, Sega should've just stuck with Team Sonic and focused on making it a more cohesive, enjoyable experience. The one team that does play differently--the exploration-based Team Chaotix--isn't even fun, as Heroes' stages were clearly designed for speed, not adventuring. That said, it is nice to have a Sonic game with a bit of real depth to it.
The venerable Sonic franchise is back, this time with a team approach to a 3D adventure world. This certainly isn't the first time that Sega has tried to convert the excellent 2D speed scroller into a 3D game, but it is the first time they've done it right.
Instead of muddying the waters with the bevy of Sonic-related characters that seem to multiply like bunnies in each game ' Sega divided up the characters into teams of three. You can play as Team Sonic, controlling Sonic the Hedgehog, Knuckles the Echidna and Miles 'Tails'? Prower; Team Dark, controlling Shadow the Hedgehod, E-123 Omega and Rouge the Bat; Team Rose, controlling Amy Rose, Big the Cat and Cream the Rabbit; or Team Chaotix, controlling Espio the Chameleon, Vector the Crocodile and Charmy Bee.
Although the teams each have a unique look, they mostly play the same and have to take on the same challenges which in this game means once more defeating Dr. Eggman and taking on a Mystery Monster.
What makes this game work so much better than previous 3D Sonic games is that Sega has weeded out all of the clutter and concentrated on what made Sonic such a great game to play in the first place ' speed. That doesn't mean you will zoom through each level at blurring speeds, but you will be doing a lot of dizzying loops, corkscrews and ricocheting bounces.
To make the three characters manageable you will only have control of one at a time. You can use the Y and X buttons to switch between which one is in the lead, and under your control, on the fly. This works quite well because the level has been designed in sections where you will lean heavily on a particular character's particular skills.
For instance, there are places where you have to fly up giant blocks using Tails abilities or take out flying creatures using his attacks. Other sections require Sonic's speed or Knuckles brute force to knock down walls.
You can also use the characters in unison to deliver particularly powerful attacks. Once you dig into the game you'll quickly find yourself coming up against creatures that require the attacks of different characters, one after the other, to defeat.
That's really what makes this game such a blast to play, Sega has found a way to seamlessly blend the distinctly different styles of their characters into a game that makes sense and is easy to master. The graphics aren't over the top impressive, but do the job nicely. The only complaint I have is the scenes that jump to a distance shot which seem to muck up your controls. The sound in the game leans heavily on its predecessors, but I don't think that's all bad.
Multiplayer mode offers seven ways to take on a buddy in split-screen play, but none of them are very memorable. Sonic may never topple Mario from the throne of excellent adventure games, but this latest attempt goes a long way to prove that there's plenty of room for two fantastic gaming franchises at the top.