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Sonic Heroes Impressions.


Romier S
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***This is not a review. They are impressions only after about 10 levels worth of playtime**

 

 

So I promised myself I would give the old wallet a break considering the relative slowness of game releases this month. Of course I walked into my local Electronics Boutique yesterday and there stood a shiny new copy of Sonic Heroes on the Gamecube (The Xbox and PS2 versions are not due until later this month) and that plan was scattered to the wind. I was equal parts excited and leary as Sonic Adventure 2 had left a very bad taste in my mouth. Thankfully having played Mega Collection a few days ago, it was difficult for me to say no to more Sonic. Hence my account is now fifty dollars lighter and my Gamecube once again roars to life.

 

The story is nothing new to anyone thats played a Sonic game. Eggman (or as we've come to know him in the US: Dr. Robotnik) has concocted yet another scheme to achieve world domination and its up to Sonic and friends to thwart his evil plans just one more time. You would figure after having his ovular shaped ass handed to him over the course of countless games Eggman would just take a damned vacation but no such luck here. Given our villains unending persistence, Heroes begins with a small CG cutscene that changes depending on which team of heroes you select. I of course chose Sonic and company and dove right in.

 

After the initial story setup you are thrown hedgehog first into the games opening level. Much to my satisfaction Sonic Team decided to throw away the "adventure" elements of the previous two games favoring a more classic level by level affair (Please keep in mind that I am about 10 levels in). Sonic Heroes also introduces a new team based element to the gameplay. There are three "classes" of characters available to you. Blue type heroes are associated with speed and have special attacks that can range from a speed dash to a tornado attack. Red type heroes are the power players in the game and are best used to attack enemies and cause destruction to your surroundings. Yellow heroes have the innate ability to fly and allow your team to reach the higher sections of a level. They also have unique attacks that allow them to be more effective against flight based enemies. During gameplay you can easily switch the "leader" of your party with a press of a button. Certain situations call for a specific class of character to lead the group and the game does a great job of signalling you when a change is needed by way of color coded signs and switch gates that automatically change the leader of your team when necessary. Also while exploring a level you will come upon small orbs that "level up" your heroes. Higher level flight characters can stay in the air longer while the power heroes hit harder so forth and so on.

 

This new gameplay feature adds a new level of strategy to Sonic Heroes that the previous games lacked. As you play each level you'll become more comfortable with switching your characters in and out. In fact the whole mechanic shares a remarkable similiarity to the dragon switching in Panzer Dragoon Orta, which is in no way a bad thing. I do however have some minor issues thus far such as the inability to switch team leaders mid-air. I suppose this was done for the sake of balance as Sonic Team certainly doesn't want you switching to your flight based hero and floating your way out of every perilous chasm. At the same time given the size of the levels and being that the developers have instituted a limit as to how long you can stay in flight anyway, it seems silly to not be able to switch at will. Also please keep in mind that if you hit the switch button in the air your character gauge will show that you have changed leaders but it won't take effect until you hit the ground. It may sound nitpicky I know but its something that sprung right out at me right away.

 

Also worth noting is that thus far playing Team Sonics quest seems a bit schewed toward the power based character of Knuckles. His attacks are almost too effective and you'll find yourself switching to him often. Sonic will still garner some of your attention because hes so remarkably fast (as he should be ) but poor Tails almost feels like a third wheel (or propellor if you will). I'll reserve final judgement on this of course until I've reached the end of the game but if things progress in much the same way Sonic Team may want to look at doing a bit more character balancing for the next game.

 

While the added depth and strategy is appreciated the bread and butter of any Sonic game is speed. Its what Sonic fans want, hell its what we need. This need goes back to the days of "blast processing" my friends ;) . In that regard Sonic Heroes is thus far the truest 3D sonic game to be released yet. The level design throughout the 10 or so levels I've played have been more exciting and Sonic worthy than both the last two games combined (not too mention they are absoluterly HUGE). The staple loops, twists and turns are back for this game and finally Sonic Team seems to have have learned how to create 3D mult-tiered environments that maintain the spirit of the 2D games. You can pounce through these levels as quickly as possible if you'd like however much like in the Genesis/Sega CD days you'll want to explore every last nook and cranny for hidden items and rings.

 

In yet another throwback to the Sonics of old you are able to unlock hidden secret stages dependant on level performance and whether or not you found the hidden bonus level keys hidden throughout each environment. These extra stages allow you to collect extra lives and the vaunted Chaos emeralds (which seem to unlock more hidden content). Never say no to bonus stages! To be even more direct I have to say I havent had as much fun playing a level in a Sonic game as I had playing the Metropolis stages in Heroes in a VERY long time.

 

Fun, as with anything in life is very subjective and to tell you the truth there are issues here that can cut the fun right out from under you. Namely (wait for it) the camera. For all the steps taken in the right direction Sonic Team still has yet to understand the fundamentals of a working 3D camera and to tell you the truth I sympathize with thier plight. Sonic by nature is just an insanely fast game and trying to program a camera that keeps up is a difficult proposition for any developer but ladies and gentleman you are three games in the hole now and somethings gotta give.

 

For the most part the camera is serviceable when you are pushing Sonic and co. to the edge of the sound barrier and through the games seemingly unending loops and twists. The combat on the other hand can a times be confusing and utterly annoying. Enemies will blind-side you because the camera cannot keep up with your actions. There is nothing more annoying than losing 300 rings you've collected due to an inadequate camera system. Furthermore you'll find yourself having to adjust the camera around your character to get a good view of the action or when backtracking through a level in search of goodies. This would not at all be a problem had the developers had enough foresight to include some type of camera reset button that positioned the camera back behind the leader of your team. As is the camera simply crawls around you at the pace of a snail and well, for such a fast game its horribly unintuitive. (Note to Sonic Team: PLEASE INCLUDE A CAMERA RESET BUTTON IN THE FUTURE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!)

 

There are also several sequences where the camera will move to the front of your team while a large enemie tries to trample you from behind. In theory this sequence should be exciting but if you happen to move your character over too far to the left of right you'll miss a ramp and fall right to your death. Of course since you can't see the ramp anyway you'll be left wondering what the point is. These issues will be familiar to anyone that has played any of the previous Adventure games and its ashame that the proper lessons were not learned from those previous endeavours.

 

Graphically Sonic Heroes is a big step forward for the franchise and the development team in general. The previous Sonic games have been little more than glorified ports of titles the were originally released on the Dreamcast years ago. The recent Billy Hatcher from Sonic Team was also disappointing in the graphics department considering the game was developed on the Gamecube hardware yet lacked a stable framerate and sported sub-par texture quality. Heroes without a doubt has none of these issues. The framerate is rock solid and blazingly fast, which is almost as important as having Sonic himself appear in the game. Texture quality is quite pleasing with defined with varied grass/sand surfaces, detailed rock textures and wonderful character models for the stars of the game. Heroes also sports some nice water effects that are very simliar to those found in Nintendo's very own Super Mario Sunshine. Also worth mentioning is that game has an extremely vibrant and warm appearance. Colors just pop right off the screen and the addition of 480p support only makes it all the more lovely (No widescreen support though :( ). Plain and simple Sonic never looked better.

 

Sonically, (pun intended) Heroes is a mish mash of classic Sonic themes and the newer guitar heavy rock tracks heard in the Sonic Adventure games. Fans of the series will be glad to hear some familiar tracks from the 16 bit days remixed and rerecorded for todays audience, I'm looking forward to sampling more as I move through the later levels. Sound effects are your standard Sonic fair. Everything from the ring pickup sound to Sonics' speed dash. Its all in here along with the kitchen sink for good measure.

 

The voice acting in the game maintains the Saturday morning cartoon feel that the previous games had. Tails still sounds like a ten year old and much to my satisfaction Knuckles sounds like an ex-convict ( :lmfao: ). Sonic remains the "cool" one in the group passing out the one liners as if they were party treats and for the most part everything here is serviceable.

 

I must say that I'm looking forward to working my through the rest of Team Sonic's adventure and overall I'm pleased with how Sonic Heroes has turned out. Its got some familiar flaws but at the very least the underlying game is a good one (and lenghty to boot!). Once you complete the opening level you will get a new option on the main menu called "Challenge". This mode allows you to play each level again and try for a better rating. Team Sonics adventure currently shows 24 whopping levels so I have a good bit more to go through here. Not too mention that there are three more teams to play the game through with. Each with thier own unique levels and objectives! Go Content! :D

 

As always, thanks for reading.

 

EDIT: Did some after post editing and corrected some spelling errors.

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Nice post. Glad to see Sonic is finally making his way back to his old glory days. I got burned out fast with Sonic on the DC because I couldn't stand the Knuckles missions. I'm not too interested in Heroes, but hopefully if Sonic Team can get everything working again, I'll be back to buying Sonic games soon. :)

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