Still high on the hedgehog.
When faced with a game that targets a younger demographic, I think back to the games I used to play as a kid and weigh whatever game is in my hand against the Streets of Rages and Altered Beasts (Sega nerd, all the way) of my past. And I usually stop weighing as soon as I come to Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic the Hedgehog was an indisputably great game. Every kid had Sonic, every kid played Sonic, and every kid liked Sonic. He was the anti-Mario and he kicked ass.
But now we're seeing a new Sonic, one that has grown quite comfortable on the Gamecube. As I read these words again, my inner child squirms uncomfortably in its seat. Sonic for Nintendo? Never mind that plenty of Sonic games have come out for the next-gen systems by now; some things stay strange forever. This new Nintendo-friendly Sonic is as queer as being sold a bible by Satan.
Fortunately, Sonic Heroes is a real Sonic game. Of course, this latest adventure isn't without its flaws, but even those add to the authenticity of the game as a whole.
The storyline, for example, is extremely simple. Well, except that there are four of them, one for each team. Plus, they intersect at certain points throughout the game. Okay, so it's a little more complicated than the Sonic of yesteryear, but bear with me.
The evil Dr. Robotnik once again has created a Doomsday weapon and is threatening to unleash it on the world. In the meantime, he's sent out legions of robots to kick butt and take naps (and dream of electric sheep, of course). This is where Team Sonic (Sonic, Knuckles and Tails) enter; they're going to stop Robotnik from destroying the world.
Meanwhile, Big the Cat's froggy has been stolen, so he, Cream the Rabbit (doesn't that sound violent?), and Amy Rose (a pink, girlish thing of some sort) head off to find Sonic, forming Team Rose. Team Chaotix, on the other hand, is made up of a chameleon trained in ninjitsu named Espio, a croc named Vektor and a bee named Charmy Bee. They're taking orders from a mysterious voice on the other end of a walkie-talkie. And finally, Team Dark was created when Rouge the Bat stole into one of Robotnik's vaults and discovered Shadow the Hedgehog and E-123 Omega. Shadow wants his memory back, and Omega just wants to destroy all of Robotnik's other creations (he's got a bit of an inferiority complex).
Each team has three basic positions: flight, speed, and power. On Team Sonic, for instance, Tails provides flight, Sonic speed, and Knuckles power. During gameplay, you control one member at a time and are able to utilize any of their powers. If you need to switch characters you simply tap the 'X' or 'Y' buttons on the GC controller. This team scheme works thanks to some decent AI on the part of your teammates who are good about staying close.
Even though each team player fits within one of three roles, most of the characters play slightly differently. For example, each of the speedy characters can execute a jumping attack move that disarms shielded enemies. Sonic's has the best range, but is also the most dangerous since it can lead to him flying off cliffs or into bad energy fields. Espio's has the shortest range, but after he executes it he becomes completely invisible and enemies won't attack him.
Furthermore, different teams are faced with different objectives as well as different difficulty levels. Team Rose has things the easiest with shorter levels, easier enemies, and much easier objectives. Team Chaotix, on the other hand, faces the toughest challenges. Their objectives usually involve collecting items or (gulp) killing every single enemy in a level, and as opposed to ending at an emblem ring, Team Chaotix levels run in a loop until you've bashed, collected or killed everything you need. And they fight the toughest enemies.
I really like this system. While unique levels for each team would have been nice, the diversity makes Sonic Heroes a game that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages. However, only Team Rose's missions are easy; the rest are hard. Sonic Heroes actually has a substantial learning curve because there's so much each character can do and so much going on in the game. Even though I feel I'm pretty acclimated to the game's system, I still die all the time.
While a good deal of those deaths are a result of simply making the wrong decision in dire circumstances, some of them also have to do with weird clipping errors and the generally inexplicable. For example, Sonic can disarm shielded enemies by zipping around them in a circle, thereby creating a tornado that sucks the shield out of the enemies' arms. Yet whenever I execute this move in a certain portion of Rail Canyon, Sonic is instantly zipped into space and falls to his death. And this is just one example of hundreds. The point: strange stuff happens in Sonic Heroes, and then you die. Couple that with the deaths that are actually your fault, and see if you don't break a cold-sweat every time you drop below five lives left.
The levels that involve rails are the worst because there's simply no telling when or why you might die. In these levels, Sonic and Company grind along rails suspended miles in the air. You can hop back and forth between rails (unless you're going fast, then you just leap off into oblivion), and sometimes rails will end and you'll have to land on new sets of rails. This last matter is literally beyond your control. However, I've learned that in the tightest spots, when things are at their craziest, if you just don't press anything, Sonic (or whoever) will land exactly where he needs to.
As relieving as this epiphany turns out to be, it's still not satisfying. I don't like the fact that if I actively play in certain parts, I'll definitely die. It's the opposite of interactive, and for a video game, that's bad. Most of the big crazy loop-de-loops and around-the-world type flourishes are completely non-interactive.
The level designs are generally complicated; you can run through a level twice and see very different sights. All are vividly colored, although few are standout beautiful. More pleasing to the senses is the visual speed of the game; aided, of course, by a consistently blistering framerate. So even though the game looks cartoony and light-hearted, the people at Sega were obviously serious about making this game look good.
Most of the music in Sonic Heroes is up-beat and somewhat catchy, but the Bingo Highway tune is confident, interesting, and driven by a quick tempo; it's perfect. The sound effects are typical Sonic fare, no more no less, and the characters are full of a menagerie of sound-bytes.
While primarily a single-player game, Sonic Heroes does include some multiplayer options. You and one other player can compete in any of several two-player challenge matches…provided you can unlock them. Only one is available out of the box, and it's a fairly dull split screen race through one of three early levels. Each additional challenge is unlocked per 20 emblems collected, and emblems are collected by beating a stage. So after every twenty stages, you get one new multi-player game. That basically means you've got to play the hell out of it before you and any friends can play together. Lame.
Sonic Heroes is a unique take on an old series. The game is nothing if not dynamic and is worthy of any gamer, provided they have good hand-eye coordination. You'll die a lot, but in a way that's just like being a kid again.