Video games are bad for kids. There. I said it. And how did I, an avid gamer, come to this conclusion? It’s not from playing GTA. It’s not from playing Silent Hill. It’s all because of Dr. Robotnik.
In Sonic Heroes, this tubby lunatic is up to no good–again. How does this influence children? Apparently, this guy can hatch all sorts of dastardly schemes and get thwarted time and again and still come back to try to take over the world. See kids? Punishment is only temporary.
The litany of harmful things kids can pick up from Sonic Heroes doesn’t stop there, however. The story is downright painful. I know. It’s a Sonic game. I shouldn’t expect WarCraft III levels of drama, but if you’re not going to have a good story, then why even pretend? The story begins with the Sonic team getting a message from the dastardly doctor. He’s developed a new weapon and will soon take over the world. No, he didn’t get more specific. It’s ?a weapon’ he says. He didn’t even bother naming it. Maybe he just realizes that Sonic will be there in about ? oh, say 6 hours of game time, and shut him down again. With a battle cry of “Let’s party,” team Sonic sets out to save the day.
Once again, ?speed’ is the name of the game here. The developers have stripped out some of the hunting and adventuring aspects from the previous entries and placed more emphasis on the frenetic pacing familiar to fans of the series. Which is not to say it’s completely faithful to what made Sonic popular. There’s a huge cast of characters to choose from here, broken up into 4 teams of 3: Sonic, Dark, Rose, and Chaotix. With the exception of the three primary abilities, the teams differ very little. They only offer a different assortment of neon-hued, anthropomorphic animals to choose from. You probably know the drill. Sonic is fast. Tails flies. Knuckles punches things. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the ability to swap out your team leader while playing, enabling you to take advantage of their respective skills. After a short while of familiarizing yourself with the controls, you can easily switch on the fly.
Push enough buttons and everything will be just fine. Again, we come across a bad example for our precious children. Most of the battles can be won simply by hitting the jump button a lot. You don’t even have to look at the screen. At other points, the game seems to put you on autopilot. There are periods on some of the earlier levels where you can literally drop your controller while Sonic runs his tail off. It’s fun to watch the scenery blur by, until you realize you’d actually rather be in control. Therein lies the major problem with Sonic Heroes. The unpredictable camera often robs you of that control. As with many 3D games, the angle can suddenly spin off kilter in the middle of a leap or tricky move. Never is this more apparent than with Sonic’s trademark loops. While barreling around one of the huge loops, you’re pushing forward for maximum speed. Then, for what can only be dramatic effect, the camera pulls off to the side, skewing the relative perspective of your camera and thus, your controls. The result? You fly off into oblivion. Unfortunately, since the game is littered with bridges that were seemingly constructed for the sole purpose of you falling off of them, this happens a lot.
The graphics are your standard palette of colors that don’t exist in nature. While you’re acclimating yourself to the controls, the vivid glow of the game coupled with its fast pace can result in sensory overload. It doesn’t last, though, when you realize that few improvements have been made over the most recent entries into the Sonic library. One would be hard pressed to find any real leaps in visual quality between this one and its Dreamcast predecessor.
As for the sound, you’ll recognize many of the noises and tunes from the Sonic games that came before. The rapid jingle of rings is especially familiar, although it’s always caused me to ask just where he keeps all of those rings he carries. Aside from familiarity, there’s nothing exceptional about Sonic Heroes’ music and sound. The idea that the developers are still struggling to create a signature game to compete with Mario still hangs over the series and consequently, the music pales in comparison to Mario Sunshine. Perhaps the worst aspect of the sound, though, is the voice acting. It’s taken directly from cheaply made cartoons of the early 1980’s. After a while, you might very well consider Tails and his chipper, pre-adolescent gusto your enemy instead of Dr. Robotnik. He sounds like the younger brother you never really liked, but let him tag along anyway. Why? Well, this younger brother can fly, so fine. Let him stay. My first indication that the voices were going to bug me was the aforementioned battle cry of ?Let’s Party!’ What? No cries of ?cowabunga’? But that’s the key to Sonic’s character. That’s what they’re trying to tell you. Mario is steadfast, but Sonic? He’s sassy. And that’s what they’ll have you believe. Sonic will defeat Robotnik not just with speed, but with pure sass.
The multiplayer on here is surprisingly just an afterthought. It’s essentially just a split-screen race through the single player levels. One would think that the different abilities of the cast of thousands would at least lend itself to an interesting battle mode. Unfortunately, that goes unexplored.
All in all, Sonic Heroes, while not a bad game, is just a forgettable trifle. They’ve made improvements on the more recent Sonic games, but not enough to truly enrich the Sonic universe. So maybe this isn’t such bad example to kids. Maybe it’s more of a cautionary tale. What’s worse than a bad game, kids? One you’ll forget about a week after playing.