Sega?s long beloved, speedy blue friend Sonic has a dark and mysterious compatriot ? Shadow. The black and red skinned Shadow wears a sinister smirk as he steps from the backdrop of a burning city. His machine gun locked and loaded, he sets to work. Riding a slick black and chrome chopper he speeds into the city. As monstrous aliens fall from the sky, he weaves between humans fighting a losing battle. Sonic himself, along with friends from various titles, rush to aid in the struggle. Shadow takes aim at a hulking beast and crashes his chopper into it for a horrific explosion. A melee of scenes show Shadow battling aliens and humans alike, and finally standing triumphant, pistol in hand, over a battered and broken Sonic. It?s a promising opening movie that gives way to a mediocre and frustrating game.
Shadow the Hedgehog delves into the mysterious past and purpose of the Sonic universe?s antihero Shadow. Why does he deserve a game of his own? Shadow first appeared in the 2001 release Sonic Adventure 2 for the Dreamcast. Shadow quickly out grew the evil twin stereotype and became his own character. Sonic?s developers, Sonic Team, brought him back in Sonic Heroes and Sonic Battle, making him an integral part of the overly complicated Sonic universe storyline. But unless you’re a hardcore Sonic fan none of the above made any sense. Knowledge of the previous game?s storylines is assumed, as Shadow the Hedgehog ties together many characters and situations without a lot of explanation ? and it would take way too long to fill in those not in the know. Luckily, even with zero knowledge the story is just intelligible enough to get by.
Shadow cannot remember who he is, who created him, or for what purpose. Here is where we enter the game: Black Doom, the leader of the Black Arms alien army, appears to Shadow and promises to reveal his past if he retrieves the seven Chaos Emeralds. Now comes the branching Morality System. From this point on players can choose to do Black Doom?s bidding and take over the world, or help Sonic and his friends to fight off the alien forces. Players can also take the middle road by racking up points through collecting rings and hording the Chaos Emeralds for themselves. Shadow?s path through the more than 20 stages is determined by whose mission is completed in every level. Switching between missions is done on the fly using the D-pad. A branching level map offers countless paths through the game leading to 10 different endings.
While, in concept, the story and branching mission system seem solid, they succumb to weak and frustrating design and gameplay mechanics. The missions in particular cause problems. Many of the missions require players to destroy all aliens or humans in a level, or go on a treasure hunt and find a certain number of, sometimes hidden, objects. This would be fine, but Shadow the Hedgehog is a lightning fast game ? as expected from the Sonic universe. While speeding through a level it is incredibly easy to miss a single enemy or treasure. Checkpoints throughout the levels also allow players to teleport to previously activated checkpoints, but it is impossible to know in what section of the large levels the missed object or enemy can be found. This often requires players to go back and repeat the entire level. Most players will be tempted stick to the neutral missions that only require Shadow to get to the end of a stage and collect the Chaos Emerald.
Weapon choice throughout the game is pretty bland. Shadow will find many weapons, only differing in appearance and power, throughout the game. There is very little strategy to weapon selection. Shadow can only carry one weapon at time, and, being essentially the same, there is no reason not to pick up the most powerful weapon available. An always-on Auto-Aim helps players to hit targets in a 3D environment – as long as Shadow is facing the right direction, which can be difficult due to clumsy camera control. The camera only allows for rotation and zoom. Players cannot look up or down, which is confusing and annoying when many of the enemies are flying ones.
Shadow the Hedgehog does get a few things right. Most of the level designs are great. Speeding through ancient stone-faced ruins, high tech military instillations, and unearthly alien landscapes is a treat. The graphics are not top-notch, but the unique Sonic style and fast paced gameplay will help players enjoy the environments that are both functional and intriguing. Each level offers new obstacles and enemies to face down, but keeps them just familiar enough to keep the game moving at a blistering speed.
Speed is where this game truly hits its high marks. Again, most of the mission designs do not work in tune with the inherent speed of the game, and this can be frustrating. But players can always choose to stick to the neutral missions ? where the goal is to destroy everything and collect rings along the way to the end of the level ? that allow them to take full advantage of the game’s speed. Hauling butt through the highflying levels, while blasting enemies left and right, is actually a lot of fun.
Shadow the Hedgehog does a lot of things wrong, and it can really make getting through the game a chore; Sonic Team really dropped the ball on mission design, the graphics are lackluster, camera control issues can result in needless deaths, and the storyline can be a little hard to follow for anyone that is not a Sonic junkie. Despite its faults, playing Shadow the Hedgehog can be fun ? as long as players are not worried about completing every level or seeing all 10 of the endings. The curious can get all there is to get out of it in a weekend rental. Sonic diehards should own this just to see what makes his dark and mysterious rival tick.