Preview: Sonic Heroes (All)

Preview: Sonic Heroes (All)

Platforms:
PlayStation®2 computer entertainment system
Xbox® video game system from Microsoft
Nintendo GameCubeTM
Category: Action Platform
Developer: SonicTeamTM, LTD / Sega®
Ship: North America: Q1 2004
Europe: Q1 2004
Japan: Q4 2003

Yuji Naka, head of Sega’s Sonic Team, was recently interviewed by Eurogamer where he answered a few questions concerning the current status of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. When asked, Naka commented that Sonic Heroes is not part of the Sonic Adventure series, as the Adventure series is finished.

Thank you, Mr. Naka. It’s about FREAKING time!

No offence to the works of art that were Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2, but it goes without saying that we were all getting pretty tired of the cop-out remakes being stuffed down our throats for the Nintendo GameCube. While high in quality, thousands of gamers had already taken those trips before and were hungry for something new. Now that Sega is done milking the Adventure franchise for every bleeding dime it’s worth, it’s time to turn our collective attentions to what we’ve all been waiting for since early 2000… a true Sonic sequel. And that sequel is here in the form of Sonic Heroes.

Sonic Heroes takes the series in a bold new direction by allowing the player to simultaneously control three different characters from the Sonic Universe. When this detail was first revealed to the gaming community a red flag went up for many a Sonic fan. One of the major complaints levied at previous Sonic efforts was that there were too many supplementary characters taking the focus off of Sonic thus slowing down the gameplay considerably. And now controlling three characters at once would seemingly bog you down further making gameplay even more cumbersome. Thankfully in practice this is not the case at all. The main team of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles run together throughout the game in a formation. Like all Sonic games, the controls are overly simple: A jumps, B attacks, and X and Y change the formation (depending on what system’s controller you’re playing on obviously). One character leads the V-like formation and whoever takes the lead determines the abilities the player can control. Tails, as always, has the ability to fly and carry Sonic and Knuckles (who hold each other in a chain); Knuckles can whoop on enemies effectively as well as punch through obstacles; and Sonic is the epitome of speed as usual. This style of gameplay actually lends itself more to the speed of the series than any other 3d Sonic title to date. So all you fanboys (and girls) out there can stop your worrying, crying, and whining… you know who you are.

Early hands-on accounts show little to no loading or delaying. The game’s polished graphics and style look like a natural evolution for the series. Camera problems seem like less of an issue as well. This might be attributed to the more ‘on the rails’ environments the game puts you in, as this is for the best due to the game’s sheer speed being enough to handle on it’s own without consistently worrying about the camera, as past Sonic games have demonstrated. Replayability seems high with the options to choose between three other teams besides Team Sonic, making up a large roster of characters in addition to creating several different ways of completing levels depending on your team and how you choose to go.

One of the only true valid concerns comes from the fact that the game is now multi-platform. Sega made a wise decision in recognizing Sonic’s mass-market appeal by not limiting his exposure to just the Nintendo GameCube this go round. Now the GameCube, Xbox, and PS2 will all have respective versions of Sonic Heroes. Whether developing on all three platforms simultaneously will effect the overall quality of the game has yet to be seen, but Yuji Naka and SonicTeam are claiming that Criterion Software’s RenderWare development tools make this problem obsolete. Naka commented, “We decided to license RenderWare because the solution provided us with not only the technology, but also the best methodologies for efficient multi-platform development, enabling our team to focus on what really makes Sonic stand out. Criterion’s extensive knowledge and experience of multiplatform development has enabled them to provide unrivalled support throughout the course of the development process.” Hopefully this will dispel rumors that SonicTeam is sacrificing quality in order to release the game for all next-gen platforms. Yuji went on to say that he believed this would be his best Sonic game ever. Not a statement to take lightly considering the source.

We have a first hand account courtesy of Ted Boyke from our affiliates at The-NextLevel.com of the Sonic Heroes demo shown recently at E3. Here’s a quick rundown of things he found to be the game’s highlights:

  • The character team on display in the E3 demo was made up of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Sonic burns rubber as usual, Tails soars over dangerous gaps, and Knuckles busts up any baddies that get in your way as your team speeds along.
  • All three had unique attacks: Sonic has his Dash Attack, Tails shoots Sonic or Knucles out like a projectile boomerang (very cool), and Knuckles does what he does best – punches enemies like a prizefighter!
  • All characters are fast and switching between them is instantaneous and effortless! No more boring gameplay as a less-appealing Sonic side-character. Here it’s easy, painless, and the choice is always up to you.
  • The final version will feature four groups of three characters apiece, with favorites like Dr. Robotnik, Shadow the Hedgehog, Big the Cat, Amy, and others returning.
  • The two playable levels shown were a beach course (reminiscent of Sonic Adventure‘s Emerald Coast) and a high-flying, rail-sliding course over a huge canyon. The focus was on speed and collecting rings, much like in the classic Genesis games.
  • Feels more like old 2D Sonic gameplay than ever before in 3D! (That’s a good thing.)
  • The Xbox version was by far the best-looking and -playing. The controller was especially well-suited to the game, as the yellow and red buttons switched you from Sonic to Tails and from Sonic to Knuckles accordingly. Color-coded!
  • The GameCube version was a touch behind the Xbox; however, the PS2 version was the markedly worst of the three, with frame rate problems and jagged, lower-polygon modeling.

As of now further gameplay and story details, like who the main villain in the game is and how playing as different teams will effect the experience as a whole, have yet to be revealed. From what has been shown however, it looks like come 4Q of this year Sonic fans will have a game to really get excited about. And for those new to the series (Pfft, has anyone actually NOT played a Sonic game before? I mean really…) now may be the best time ever to jump on in. With three other Sonic titles to be released, along with the new Sonic X anime series just around the corner, 2003 is shaping up to the year of Sonic. And Sonic Heroes looks to be the perfect way to wrap it all up.

Features:

– Play as one of four teams for a total of 12 playable characters – Team Sonic, Team Dark, Team Rose, or Team Chaotix – each with their own unique signature moves and story line

– Each team boasts multiple specialized stages with unique missions and CG movies driving each “team” story forward

– Experiment with team formations to learn the best way to defeat enemies, solve puzzles, and navigate massive environments

– Each stage contains multiple paths and missions for maximum replayability