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Since his introduction in Sonic Adventure 2 for the Sega Dreamcast, the character of Shadow the Hedgehog has become a regular cast member in Sonic the Hedgehog video games. A darker, more stoic version of everyone's favorite blue hedgehog, Shadow has become one of the more popular characters in the game, even finishing second to Sonic in an online popularity poll on Sega's Japanese-language website a few year back. However, several questions remained about this mysterious entity. Most notably, is Shadow a hero, a villain, or something in between? In 2005, Sega set out to give us the answers, as the character was finally given a chance to shine in the spotlight with Shadow the Hedgehog for the Nintendo Gamecube, as well as the Xbox and PS2.
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Shadow the Hedgehog is a game that's all about choices, as it forces the players to define Shadow's character through their actions. There are three objectives in each level: a heroic one, an evil one and a neutral one. Depending upon which you choose, the story changes, sending you to different levels to fight different bosses and complete different missions. Ultimately, every choice made affects the game's outcome. This is both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, some of the ways that the game can conclude are very cool and unique. At the risk of giving away spoilers, in one ending a remorseful Shadow believes he's responsible for the deaths of many, and in another he winds up killing Dr. Eggman. As mind-blowing as those may sound, they're also part of the problem with this game. You see, some of the endings are so radical in their outcome that you know they don't fit in the Sonic universe, and thus you never truly get the feeling that what you're playing is actually canon to the series. Regardless, it is still a tale worth experiencing.
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Graphics and Sound
The game looks pretty good, and it seems to use the same graphics engine as Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, also for the Gamecube. Of course, considering this game was released some three years later, it's a bit of a shame that the graphics didn't receive more of a noticeable overhaul. Fortunately, the audio problems that plagued the voice acting in Sonic Adventure 2: Battle have been fixed, so that one character's lines no longer start before another's conclude. This is reportedly the first game to use the cast of the Sonic X cartoon series to voice the characters, and in my opinion, they do a much better job than the previous actors. The music is fairly good as well, and more vocal tracks are featured than in past games, including the enjoyable opening song as well as different ending themes based upon the path chosen for each individual play-through. Nice touch, if you ask me.
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If you've ever played as the Shadow character in any of the other 3-D Sonic the Hedgehog games, you pretty much know what to expect. Like the blue hedgehog himself, Shadow is a character that tends to focus on speed, only not as much in this title as in previous ones. The reason for that is the addition of guns and vehicles that can be used to fight enemies and help you move forward. Unlike some hardcore Sonic purists, this didn’t really bother me too much. In fact, in some ways I feel it helps to separate the Shadow character from being simply a Sonic clone, and helps establish him as one bad ass dude. If you don't like the weapons, simply don't use them.
The controls are fairly standard for a Sonic game, with a few twists. As usual, you move with the control stick, jump with the A button and hold down X to charge your spin dash move. In addition, the B button is used to punch or fire a weapon, and Shadow also has a bevy of other special moves, including a jump dash, a homing attack, a triangle jump, the ability to grind on rails, and both the hero-side Chaos Control and dark-side Chaos Blast attacks. Everything works fairly well here, with no major complaints. On the whole, Shadow the Hedgehog is a rather short game but it has great replay value. A single play-through will only take you approximately two to three hours, but seeing as how there are multiple endings and slight variations on each, as well as an unlockable final chapter, there is plenty of motivation to keep on playing.
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Shadow the Hedgehog never won over the critics, receiving rather poor to below average reviews on the whole, but fans helped make this a Player's Choice title on the Gamecube and naming it the Best Platform Game of 2005 in voting conducted by Nintendo Power magazine. In this case, I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. This isn't a game that should be winning awards, but it isn't as abysmal as the gaming media would have you believe either. In truth, it's a solid and enjoyable action platformer, better than Sonic Adventure DX but not quite as good as Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. The game received a rating of E-10+ from the ESRB and is more thematically intense than other games in the series, and does include a few instances of harsh language, so it may not be suitable for very young gamers. If you're fortunately enough to find it in a bargain bin somewhere for $10 to $15, pick it up. Otherwise, it's worth at least a test rental. Considering that it plays well, has an interesting story to tell and features over 300 different ways to play through the game, I think you'll find it's worth the gamble.