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For years Sonic the Hedgehog fans have been crying out for a new console title that accurately duplicates the blue blur's high-speed adventures found in his original Sega Genesis titles. While none of the post 16-bit era Sonic games has yet to fully capture the essence and feel of those Genesis games, it hasn't always been for lack of trying. In fact, Sonic Heroes, a 2004 release for the Nintendo Gamecube (and later for the PS2 and Xbox), was probably the post-Genesis title that has come closest to duplicating the original formula, although it also contains many elements found in the Sonic Adventure titles as well as some brand new features.
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So what's the deal with this mix of old and new? Well, like the Sonic Adventure games, there are multiple branching story paths, each featuring different characters from the expanded Sonic universe, traveling along 3D stages and battling various bosses along the way. There are four teams of three characters, with each squad being comprised of a speed character, a flyer and a power character. Players will need to alternate between all of them on the fly in order to complete puzzles, overcome obstacles and advance. For the old-school fans, there are branching paths in each level, and the goal typically is to get from the start to the finish as quickly as possible. Also, some of the level design has a definite throwback feel to it, and special stages where you can earn Chaos Emeralds, a staple in the original Sonic titles, make a welcome return as well. New to the series are some of the individual characters special attacks, such as Amy's "Tornado Hammer" move, as well as the uber-powerful Team Blast attack, which pretty much decimates anything in its path and is even insanely effective against bosses. Also, power ups can be found in the various levels to make each character's attacks stronger.
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As mentioned above, there are four teams, and in turn that means that there are four different corresponding plot lines in Sonic Heroes. The team of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles receive a challenge from Dr. Eggman at the start of the game, daring them to stop his latest scheme before he can successfully pull it off. Meanwhile, Team Dark is formed when Rouge the Bat, while sneaking around one of Eggman's bases in search of treasure, comes across Shadow the Hedgehog and a robot named Omega, both of whom have vendettas against the diabolical doctor and team up with Rouge to battle the toughest levels of the game. Conversely, the trio of Amy, Big the Cat and Cream the Rabbit are looking for Big's missing friend Froggy and Chocola, the brother of Cream's chao companion Cheese, and their levels are designed for beginners. Finally, the forth threesome, Team Chaotix (Vector the Crocodile, Charmy Bee and Espio the Chameleon), are working on a job for a mystery client, and most of their levels require them to complete missions rather than just travel a set path. The writing isn't very strong on the whole. In fact, the plots seem strung together solely as an excuse to support and explain the team-based gameplay.
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Graphics and Sound
Once again, old meets new in the game's presentation as well. The graphics, well, look exactly like Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. In fact, I'm pretty much convinced that all of the Gamecube Sonic games after like Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (and that also includes Shadow the Hedgehog) use exactly the game graphics engine, with little to no noticeable changes. Considering that all three of these games look good enough, this is acceptable, but it does betray a bit of developer laziness. There are some serious camera issues as well, as at times it will lose track of the action or focus, for some reason, on the wrong character. The music is a bit of a throwback, as it sounds more in line with the Genesis titles and relies far less on the use of vocal tracks as the Sonic Adventure games. Then there's the voice acting. On the one hand, it is easier to hear than in previous Gamecube titles in this series. However, it's also really, really bad. Lines are often delivered as if they're read directly from the script, and sometimes the focus on instructions makes you feel like you're a kindergartener listening to instructions from the teacher. I do have to admit that, unlike most gamers, I for some reason get a kick out of Big the Cat's goofy voice.
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Sonic Heroes is a tough game to score, because it's tries to be a Sonic game for everyone, but because of that, it won't make any series fan completely happy. As has been mentioned throughout, there is a decidedly old-school feel to the game, although things like the large cast and the different special attacks probably won't sit well with Sonic purists who prefer the Genesis games to any recent offering in the series. Meanwhile, Sonic Adventure fans will probably be disappointed with the considerably less intriguing storyline and the simplified production values. The team concept is innovative, but feels a tad gimmicky, and the camera problems and poor voice acting are major annoyances. It isn't nearly as enjoyable as Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, but it is close to being in the same category, quality-wise, as Shadow the Hedgehog. It's less polished than the aforementioned title, but with so many different Sonic characters to play as and the ability to use different strategies to complete the levels, it is a game that anyone who's ever been a Sonic fan, be they old-school or new-school, should rent and try out.