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Sometimes, video game designers just need to take a break from the norm and let their creative juices flow. Though I don't know for sure, I imagine that it was Sonic Team's desire to do just that which ultimately led to the creation of the 2003 Sega release, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for the Nintendo Gamecube. While it was developed by the game company behind the Sonic Adventure games and does bear a passing resemblance to the series, this is definitely a new and distinctly different style of game, focusing less on speed and more on puzzle solving and in many ways feeling more akin to a Kirby title than your typical Sonic Team game.
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This game's storyline can be best described as very, very cute and very, very unusual. You see, Billy Hatcher is just your normal everyday kid who one day, while going out to meet up with his friends, happens to save a little chick from some crows. Suddenly, he and his buddies are transported to a place called Morning Land, where he is recruited by a "chicken god" to serve as a crusader of sorts. Billy is charged with saving the elders of the various villages, fighting off the forces of darkness and restoring the light to Morning Land. How does he do this, you ask? By donning a magical chicken suit, rolling around giant eggs and perfecting his rooster crow to hatch the creatures contained within. Yeah, it's weird, but the writing is such that you can't help by smile and carry on.
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In all, there are seven stages, each with eight possible missions to complete. Success in each level depends upon the eggs that Billy finds and controls. He can roll them into enemies to attack, or throw them at his opponents from a distance. He can use them to bounce high into the air, roll them into cannons to fire himself great distances, travel through rings, and so forth. Furthermore, as mentioned above, he can hatch them to obtain various power ups or even gain new allies, who themselves can help him out by using different elemental abilities to combat foes or overcome obstacles. Unfortunately, the eggs are on the small side when you first find them, and in order to make them grown, you'll need to have Billy roll them over the various types of fruits that can be found lying around or picked up from defeated enemies. Be careful with your eggs, however, because they can crack and break if they take too much damage. Fighting is a big part of the game, but so are thinking and adapting, as you need to figure out how to solve different puzzles by using different eggs and different abilities to move forward. The game may look innocent enough (more on that later), but it can be quite challenging, perhaps even frustrating at times, and may be too much for very young gamers to handle.
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Graphics and Sound
It is in the visuals that Billy Hatcher really betrays it's developers roots, as the game is built on the Sonic Adventure 2 engine and shares a lot of similarities with that title in terms of environments and character designs (especially when it comes to the elemental helpers, which very closely resemble the Flickies of Sonic Adventure fame). The music and sound effects are a completely different story, though. Instead of using the traditional rock-infused soundtrack and voice acting of the Sonic Adventure games, Billy Hatcher features happy, bouncy style music, lots of cartoony sound effects and only the occasional bit of spoken dialogue. Like so much of this game, it's odd and unorthodox, and yet somehow it works. The game's main theme song in particular is quite infectious.
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Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg received mixed reviews shortly after its initial release, and despite a few cameo appearances from the kid in the chicken suit in games like Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, the game appears as though it will wind up being a stand-alone title and not the start of a new series. That's a bit of a shame, because it is an immensely fresh, creative and entertaining game. Perhaps it was the difficulty that turned gamers off, or the fact that it was a slower, more contemplative game than fans were used to getting from Sonic Team. Whatever the case may be, the fact is that Billy Hatcher is a thoroughly enjoyable title that feels a lot like a hybrid of Kirby and Sonic the Hedgehog games. That alone makes it worth at least a rental, though considering the fact that most used game retailers probably have the game for under $10, you might as well just take the plunge and buy it.