Town stages have always been a matter of taste. In Sonic Adventure, they added a good break from the stages and were small enough to easily explore. Having said that, some people hated the adventure fields. If you were one of those people, you’ll really hate the town stages in Sonic the Hedgehog. They are much larger this time, and some inexplicably so – the Forest is almost deserted and to get from an urgent story mark to another will cost you at least five minutes walking for what seems like an eternity. It’s bad enough coping with massive empty areas with Sonic or Shadow, but it’s less kind to Silver, as he doesn’t even have the fortunate bonus of speed on his side. The sooner you unlock the levels and town missions in the main menu for easy access the more bearable it all gets.
The levels are more impressive, which is just as well really. In general, they can prove to be most frustrating due to a massive difficulty curve – whether it’s because of cheap deaths or actual difficulty we still can’t even ascertain, as both are pretty big culprits in that field. Playing the stages through the story mode just becomes a relentless endurance test to see how many lives you can survive on. Zippers don’t always catch Sonic on scripted areas, for instance, and mach speed areas – while fun at first – are barely controllable, particularly when jumping.
It can make play frustrating at times, but it’s not all bad news. They are all nicely designed, with level gimmicks and good presentation to overcome different obstacles in the game, and when it works, it works really well. White Acropolis has you sneaking past searchlights to reach Eggman’s base, and Crisis City is an awesome apocalyptic future stage. And the bosses are truly great, although reused far too often – Mephiles is an awesome enemy to battle against as Shadow.
The graphics and presentation is unfortunately not flawless – there is noticeable popup in both stages and town levels. This can frustrate in stages such as Aquatic Base, where on sections walking around on a big metallic ball, you cannot determine whether laser grids are on until you’re too close to them. Even in town missions such as Shadow’s Buggy Training suffer chronic popup, whereby goal rings don’t even appear until you’re really close to them. Makes getting an ‘S’ rank a bit of a bitch.
Tragically, the problems don’t end there. In even parts of the game where not a lot of action is going on, you will experience slow down the likes you’ll have never seen before in a Sonic game. For some bizarre reason, a few robots shooting rockets at you will make the game grind down to a crawl. This is most noticeable in Silver’s stages, as he’s already pretty slow anyway.
Sonic Team didn’t even fix what was messed up in games since Sonic Adventure. Yes, we have to talk about that camera again. Admittedly it’s not so bad in places, but it can be really horrible in others. The L Trigger can cure most problems, but there will be moments where you will want to look behind you as you’re running another way – say, a Boss battle, where the L Trigger argument is void. Manual control of the camera is poor and slow in this instance, and the auto-snaps the camera makes can be a pain, especially when using Tails or Rouge’s sniper mode if you happen to miss an enemy.
There are some more amazing glitches that should never have left Sonic Team’s sight, such as jumping constantly using Sonic’s purple shoe gem whilst in a shrunken state will allow you to climb vertically forever and ever. Add to this horrendous loading times that even put Sonic Shuffle to shame – the game has to load four times in total when engaging in a town mission – and the problems mentioned before with control and you get possibly Sonic Team’s most rushed game yet. It feels so unfinished in this respect, that it can almost put you off playing the game entirely just in protest to the developers daring to release it like this. Not even Shadow the Hedgehog felt so bad at times – you could shoot off like a rocket on ice, but at least that game was complete.
Once you get stuck in though and decide to ignore the massive faults in this game (and trust me, for even a Sonic fan this will take a lot of ignoring) you’ll find a decent enough adventure. When it works, it works extremely well, and being able to access missions and stages from the Trial menu will make the game a lot more palatable than traipsing through the massive town stages.
And the music is just about faultless. Instead of constant rock-influenced themes, we’re getting a bit more varied and involved with the stage soundtracks. Wave Ocean’s music brilliantly captures a Caribbean nature to the beach stage, while ‘The Inlet’ is about the best mach speed stage music ever. Crush 40 (minus Johnny) remake ‘All Hail Shadow’, Zebrahead’s ‘His World’ is finicky but grows on you, and Remix Factory does an awesome track for Silver with ‘Dreams of an Absolution’. Bouncy music and techno rock is pretty much the definitive Sonic soundtrack, and playing music from stages like White Acropolis reminds us not only of Mega Drive compositions, but also of Richard Jacques’ work in Sonic 3D.
There are plenty of things to keep those wanting to truck on with the game entertained though – the levels are quite difficult all-round. The challenge is a welcome one, and once you’ve mapped the stages in your head you can really enjoy speeding through in an attempt to grab ‘S’ Ranks. The Gold Medals will keep Sonic fans glued for ages because of the difficulty curve and length of the stages, and the two-player mode is pretty good too. The idea of co-operative play is one that is crafted well enough to enjoy the game with a mate
The major problem with Sonic the Hedgehog is that it is terribly average. Placing faith in a seven year old gameplay structure is one thing, but Sonic Team haven’t so much as fixed the issues raised since Sonic Adventure. In fact, they seem to have created a whole host of new problems that weren’t even present in any past 3D Sonic before it.
Sonic the Hedgehog contains a few sparkling moments of brilliance, many moments of mediocrity and the rest is just plain average. A Sonic fan can find lots of fun here, but if the laziness of the production is too much for you then you can still find joy in the story and levels themselves. It’s by no means a terrible game, but it’s certainly not a great Sonic game. ‘Sonic Adventure’ was good in 1999, but it won’t cut the mustard anymore. It’s time the Hedgehog evolved.