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Game 32 of 52: Sonic Heroes - 12/04/24


Ryannumber1gamer

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With the Big challenge that we did in celebration of Sonic Stadium's Big X prank this year, I decided to fire up Sonic Heroes to fulfil the challenge requirements, and since I'd been meaning to get around to playing through Heroes, I decided to go ahead and run through it while I was at it. 

Sonic Heroes is probably the Sonic game I have the most history with, as it was my first Sonic game ever. Where back in the early 2000s, I went round to a friend's house and played the game a ton, even if I never got very far past Casino Park. Then after that, I got a second-hand copy on PS2 and started playing it a whole ton, although again never really managing to get that far. Past a point, the most I got was Team Rose and I think Team Sonic's stories done, and even then, I resigned myself to never unlocking the final story after seeing it in a PS2 magazine as a secret, because I hated the Chaos Emerald special stages.

Years later, I then got the Gamecube version of the game second-hand, wanting to play it since I knew it was the apparent best version, and whatever it was, it just didn't work with me well that time. Maybe I was in a bad mood. Maybe I was in that phase where I more readily disliked Sonic games, but I was absolutely sick of the game and it's slippery controls by the time I got to Team Sonic's Frog Forest, and following that, I never picked the game back up again. My first Sonic game, and I had yet to ever truly finish it. 

Until now that is. If I was going to pick the game up, I was determined - this time, I would finally finish every single story. I would collect every single Chaos Emerald. I would kick Neo Metal Sonic's ass once and for all.

So how did that go? What do I think of the game now? 

Well, I think ironically, Heroes may be my most love/hate relationship with a Sonic game ever, perfectly split between half good, and half bad. As the meme goes:

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So, I think the best way to tackle this is in the order of stories I had done it originally. So let's get started with...

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So due to the Big challenge, it only made sense to continue on with Team Rose's game. The trio ends up embroiled in the storyline of the game when a mysterious Sonic lookalike is spotted kidnapping Cheese's brother, and Froggy. For what reason the trio is together at the start, it's not well explained, but they quickly form a team, Big and Cream aiming to save their missing friends, while Amy wishes to find and win over Sonic's heart. From here, the story remains pretty much the same, the trio getting more clues as they go through the stages that eventually delivers them to Eggman's Egg Fleet.

Despite Team Rose being the game's easy mode, I would argue Team Rose is amongst the best way to play the game, as it avoids the game's pretty big pit-fall - in that the levels extend on for way too long when it comes to the other teams. Team Rose on the other hand only has 3-5 minute stages, much closer to the typical Sonic stage length, and therefore the levels don't overstay their welcome nearly as much. While this can have the effect of feeling like stages end just as they're getting started, it does just make the whole thing much more of a enjoyable experience, even if Big's voice can be really damn irritating here, and while it's neat that they evolve Amy's development from Adventure into her leading her own team, it's a shame that it also unfortunately means it's the start of Amy being obsessive with winning Sonic's heart to a absurd degree that wouldn't clear up until near the end of the decade.

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Following that is the team that most start the game with, and the medium difficulty of the game - Team Sonic. Their story involves Tails and Knuckles tracking Sonic down after receiving a letter from Eggman, threatening to conquer the world within three days, and challenging the trio to shut down his latest scheme, which causes them to team up to take Eggman down. To me, while a simple framing device, I think this is actually a pretty neat way to handle the game's plot, especially in comparison to the Adventure games. The time-based situation of the plot on top of how the stages actually follow a structure that shows day go to afternoon, to night, to sunrise in the first four zones, and while it's the start of Knuckles showing up out of nowhere forgetting the Master Emerald exists, it isn't too bad here as a excuse to get him into the team.

I'd still say Team Sonic's story, despite the levels starting to really push their luck in terms of length with 5-7 minute levels, with even the likes of Egg Fleet stretching that out further, it's still pretty enjoyable for most of the game, even if there's some pretty irritating zones like Casino Park and Rail Canyon. I would still prefer some kind of happy middle ground between Team Sonic and Team Rose's stage length, I do think ultimately, it's enjoyable enough here to make their team's story a good way to experience the game, especially if you find Team Rose's story too easy.

Following that, and where the game starts to go downhill...

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In terms of a pure story viewpoint, I'd say Team Dark is probably the best of the entire bunch. There's a compelling story with Shadow trying to learn about his past, and figure out exactly what his deal is, if he's real or a robot, and how Rouge flip flops a fair deal between if she's simply using him as a means to an end with finding Eggman's treasure, or legitimately wants to help him following the events of SA2, especially when it comes to Rouge beginning to realise she might need to try break the truth to Shadow, only for Shadow to push on ahead anyways. Omega in comparison doesn't bring quite as much to the table, simply wanting to obliterate Eggman's armada, but he does a good job balancing out Shadow and Rouge's personalities, and it does tie in a bit with the reveal that Shadow may or may not be a Android, with Omega having a more logical perspective on the matter. 

I also think this is a really good game for Shadow personality wise. It still feels like he's firmly between SA2's vengefulness and Shadow's edginess, so what we get is actually a pretty chill Shadow who can have some playful banter with Rouge and Omega, and it helps solidify them as a team. It's pretty clear why they became a fan-favourite mainstay.

Unfortunately, I can't really say that for their gameplay, because they arguably have the worst campaign of the entire bunch as the game's hard mode. 7-10 minute levels are a regular occurrence for them, and it wears out it's welcome extremely quickly. There's far more enemies throughout the levels, cheap deaths become a far more common occurrence as you play through the game, and it's just where the game really starts to wear out it's welcome thin. Which is a shame because otherwise, Team Dark has the best story and dynamic out of the teams. But their gameplay is just such a chore.

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Which brings us to our last team - Team Chaotix. The revived and rebooted characters from Knuckles Chaotix, I honestly think I would say this is my favourite team dynamic of the whole game. The three are a mismatched trio of down on their luck detectives who end up getting a mysterious package that contains a radio, with a client promising to reward them handsomely if they follow their orders, bringing the detectives in a collision course with the Eggman Empire. It's a odd dynamic, but it's just always fun to see the money hungry Vector play off the overtly stern and honourable Espio, all while Charmy ping pongs between the two of them. They also easily have the funniest story conclusion in the entire game.

This also presents the one major gameplay change, as Team Chaotix acts as the game's mission mode. While it's admirable they tried to do something different here, and some missions are fairly easy enough, such as using Espio's stealth abilities to sneak past enemies, the game just clearly wasn't built for missions in mind. Most levels are very linear, and it means missing one or two of the objectives will just immediately send you back to the very beginning, forced to do the whole level a second time, except this time completely empty in order to find the missing collectibles. So again, like Team Dark - while their dynamic and story is pretty fun, it's drag down heavily by the gameplay.

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That brings us to the final story - where Neo Metal Sonic is revealed as the ultimate final boss, having locked Eggman away and essentially having gone insane in a bid to prove himself as the one real Sonic once and for all. Having upgraded himself in secret, Metal has gained Chaos' abilities and uses it to copy the powers of every team, determined to evolve into the ultimate being, capable of destroying Sonic once and for all. This brings us to a final boss fight where Sonic goes super, while Tails and Knuckles gain shields.

Unfortunately, while not a frustrating fight by any means, it's a rather limp way to end the game, as the final fight just involves Sonic smacking into balloons and charging Team Blast after Team Blast to take Metal down. While a cool way to implement the game's main gimmick, it ultimately results in a rather boring final fight. After which, Metal is finally taken down, Eggman is freed, and everyone parts ways, leaving the truth of Shadow's identity up in the air for another game to discuss.

Compared to the Adventure games, the stories are a lot simpler, but I do think Team Dark and Team Chaotix have their merits in dynamic and story ideas. Even Team Sonic has the cool framing device of having the three day time limit, and the stages following those times of day fairly to the letter. Team Rose is about the only story I'd say really sticks out as not particularly interesting.

What is neat however is the callbacks to previous games. It's actually neat to hear characters refer to past events and reflect on them, such as Chaos' shape-shifting ability becoming a core part of the game's power, and one of Neo Metal's goals being to copy Shadow's bio-data so he can essentially become a copy of Sonic, Chaos, and Shadow merged together in a ultimate being. Even Amy and Big discussing the Egg Carrier is a pretty cool detail.

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Another plus I'd put into it's cap is I think the level selection in Heroes is really damn fantastic. Honestly kind of a shame that the only levels that get referenced these days is just Casino Park and Seaside Hill, because levels like Grand Metropolis, and especially Egg Fleet have some excellent ideas and gimmicks, ideas that really give a high octane thrill to blitz through them. It really feels cool smashing through Eggman's fleet, jumping from battleship to battleship, taking each one down bit by bit until you get to Eggman himself. 

That's not to say they're all good however, because there's some really damn annoying levels too. Rail grinding in this game is pretty janky, with movement feeling off, rail switching being glitchy, and there being a good chance that you'll just randomly detach from rails, making it pretty damn irritating when Rail Canyon is a entire zone filled with rails. So much so that on the PS2, this is where my Team Sonic runs would constantly end unless I got ridiculously lucky. Casino Park and Pinball Highway is also pretty horrible due to how bad the pinball physics are.

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For what it's worth though, I do think the gameplay of Heroes in of itself is actually pretty decent. I like the idea of playing with three characters reflecting the earlier Classic games, and giving each role unique attributes to build the game around. From the speed character's homing attacks and light speed dash, to flight's...well, flying, and Power's triangle dive and general strength. The game does a really good job creating different scenarios and gimmicks where each role interacts with a part of a stage in a entirely different way, and uses it for pretty fun and explorative gameplay. The big problem is really the level design, again because of how the game just keeps going on. This is arguably some of the biggest Sonic levels ever seen in terms of length, and by the time of Team Dark, it just becomes downright extreme.

I also think the level up system is a double edged coin. I do think it's a necessary evil to have enemy health bars in order to make power characters feel much more standout in battles, but it means fights can very easily stretch out, which is almost always a bad thing in a Sonic game. But on the other hand, it makes the level up system feel really rewarding when you grow to easily tear enemies apart, although it also makes dying so much more punishing since it brings your character's power right back to square one.

Team Blast is the other major mechanic of the game, and for what it is, it's pretty good. Since combat is more of a thing here, it does feel really rewarding to have this gigantic screen clearing blast that has unique attributes to each team, and unique animations. From Team Dark temporarily freezing the screen to Team Rose getting invincibility and a shield, to Team Chaotix getting rings, reflecting their money-hungry motivations. It does make it feel even more rewarding when you team blast with Team Chaotix on a large batch of enemies, only to immediately be able to do it again because you got so many rings from it.

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Unfortunately, the special stages absolutely blow. Not only is it annoying to enter due to needing to collect a key and not be hit once until the end of the stage, but even when doing this with Team Rose, the easiest team to do it, the physics and controls are still unbelievably slippery, and the team movement doesn't work at all in the halfpipe, meaning you'll constantly slow down, hit bombs, and go out of control, meaning a full level replay just to get another chance. That is unless you know the trick of switching to a power character and boosting immediately, which nabs the emerald within a few seconds, but even that feels like a cheese more than anything.

That's the game's other major problem - it just feels unbelievably janky. On top of the general length issues, what did start to wear me down towards the latter half of the game is the number of times I would die to the game's nonsense. Not connecting to rails even when I clearly hit them, getting knocked back into pits by random enemies, getting sent launching into death pits by automated portions of the game and more. It gets really annoying when you have levels that is already so long, and then just get screwed over so easily, losing minutes at a time as a result.

The boss fights are also pretty annoying. They're tanky, they take ages to fight, they require you to get close to damage yet easily damage you back, and then you get to Robot Storm where the game expects you to do a full blown 5 minute gauntlet of robot enemies, and if you die once, you repeat the whole damn thing. Don't even get me started with Egg Emperor where if you do what the game literally wants you to do and follow him, you'll actually speed into him, hit him mid-air, and knock back into a pit.

The graphics for the PS2/GC era is pretty nice, and again lends well to the creative levels you do get here, with Casino Park, Grand Metropolis and Egg Fleet being personal favourites in terms of visuals. The music is also absolutely excellent, there's a good reason most of the level themes are memorable, and What I'm Made Of is one of Crush 40's favourites to perform. Some of my favourite tracks being:

Ultimately, that's really the problem with Sonic Heroes. There's a fun game buried in here, with excellent music, some fun (if cheesy) writing, and nice level visuals, and maybe if you just do one or two stories, you can really enjoy it. But between heavy level reuse, the fact you have to do all four campaigns with the exact same gameplay in all of them compared to the Adventure games where each character at least played differently, how long every level is, and just how drawn out it ultimately gets, it's hard to really recommend the game as a full package. Would I recommend one or two stories? Sure, but it's hard to recommend four stories of the same content and a pretty boring final story. 

Still, I'm really happy I finally managed to complete this game 100%. It's something that's been on my bucket list for a long time, and for better or worse, I'm always going to have fond memories of Sonic Heroes for being the game that got me into the franchise to begin with. Is it the best Sonic game? Not by a long shot. But there is something enjoyable in term, even if it's a mixed bag, and I'm still happy I finally experienced it all from beginning to end. 

hope the remaster news is true tho

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