From the first time I was introduced to the Sonic franchise through the multi-platform, far-reaching release that was Sonic Heroes, I’ve been a fan of the little blue blur. After playing through Heroes, I sought out the Gamecube ports of both Sonic Adventure games and enjoyed them to varying degrees. The second one, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, interestingly featured a dark storyline as an alternative to the Sonic Team-centric Hero path. The main character of this darker option: Shadow the Hedgehog.
As a character, Shadow is far from the worst Sonic Team has produced. Sure he’s a brooding, emo crybaby that does his best to make each of his past forays into the video game realm worthless with his never-ending amnesia (wasn’t he supposed to get some answers from Rouge at the end of Sonic Heroes?), but he’s far from Charmy Bee, Big the cat, or even Tails, who has become one of the most annoying video game characters of all time since his (her?) graceful debut in Sonic 2 back on the Genesis. Shadow is more morally ambiguous than his counterparts, and so to allow gamers to express this, Sonic Team chose to implement branching paths to the story. A good idea in theory, all this mechanic really does is completely kill any sense of a coherent narrative throughout Shadow the Hedgehog. Though there are a decent number of levels in the game (22), any given playthrough of the game only takes the player through six, which only takes about an hour; in order to see the rest the game has to offer, you have to replay the game and make different choices during the stages. Unfortunately, many of the different paths which deviate from the simple “run the end of the stage” goal that the neutral path offers, are horribly implemented. Often, you’ll be tasked with completely eradicating either the GUN soldiers, or the Black Hand alien invaders. This is a truly frustrating task, as the stages are huge and complicated and finding specific enemies throughout them is a hell of a chore. Though this does, in a sense, dramatically increase the game’s replayability for gamers patient enough, the almost random cutscenes you will be subjected to in between the stages will quickly fall into incoherence. It’s never remedied, even as the credits roll.
Granted, story was never a huge selling point for the Sonic franchise; the gameplay was where the original games shined and where more recent titles have faltered. On this front, Shadow the Hedgehog is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. While Sonic zips around the stages on his feet, Shadow skates around with his weird oversized skate shoes. The gameplay is true to this mechanic as Shadow constantly feels as through he is trying to balance on an ice skating ring with no prior experience as a skater. This is made even worse thanks to the truly abysmal level design; the devs constantly put obstacles in Shadow’s way that do little more than kill the sense of speed this franchise is supposed to deliver. Explosions will send Shadow flying with no prior warning, rocks and barriers will often bring his speed to a screeching halt, and all of the game’s different enemies are programmed to attack him whether he’s trying to help them or not. The only area where the game is passable is in the gunplay; though it lacks the latter’s ingenuity, the guns work similarly to the Ratchet and Clank series in that attacks will home in on enemies without a problem, even if there is basically no variety between the guns themselves. Also, don’t expect to be precise if you’re trying to shoot a specific enemy while sparing a GUN solider; Shadow’s weaponry knows neither friend nor foe.
For some, Shadow the Hedgehog may actually deserve less than the 4 that I have administered, but for Sonic fans, there is a certain level of enjoyment and replayability that can be garnered from this title. Even so, fans are better off revisiting Shadow’s original story in Sonic Adventure 2 or better yet, trying to forget about the Sonic franchise altogether. It’s not getting better anytime soon.