There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in Sonic Heroes. Widely considered to be the last Sonic game before developer Sonic Team took a creative nosedive, Sonic Heroes minimizes the story-based gaming that Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 had developed in favor of more high octane thrills, chills and spills. It also brings to the table a plethora of playable characters from four different teams: Team Sonic, Team Dark, Team Rose and Team Chaotix. Although the game encourages you to play all four, there’s really no reason to do so as they’re all essentially the same game with minor tweaks between them; it’s kind of like comparing Pokemon Gold version with Pokemon Silver version. However, for the most part, running through the game once offers a lot of great moments. It’s too bad they’re bogged down by a few major issues that hold the game back from being something truly great.
Let’s start with the positives; the first few stages of Sonic Heroes are a blast. The platforming has challenge, but not so much that it creates frustration, and the level design is excellent, especially after trudging through Shadow the Hedgehog. The world shifts and changes around your team as they smash their way through at maximum speed, and the three characters you control, divided into the classes speed, power, and flying work well together in tandem. Though you really only control one character at a time, switching between them is seamless and is a fun gimmick to explore as you try to maximize your time. The art direction still holds up today, particularly on the Gamecube version (which I played) and the Jun Senoue’s soundtrack is the provides perfect companion pieces for the gameplay.
However, after a few levels, it’s clear that nothing much is going to change and you’re in for a fairly lengthy playtime of five hours or so per team, so if running, smashing and flying isn’t your thing, then the appeal starts to wear off pretty quickly. This is particularly true in the later levels, as the slippery controls don’t quite match up with some of the more hardcore platforming that the game puts you through, which could probably lead to some frustration if you can’t get it down. I never had any real trouble with the majority of the levels, but there is a little bit of trial and error at times, which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Though the controls aren’t perfect, the camera is the worst offender, often getting stuck and unruly which isn’t a problem in the earlier levels, but becomes a major burden in later stages like the two Haunted House-themed ones where players are required to look around for switches and tread carefully through certain hazardous areas. Finally, it’s worth noting the XBOX and PS2 versions have some major framerate issues which serves as a detriment to the overall experience, so stick to the much more polished Gamecube version if possible.
I think the biggest problem with Sonic Heroes isn’t the hard-to-control camera, the slippery controls, or the lame story, it’s the lack of variety. One of the main strengths of the afore-mentioned Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2, the prequels to this game, was that they offered a number of different play styles to master, with each playable character offering completely different styles of play. This variety is completely missing from Sonic Heroes, and it suffers as a whole because of it. Even worse, the fantastic chao gardens from the Adventure games are nowhere to be found in this one, a mind-boggling omission considering their widespread appeal and additional optional gameplay. These negatives aren’t a total dealbreaker, since Sonic Heroes does a lot of things well, and for Sonic fans it’s a no-brainer, but for more casual players, there are several other Sonic titles that offer a much more fulfilling experience.