A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
I have played Sonic Heroes multiple times in the past since pretty much my childhood, so I am more than familiar with the game. That said, I obviously won’t let nostalgia of the past influence my overall opinion of the game. The game was played and finished very recently, just a few weeks before this review went live. However, I have not 100% completed the game in terms of emblems because they only unlock multiplayer modes and a special reward that I didn’t care for. Suffice to say, the multiplayer aspect also won’t be covered in this review.
Important to note is that I played the PC version because I wanted to stream the game on Twitch. Not only was it tough to get this running due to DRM requiring two discs, which I fortunately still had, but also because of input, widescreen and other issues that weren’t really prevalent when the game originally released. I had to suffer from a lot of camera issues in this version, but I don’t remember that ever being a problem when I played the games on a console. For now, I’m not going to address the camera issues in the review because I don’t feel that’s fair towards the game. I don’t remember it being a massive issue for people though, so I think I can safely shelve that topic for now and instead cover the other strengths- and weaknesses of the game.
Sonic Heroes! Those two words and the exclamation mark should immediately put the song with the same name by Crush 40 in your head, and for good reason. While I can not confirm 100% that this was my first game in the franchise, it is definitely my most nostalgic one by a long shot. I think I’m not the only one with those feelings, as Sonic Heroes was the first 3D Sonic game that was not exclusively featured on a Sega system, or a Nintendo system with the Adventure games. I already mentioned this as well in the ”Why I love the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise” article, but the Sega line-up of systems weren’t really that popular over here, and Nintendo also tended to be hit or miss. Most people here had a PlayStation console, and that’s where we were first able to play a Sonic game.
I’m not speaking just for myself here either. Whenever I ask any of my local friends ”Hey, what Sonic games have you played?”, there is always that one answer: Sonic Heroes. I even used to listen to Crush 40, and I can’t count on two hands how many people walked up to me saying they recognized the song. Speaking to them, many have fond memories of the game, and so do I. However, it is a game I last played about 10 years ago, if not more. While I will always say that I liked the game and I have very little doubts that actually changed, I also grow older and wiser. My opinions of then do not necessarily correlate to my present opinions–if I could even remember my old opinions due to my very bad memory. So today, let’s take a fresh look at what may be the first Sonic the Hedgehog experience I’ve ever had!
Sonic Heroes was developed by Sonic Team USA under producer Yuji Naka and designer Takashi Iizuka and published in 2003 for Japan, 2004 for the rest of the world. It followed in the footsteps of the Sonic Adventure titles, but was specifically made to not be a sequel to these games as a way to attract not only old fans but new fans as well. This was done for a reason, as Sonic Heroes was the first of two games built on the RenderWare engine. This engine allowed the team to port the game to every available system at the time far more easily, instead of just being on Sega- or Nintendo consoles. That said, the development of Sonic Heroes was not one that can be looked back upon positively. The deadlines were harsh, and the management at Sega resulted in a stressful development that even led to one of the developers becoming ill to the point of losing a serious amount of weight and suffering from insomnia. This was definitely not a healthy development cycle, but the game was a major commercial success as a swan song. The general reception tended to vary between reviewers, but this was overall positive as well.
For your trivia of the day: did you know that there were originally going to be six teams? Aside from the four we currently have in the game, some other characters were also planned to return. Fang, Bean and Bark would make up for one team, with Metal Sonic, Ray and Mighty making up the other. This was eventually scrapped as there would be too many playable characters. Shadow was initially not planned to be in the game either due to the events of Sonic Adventure 2, but he was brought back from the grave due to him being a fan favourite.
Right from that start, there are four teams to choose from. I initially thought that there was no way to check in-game what the differences were between all teams, but I probably just wanted to forget because we have to listen to everyone’s favourite Omochao for that. It probably could have been explained- or shown better as it says Team Sonic is based around going fast… which technically applies to all teams anyway. But the descriptions for the other teams are actually fairly accurate, specifically with Team Rose being easy mode, while Team Dark is hard mode. The former even has a tutorial level that none of the other teams has. I wouldn’t say this tutorial is highly necessary though, as the game teaches you how everything works perfectly fine through normal gameplay. Characters can’t shut their mouth for a single second after all, so you’ll know exactly what to do at what time.
Joking aside with the talking part as I personally like the banter between characters, the difference in gameplay mostly has to do with how long the stages are and how many enemies appear. Team Dark will have the longest level layout out of all teams with an emphasis on combat, while Team Rose only grabs a fraction from that layout and makes it their own with fewer enemies. Team Sonic is somewhere in the middle, while Team Chaotix is… Team Chaotix. I’ll come back to them later. They all have their own stakes for going on their journey to stop the evil Dr. Eggman, going through the exact same campaign barring the gameplay differences.
Does it matter all that much in the end though? If you aren’t a completionist, not really. A single campaign does have its own story with a mostly satisfactory conclusion so if that’s all you’re here for, there’s not much reason to play the others right away. It just leaves one unanswered question due to a specific character appearing in every campaign, which will be answered after every campaign has been beaten. It just… doesn’t really do that much for the overall plot. Frankly, this final part exists solely for there just to be a final part, and the only Team who truly had anything to do with that part in their own campaign is, surprisingly, Team Chaotix. You won’t really be missing out on that much aside from an awesome Crush 40 song, but that’s what YouTube exists for nowadays.
A single campaign does have its own story with a mostly satisfactory conclusion so if that’s all you’re here for, there’s not much reason to play the others right away.
Let’s move on to the gameplay since that’s what we are here for. I’m not going to delve into each team individually except for Team Chaotix since, as stated before, the campaigns are mostly the same except for theirs. The same can be said for how all the characters control, with minor differences that I’ll point out when we get there. So for the sake of simplicity, let’s pick Team Sonic.
It is advertised pretty much everywhere so I’m not going to blow your mind by saying this, but you don’t just control Sonic. Instead, you control an entire team. Each character from a team is separated into one of three categories: Speed, Flight and Power. As stated before, they also all play the same with minor differences. For example, Sonic and Shadow both have the lightspeed dash, while Espio can go invisible and Amy can play whack-a-mole with that big piko piko hammer of hers.
The speed characters specialize in, well, going fast. I still didn’t blow your mind huh? They are usually the ones you pick when there is no combat- or flying involved as they are faster than the other two classes. That said, there are issues with the speed characters, and depending on whether there is an edge nearby or not, pretty grave issues as well. Going fast is the name of the game here and that’s completely fine, but they become so extremely slippery and the controls are so sensitive that a slight push will already make you go in the other direction. It feels like there is absolutely no weight to the character and while it won’t be an issue that happens often due to speed sections usually having borders, you’ll get punished quite hard by it when there are none.
Hence why I often switch to the power characters in sections such as these as they are still relatively quick on their feet, but far more stable. Unless you’re doing ground combat with Knuckles and Omega specifically, as they slide all over the place which has, yet again, caused me many deaths near edges. I usually remedy this by attacking from the sky as they float in place while literally shooting the speed- and flight characters at the enemies. It’s a shame because ground combat has more combo potential, but is only something that I can reliably use when in a confined arena. Don’t let PETA know about this game though, as speed- and flight characters have it rough. They’re being used as boxing gloves, shot from Vector’s mouth, or even hooked with Big’s fishing rod. Apparently they’re fine with it too. Bunch of masochists.
Power characters are the ones I personally controlled more than others–not only due to their stability, but also because combat is a pretty significant part of the levels. The speed characters can only truly deal with the weaker enemies which is fine for the beginning half of the campaign, but the enemies become far meatier later on with heavy health bars. I don’t really enjoy the enemies later on in the game though, as they can take pretty long to kill and it ruins the quick pace quite hard.
Power characters are the ones I personally controlled more than others–not only due to their stability, but also because combat is a pretty significant part of the levels.
It’s even worse when your characters haven’t levelled up, which are permanent upgrades for the current stage gained from capsules or enemy kills. A fine mechanic, but every level is lost immediately after losing a life, turning them back to their weak state. The big Heavy-Egg Hammer Robots are an absolute nightmare to fight when weakened, because you have to remove their helmet, then have them fall over before you can finally attack them. The worst part is that their hitboxes are completely non-sensical, and invincibility frames around these particular enemies apparently also don’t exist.
Surprisingly, the flight characters are the ones who benefit from the levelling system more than any other class. Every class gets stronger and the power characters have some devastating combos sure, but the flight characters can only stun an enemy at level 1. Level them up a bit, and their attack doesn’t just stun the enemy, but it completely annihilates them. I usually pick them for when there’s a swarm of enemies, especially flying ones as they are harder to reach with power characters. I don’t necessarily use them that often otherwise, as they are the slowest of the bunch due to their totem-pole formation, and are only really required when the game demands you to use them because the flight itself isn’t that powerful. Also, that totem-pole formation? Charmy the Bee can carry a big crocodile and a chameleon. If he can do it, everyone can, so don’t let your dreams be memes.
If all else fails and the enemies are getting on your nerves, a Team Blast can solve the issue of the damage sponge enemies when it’s available. This is a screen-clearing nuke available after a threshold of points- or rings are gathered that takes care of any enemy on screen–even those stupid forsaken big Heavy-Egg Hammer Robots. They take care of any enemy, and also have some neat side-effects depending on the team. Team Sonic’s blast isn’t really that significant, but Team Dark’s freezes time, while Team Rose’s gives a free level-up and invincibility. Team Chaotix’s is the best though, as their horrible singing results in a huge amount of rings from sleeping neighbours asking them to stop, which results in immediately having the Team Blast again. The more enemies, the more rings, and this team blast can easily be spammed when it’s off cooldown.
Putting the control issues with the speed characters and the ground sliding with some power characters aside for a bit, it is at least very easy to switch between active characters. It only takes the press of a button and the switch is immediate. The only exceptions to this are when the character is immobilised (which happens very often with those stupid forsaken big Heavy-Egg Hammer Robots), or when the currently controlled character is in midair. It would probably have saved me from a few deaths if I could switch in midair but at the same time, I probably would have caused some deaths if I did, so I kind of understand why this is an impossibility. What I don’t understand is that it can’t be used when hovering over a fan though, because that’s just straight annoying.
What’s great about the instant switch between characters however, is that the stage design fully complements this team mechanic. It is encouraged a lot to switch between them, be it for alternate pathways or just regular progression. You could just roll down a slope, or grab a flight character and make it to another platform for an entirely different section of the level. And when there aren’t enemies ready to ruin your day, the levels keep a consistently high pace. Branching pathways is one of the elements that make Sonic stages stand out from the other, and while some don’t have as many, the ones that do are unsurprisingly also the most fun.
What’s great about the instant switch between characters however, is that the stage design fully complements this team mechanic.
And I also really like the level themes on display, as they kind of feel like what you’d see from the Genesis games: colourful levels that have a basic theme such as a city, casino, or forest, but with gimmicks to make them unique, or just really fun design to differentiate them. The most obvious example is probably Hang Castle, which is an outdoor haunted stage with anti-gravity mechanics. Grand Metropolis is probably my favourite of the bunch with its high-speed magnetic floors, but the Egg Fleet was great too with the constant travelling between airships. Oh, and I really enjoy the OST as well that plays in the levels. There’s some really good stuff in there, like Power Plant’s and Frog Forest’s theme.
I truly love this level design, with only a few minor exceptions. Sonic’s section at the end of Mystic Mansion for example has a very awkward homing attack spree over a bottomless pit that just doesn’t work half of the time. The usage of rails can also vary depending on who you ask. During my last playthrough I didn’t have much issue with them, but alternating between them or even landing on them can sometimes easily be the difference between life and death–especially in Rail Canyon which, as the name implies, consists mostly of rails. But the worst offender is easily Casino Park, which I consider to be the worst zone in the game by a very, very long shot. You constantly have to play pinball, but with the most awkward pinball controls I have seen in my life. And no, this was not an over-exaggeration; they are truly that bad. Bingo Highway is slightly better as there is less pinball, but the rolling part of pinball is still there coupled with bottomless pits.
For all teams, the goal is simply to get to the end. As stated before, Team Rose has the shortest length out of all of them, while Team Dark can easily go beyond 10 minutes depending on how you fare. Team Chaotix tends to be a mix of both, as they have another objective to take care of other than reaching the goal. Some voice through a walky-talky wants to test their skills, such as… crab gathering. Yeah, I don’t know either. Regardless, this results in a mixed bag of stage design, as some are pretty easy and are often done while travelling to the end, while others involve you to kill all enemies in a level, which almost reaches the triple digits. As you may expect, this is the absolute worst. This sucks because I really like the idea of having objective-based level design, but some take it a bit too far. Fortunately, the bad missions are in the minority compared to the good ones.
While the level design is great, the bosses are the complete opposite. With the exception of the final boss, I didn’t enjoy fighting a single one of them. They can basically be split up into three categories: chase battle, horde battle, and team battle. The former has you chasing a bird machine with a lot of health so you just keep spamming the homing attack over, and over, and over again. My version of the game even had a broken homing attack so it was even worse for me but even if it wasn’t, it would still just be a boss where you spam an attack over again. Horde battles are at least a bit better since they’re just enemy rushes, but the team battles are an absolute joke. As the name implies, you fight another team in the most awkward battle possible: they either get knocked out, or they refuse to no matter how many times you hit them. There is no skill involved with these battles; it’s pure RNG and spamming attacks.
While the level design is great, the bosses are the complete opposite.
At this point, one of the campaigns is done. If this campaign was satisfactory and you don’t care for the completion stuff, then I’d say you’re pretty much done unless you really want to play through the game again three times more. That’s not the only thing you have to do though, as for the first (and last) time in the 3D games, the special stages make a return again! A key is hidden somewhere in the regular stages that has to be taken to the goal without taking a hit, which will then take you to a long pipe with an emerald to chase. While many people hate these special stages for their slippery controls, and understandably so but… I don’t know. I have never failed these once in my life, and that’s partially due to mashing the boost button making you close in on the emerald real fast. Having better controls would definitely make them more enjoyable, but I don’t think they’re really that bad either.
And… that’s Sonic Heroes! After collecting the chaos emeralds and beating all campaigns, you are pretty much done. Not unlike the Sonic Adventure game, you can go through the same levels again but with a different objective for an emblem. This can range from Team Sonic having to speedrun the level, while Team Dark goes on a murder spree. If you wanted more from Sonic Heroes, then all the power to you, but the fact that they basically only unlock multiplayer modes was one of the reasons that I didn’t bother with them. The other, of course, being the camera issues I personally had, as I also had to get an A rank on every level for the true completion bonus and that was simply not an option for me.
It was great revisiting the title in the Sonic franchise I’m probably most nostalgic for, but my opinion has slightly changed due to seeing the game through the eyes of a critic. The reason for that slight change is pretty simple: the controls. Sonic Heroes is a game that punishes you for going fast with the speed character, because any momentum is killed when very slightly tilting the joystick. And that’s not the only part of the game that can kill momentum, as the enemies found later on in the game can end that pace quite easily as well with how long it takes to beat them. Couple this with awful pinball controls in Bingo Highway, rail grinding being unreliable, and power characters sliding five feet ahead while on the ground and you got a game that’s not fun to control… for 10 to 20% of the time. These are definitely issues, but I don’t feel like they impact my overall fun too much. The team mechanic itself was fun to work with after all, with every class having their own strengths- and weaknesses, and switching between them being immediate. And of course, the game uses the team mechanic to its full advantage, resulting in really fun level design overall. That said, I would have liked to see more differences between each campaign as they are virtually the same, with the only changes being how long the levels are. I’m not objected to playing all of these campaigns, but unless you are a completionist, you’ve practically seen everything the game has to offer with just one playthough. And really, I feel that’s the approach you should have with Sonic Heroes: if one campaign is satisfactory for you, don’t force yourself to play the others.
(Note: my fun score was influenced by the horrible camera issues I had to deal with. It could very well be possible that the fun score could be raised to an 8 if I didn’t have the issues, though a 7 sounds more reasonable for now.)
- The team mechanic was a fun idea.
- Really fun level design that uses the team mechanic to its advantage.
- Multiple different teams to choose from.
- Unreliable controls.
- Bosses are the absolute worst.
- Playing through almost the exact same game four times is disappointing.
I don’t understand why, of all games, my Sonic reviews specifically are so long. This review is now pretty much amongst my longest reviews out there! But that just shows how much I have to say about this game specifically. I should stress again that I really did enjoy my revisit of Sonic Heroes, and if any game is in need of a remake- or remaster, I’d probably point towards this game. Or why stop there, give us a sequel because the team mechanic was really fun!
I should also stress again that you have to carefully consider what version you’re going to play. What I’ve gathered from the internet is that the PlayStation 2 version is actually the worst out there. The PC version could potentially be the best due to modding, but you’ll have to go through a lot of hoops to make everything work and frankly, I don’t consider that to be worth it. Then again, it might be your best option as the game has never truly been re-released aside from a minor digital release on PlayStation 3.
Next time, I’ll be back with another review of The Messenger! Though as stated before on Twitter, I’m taking it a bit slower for the coming weeks. I feel like I’m hitting a slight case of writer’s block, and I want to avoid that happening at all costs. So I hope to release it next week, but it could also be the week after… or the week after that, we’ll see!
Hypothetically, if there was ever a Sonic Heroes 2, what new teams would you like to see added to the crew?
With Sonic Mania reviving both Mighty and Ray, seeing them together as a team with a third character would be bliss. Probably Honey the Cat? And since they got revived, it might not be a bad idea to have the treasure hunting team be seen again as well: Bark the Polar Bear, Fang the Sniper and Bean the Dynamite. What, you thought I meant Jet the Hawk and his crew? Nah, I definitely don’t want them as a team. Though Silver, Blaze and Marine as a team would be a dream come true. Marine has been missing in action for a very long time though so if it happened, I would probably expect her to be replaced by Emerl or someone else.
Does this genre interest you? If so, I have multiple other Platformer reviews ready for you!