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E3 2003: Sonic Heroes

I need a heeeerooooo!

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

After the terrific success that Sonic Adventure 2 enjoyed on the GameCube, it isn't too surprising to discover Sega brewing another Sonic title in the same vein; giving you control of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles in various 3D worlds that Eggman currently has in his easily loosened grip. And it's equally unsurprising to find it on the show floor, in a trio of 20 per cent complete versions running on Xbox, Cube and PS2.


Sonic Heroes is Sonic Adventure all over again, except you have three different characters to control at the same time, and you alternate between them to complete different tasks. The controls vary from system to system, but your abilities are split across jump, attack and formation changing buttons. Depending on the character and whether you're in the air, moving at speed or just running headlong into a swathe of enemies, the attack and jump buttons function in different ways.

When Sonic takes the lead in the three-hero speed formation, the blue blur's sanguine penchant for outpacing anything with two legs and a pulse has everyone tearing around like a bullet train. As you'd expect, Sonic can do a charged run, and he can also perform a homing attack by leaping into the air and slamming the attack button - something that you can extend into a combo by repeatedly hitting it.

Knuckles meanwhile leads the power formation, which sees the natty Echidna busting through blocks, dunking the other two on enemies and smashing robots on the ground with his kid-gloved fists of red death. Ahem. Tails of course remains the most laid back of the three, commanding the flying formation. When the squeaky mutant fox takes charge the other two will cling onto his feet and he can hover upward and along for a spell, and kick Sonic and Knuckles into enemies to stun them. But killing isn't his style, so if you want to take down every nasty then you have to switch to Sonic or Knuckles.

Depending on the formation, the trio takes slightly different routes and items affect them differently. Cannons, for example, will shoot them in different directions depending on the lead hero. In one subterranean section of the demo, if Sonic or Tails is in the lead the cannon will send the party upwards via spring pads or rotary tail respectively, but if Knuckles goes first then the cannon will fire at and break through walls at ground level to reveal hidden items - like a 1-up. Certainly experimenting with each character's pathing should lend plenty of replay value to the game, something the Adventure series has definitely missed out on in the past.


Graphically it's looking really nice in the traditional Sonic Adventure way, with fairly lush but primary coloured and distinctly Sonic-esque 3D environments packed with rails to grind, lots of oddly shaped power-ups, pads and buffers to jump, break and generally interact with. The chunky geometry and big but basic enemies, who take the form of hovering Robotnik nasties and spear-toting robots, help the game maintain a steady framerate on Cube and Xbox and a decent enough draw distance. The game is only 20 per cent compete (and due out in Q1 2004 according to Sega), but the PS2 version clearly needs more work than the others at the moment, as it stutters along at a much lower framerate with less detail than an Enron financial report. That said, the only other sign of the game's infant state was a bit of questionable AI in the enemies, which occasionally get caught on scenery or just plain ignore you.

But however nice the 20 per cent complete demo was technically speaking, the gameplay is a different shade of the same colour. You collect rings and you work your way around the levels, which are extensive and disorientating in classic Sonic fashion. In other words, you're not always 100 per cent certain you're going in the right direction, but a direction to go in is always available to you. But despite the developer's protestations to the contrary, it is basically Sonic Adventure 3. Yes, they've combined all three characters' sections into one sprawling platform adventure, which is a great idea - marginalizing the boredom of snaking through tedious Knuckles and Tails levels in SA2 - but Sega might as well call a spade a spade.

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