Shadow the Hedgehog

Shadow the Hedgehog designed for US

SEGA explains hated trigger-happy hog.

Of all the wrong turns the Sonic franchise has taken over the years, few have been quite so regrettable as execrable third person shooter Shadow the Hedgehog. Why did SEGA do it? Because they thought it "could work for" US gamers.

Shadow the Hedgehog

Shadow the Hedgehog

Shadow, of its former self.

Eyes kind of rolled when this one was announced. "Sonic... WITH GUNS!" Fortunately it's not quite what you expect. This isn't edgy or grown-up Sonic. It's just, well, Sonic. Sonic Adventure, effectively - as toonified as ever.

Not even "with guns" especially. I mean, there are guns. There are vehicles too. But their role is about as central as the BNP manifesto. You can blast away happily with the guns, dropped by enemies and found in crates, but you only really need them on a handful of occasions. Admittedly there's a greater emphasis on combat than tearing around half-blindly, and you'll also hop into high-jumping robotic legs, parachute down from rockets, and even surf along acidic yellow goop, but it all feels distinctly familiar. The fundamental play mechanics are: run, jump, mid-air homing-attack.

Instead of splitting a larger number of levels between running, more precise platforming and blasting, Shadow sticks everything in the same gamespace. It's not a particularly long game - simply run from one end to the other and it's all over in a few short hours - so instead the idea is to play through repeatedly, adopting a different approach each time in order to unlock different endings. Doing so takes longer and requires more effort. So there are forks in the road, high and low routes, bonus areas to reach, and secrets to find. You can simply rush to the end and collect the chaos emerald, or you can be good or panto-bad. Goody missions involve knocking out all the evil black creatures attacking Westopolis, or chasing down a black tank. Naughty ones switch things round, so you'll be trying to wipe out the human soldiers, or activating evil-temple crystals. Your actual path to the goal doesn't vary immensely, rather it's your alignment that does.

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New Sonic games

And some old faves return.

If we've learned one thing from this year's E3, apart from the fact that 2006 is going to be very exciting, it's that there's no such thing as a retirement age for game characters. Mario, Donkey Kong and Link are all still going strong, not to mention Pac-Man - who's been popping pills for more than 25 years now.