Sonic Heroes is the upcoming multiplatform action game from Sonic Team that aims to mix the fast pace of Sonic the Hedgehog's classic 2D adventures with 3D graphics. The style is something that Sonic Team has been experimenting with since Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast. Specifically, Sonic Team has focused on the Sonic and Shadow levels of Sonic Adventure 2, which focused on pure speed. Sonic Heroes represents the veteran developer's latest evolution of that gameplay style. We had the chance to try out a preview version of the GameCube game to see how the title has come together since the last time we saw it.
You'll find two modes in the game, one- and two-player, and each has its own unique variations. The single-player game actually features four game types. Two of the game types, tutorial and story, are instantly accessible when you first start the game, while the other two are unlocked as you play. The tutorial mode is just that. It's a run through a level with tips that are provided by the aggressively peppy, but helpful, Omochao. The story mode's structure is pretty straightforward as well. You simply pick a team of three characters from four available groups. Team Sonic features Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Team Dark is made up of Shadow, Rouge, and Omega. Team Rose's roster includes Amy Rose, Big E, and Cream the rabbit. Team Chaotix brings back cast members from the 32X Knuckles Chaotix game, including Espio the chameleon, Charmy the bee, and Vector the alligator. Each member of the various teams falls into one of three categories--speed, fly, and power--based on his or her abilities. You'll also be able to perform special "team attacks" that use all three characters which wipe out all nearby foes much like a "smart bomb". Once you've settled on a team, you'll go through a series of levels that require you to complete an objective of some kind. For teams Sonic, Dark, and Rose, this usually just involves reaching a goal at the end of a level. Team Chaotix differs slightly, as their objectives vary from stage to stage. As you progress through the game, you also engage in traditional boss fights and old-school bonus stages in which you earn extra lives and Chaos emeralds. The story element is a bit thin, as each team's narrative is told via CG and real-time cutscene sequences that are peppered throughout the game as you progress.
The two-player game follows the same team setup and puts each player in charge of a team. You'll initially find a single race type--called action race--that you can play with a friend. However, seven other race types are unlocked as you progress through the game. In addition to the gameplay modes, you'll also find an extras menu that lets you view CG movies and lets you listen to music from the game.
The game's graphics are shaping up pretty well, on the whole. The character models for each of the teams look good, although some of the veteran characters, like Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and Shadow, don't look quite as sharp as they did in previous Sonic titles on the GameCube. However, they still look good. The new characters, like Cream and the members of Team Chaotix, look fine and sport a respectable amount of detail. The environments, on the other hand, look more robust and offer some nice bits of eye-candy, thanks to some eye-popping designs and their large scales. The various areas you'll race through with your team offer the expected variations on the traditional Sonic stages, in addition to others that call to mind some of the areas seen in the Sonic and Shadow levels from the Sonic Adventure games. While the visuals look good from a technical standpoint, there are some rough edges associated with the game's camera. While the game moves at a speedy clip, as you barrel through the various levels, the camera can often be thrown off and then winds up at an awkward (and not altogether useful) angle.
The game's audio is pretty good, overall, though there are some weak elements. The music, which consists of an upbeat collection of tunes that are definitely worthy of a Sonic game, is fine. The sound effects are equally strong and make use of many familiar sounds, such as the chime for collecting rings. However, the English voice is a blemish on the otherwise fine audio package. The voice actors are a bit bland and end up being rather irksome after you play for a bit. Unlike the previous Sonic games for the GameCube, you can't select Japanese voice with English subtitles, so you're pretty much stuck with English voice. On the plus side, the game supports Dolby Pro Logic II, which helps the music and sound effects considerably.
From what we've played so far, Sonic Heroes is a pretty promising new offshoot of the Sonic franchise. The emphasis on fast-paced action keeps the game accessible and fun. While we'd like to see a greater variety in the way each team handles and we'd like to see a wider selection of available teams, the various unlockables and multiplayer support do give the game an undeniable charm. We just hope that the camera system will get tightened up a bit by the time the game hits store shelves. Sonic Heroes is slated to ship early January for the GameCube and late January for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.