We tried a new version of Sonic Heroes, Sega's upcoming multiplatform action game for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox at the Tokyo Game Show. The game seems like a bit of a departure from previous Sonic games in that the main gameplay element will revolve around using a team of three characters to make your way to the end of a level. We tried out the various console versions of the game and found them to be solid across the board.
The new version of the game featured an intro movie, two levels, and two separate teams to try out. The game's intro movie, complete with an appropriately cheesy guitar-heavy theme song, showed off the four main teams in the game, Team Sonic, Team Dark, Team Rose, and Team Chaotix. Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails, and Knuckles make up Team Sonic. Shadow, Rouge, and Omega make up Team Dark. Amy, Big E, and Crea & Cheese make up Team Rose. Finally Team Chaotix provides a blast from the past for gamers who remember the 32X game Knuckles Chaotix and brings Espio the chameleon, Vector the alligator, and Charmy the bee out of retirement. In addition, the movie showed off Dr. Robotnik, who has been going by his Japanese moniker of "Dr. Eggman" since the Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast, and Mecha Sonic.
The TGS demo offered two levels: Seaside Hill and Bullet Station. Seaside Hill was a refined version of the beach area we saw in the E3 version of the game that had let us play as Team Sonic. The fast-paced level served to introduce us to the basic mechanics of the game and featured help points to provide hints. The level hasn't changed too much in terms of layout since we saw it at E3. However the overall presentation has been polished up with new visual details and a refined onscreen display. The second area, Bullet Station, lets players try their hand at using Team Dark in a massive level full of stomach-churning jumps. The level was set amidst a series of mountains connected by rails and cannons that would shoot you and your teammates off through different areas.
The basic mechanics of the game seem pretty simple. You need to alternate controlling the various members of your team in order to progress to the goal in each level. Each character has unique abilities that fall in one of three types: speed, power, and flight. As you go through the levels, you encounter obstacles that require you to use a specific ability to get through. In addition, each team can perform a "team blast" move that appears to clear out all enemies in the surrounding area.
The game's control seems simple. The only buttons you have to worry about are a jump and an attack button. Switching between characters is a breeze, since each of them is mapped to a button on the controller, so that you can quickly switch to whichever character you need.
The game's graphics seem to have been cleaned up across all three platforms, with the GameCube and Xbox edging out the PlayStation 2 in overall visual quality at his point. The levels are quite large, and seem to have long draw distances and interesting layouts. The game's levels look clean and seem about as detailed as those of Sonic Adventure 2, though they also seem considerably more polished. The game's frame rate is also quite good on all three platforms, though the PlayStation 2 version seemed to have some occasional inconsistencies.
Sonic Heroes has definitely improved since the last time we saw the game. Its graphics and gameplay seem to be coming together quite nicely. The game's fast pace recalls the Sonic and Shadow levels that were the highlights of Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic Heroes is currently scheduled to ship this December in Japan and in January of next year in the US.