24 June 2012

Deconstructing the Squees: Shadow the Hedgehog

Hmm... Maybe I should have planned more carefully... (1)
Clearly I obsess about the blue blur's antihero twin waaaay too much. Shadow is one of the few beloved things of my childhood. It even seems as time goes on, the more and more I enjoy the character. As a bonus I'm having way too much fun applying what I learn in Psychology to this unstable jerk.

Last year I reviewed Shadow the Hedgehog, which one of the most popular posts on my blog. I feel that, because of my overwhelming bias and oversimplification, my review of the game was... inadequate. I took some time to think back on the post with what I wrote, I replayed the game a few times, and I checked other reviews in various places. Now, my opinion has developed a bit more. By this point, I nearly feel embarrassed to have written my review so sloppily. As a first attempt at a video game review, I guess it's understandable, but my mind was too much in music and movie mode.

But let me reestablish one thing. Shadow the Hedgehog disapointingly lacks the challenge that the most conversative Sonic games revel in, but it remains entertaining in the ideas it offers. Despite this, it is still a humungous pile of mixed marbles.

Let me begin by tackling things down by categories.

Gameplay

Some of the most vocal complaints are how slippery the controls are and how it is often you hear "Damn! Not here!" when the ultimate lifeform falls into furry hell. "The guns and vehicles are insulting and pointless" takes the cake. "Shadow controls worse than in Sonic Heroes!"

Based on my personal experience, the controls in Sonic Heroes were just as bad - if not worse. In both of these games there are some stages where you have to grind on rails. How to control your characters on a thin metal pole miles above an endless pit of doom is another story. Heroes is extremely precise and you have to land on the rails 90% correctly in order to grind. When you get to some stages in particular *cRoAuIgLh CcAoNuYgOhN* this gets frustrating, especially when these sections take up nearly three quarters of the stage. Shadow the Hedgehog, however, is far more forgiving. Even in "Iron Jungle" or "Lava Shelter", the game can sense what you're trying to do and will give you a better window.

Even when running fast, more often than not Shadow will stop right at the edge of a bottomless pit so you won't go flying off. But if an enemy attacks you while near the edge or a platform, THEN you will get screwed over. Even though this game is more sensitive and gives you more control, Shadow still moves in a rather slippery fashion.

As for the gimmicks of this game... The WEAPONS - guns, swords, lazers, bazookas, missle launchers - vacuums and other crap I can't name - are really fun. They don't "fit" in Sonic games, I know, but this system is pretty nifty. When you destroy an enemy, he will often drop a weapon that you can pick up and use it for a limited time. Guns often run out of ammo and melee weapons break (which you can get more by running into a similar-looking weapon from other dead enemies.) This system is very simplistic because you don't have to worry about the whole ruitine of finding magazines, reloading, and all those details shooter games dive into (looking at you, Call of Duty!).

The vehicles, besides the walkers and the alien saucers, are really pointless. I'm more disappointed that they aren't fun to control. Nah, I admit the motorcycle in "Lethal Highway" was fun for a while...

There are some levels that are duplicates in design and layout, but the music, enemies, and missions keep things at least a bit interesting. Otherwise there are plenty of really awesome and varied stages. "Cosmic Fall" is cluttered with falling platforms  - duh - that simultaneously spin, flip, or crumble under your feet. "Mad Matrix" is a huge cyberspace with vibrant terminals with their own puzzles. In "The Ark", you are forced to ride on the alien birds to progress. "Central City" and "The Doom" are huge mazes with one not having a trademark goal ring (which pissed off many.) There are tons of other interesting tricks.

My only problem was how easy it is avoid stages. I beat the game and played the Last Story numerous times without ever beating Central City and various other stage missions. I beat this thing in one month, and after taking years of beating some other Sonic games, this depressed me more than anything. I barely felt satisfied in how well I played it because I expected more of a challenge.

However, gameplay-wise, Shadow the Hedgehog shines brightly. It's a lot better here than in both Sonic Unleashed (a review for another year) and that one game with the soundtrack I despise. The latter is completely broken and the former is just mindless and stupid.


The missions you fulfill in each stage will affect which stages you'll reach later.
No, really, this is how the "map" looks. 
Story

Out of all the criticisms for this game, I have a really hard time defending this one. In my early days of playing Shadow the Hedgehog, I was hooked in and loved the story. Now at the beginning the enlightened age of my adulthood, I better understand why people despise this game. This is not on the same level as Elfen Lied, but man, this story is a trainwreck.

The worst part is that there are sooooo many good ideas in the game! I like the idea behind the Black Arms. I love how this game fills in the plotholes from Sonic Adventure 2. I like the Commander's character. I enjoy how Black Doom, Eggman, GUN, Sonic and co. all can influence Shadow's psyche throughout the course of the game. I loved Shadow's resolve in the last story. And I loved the flashbacks!

But nearly everything between the first cutscene and the last story... is NOT canonical. Who the hell knows what really happened between that timeframe? Did Shadow work with the Black Arms at all? How much of his past did he remember? How did he get the Chaos Emeralds? How did he get to the Black Comet? How did Team Chaotix get onto the ARK? Did the Commander ever point a gun a Shadow's head? Did Eggman try to convince Shadow that he was an andoid? In fact, what happened to the Shadow androids shown in Sonic Heroes? And HOW did Shadow survive his fall to his death at the end of Sonic Adventure 2?!

This game taunts you with all sorts of ideas that may not even be true. I personally don't mind creating my own interpretations with open-ended stories, but this is so damn non-linear. Even Higurashi: When They Cry did a far better job at telling a story with the multiple storylines and endings! Hell, even the Silent Hill games that rely on you to chose actions that affect the story in the long-term are better written than this! The first several installments focused heavily on this, but Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was even more so! It's so darn sensitive to that dialogue, behaviors, and appearances all could radically change throughout the course of the game!

Here, you have 22 stages with two or three missions, random boss fights, and 10 endings you must unlock before getting to the last story, with the true ending. You have to play "Westopolis" at least 10 times! That's all the power you have.

But the worst part of this game is how the whole story is executed. Nearly all of the 326 possible story lines make no sense; the transitions from one stage to the next are horrible.

For example: Shadow runs through a city being invaded by aliens, simple, right? Then he arrive at some ruins the aliens left of the planet years ago. Then he somehow teleports to Prison Island (2). Soon after he helps Espio hack into a computer at another unknown location. Suddenly he confronts androids that look like him at Eggman's base. Then he gets to the ARK, where the GUN Commander points a gun at the black blur's head. Finally Shadow calls himself a weapon of mass destruction and walks off screen to kill himself. ... What?!

None of Shadow's monologues or conversations with other characters match up or develop into one cohesive conclusion. It gets really bad when you flip-flop between helping the aliens, Sonic, or Eggman. You just cannot look at this in a linear fashion. I look at everything as isolated ideas, since some reoccur at different points in the game. Some may have tolerance for this, but in most cases, this is pretty sloppy.

This sums up the endings' problems in a nutshell:


Sonic Team had some really good ideas, but had no clue how to pull them off. Pity.


Presentation

I won't lie, the voice acting is still hilarious for the 4Kids crew. Ignoring the sometimes really awkward and badly worded script, nearly everyone pulls of fairly realistic performances compared to the Sonic X dub. Eggman was extremely entertaining, Espio was no longer of punching-bag quality, Amy was enjoyable, and even Sonic was fun at times! Some were still awful (Vector, Rouge, and Cream) but they barely appear. But most importantly, Shadow did not have extreme whiplash between sounding like a complete asshole to a whiny crybaby. That's why the flashbacks were some of the best scenes in the entire game. Maria's voice was okay, but her character had a lot more screen time, which made her death all the more upsetting.

The Playstation 2 release is the only one that allows you to easily change the voice acting from English to Japanese. Those performances are better in some scenes, but the Japanese cast sounds a lot better in Sonic X. But at least Koji Yusa delivers a far greater performance when Shadow is upset than Jason Griffith.

Otherwise, the tone of the game is pretty dark in a very juvenile way. Certain characters constantly say some variant of "damn". Shadow even once said "You're going straight to hell!" causing an eleven-year-old me to laugh hysterically at the awkward delivery. That's a bad thing. It's one thing to curse in a moment when it's not much of a surprise. There are some scenes where I felt it was appropriate to say "Damn it!" or "Damn you!" But most times the minor curses are overdone and very unnecessary. Plus if you add in the 4Kids cast and their normal bad habits of not speaking like real people, then most of the conversations sound like children trying to be adult and badass.

Though I admit that I put some blame on this game for my potty mouth.

As mentioned before, the storytelling is embarrassing. Maybe not too many games took on the "choices affect the story" gimmick before, but with the stuff that's out now, especially RPGs, Shadow the Hedgehog has no excuse by the time it came out.

The graphics are average. The CGI cutscenes are gorgeous but the in-game graphics are "meh." Everything else is average, not awful.


Next to Its Predecessors and Successors...

Crap. This is not helping my case.

... this game is NOT the worst in the franchise. This game on a bad day plays better than Sonic 06 on a good day, even the soundtrack. The weapon system gimmick is not as broken as the swords with the Wii-mote in Sonic and the Black Knight or the primative boost-and-scream-past-everything gauge in Sonic Unleashed. The game is not as linear as Sonic Heroes. This was released completed and playable.

I have it for both the Playstation 2 and the Gamecube. The PS2 release has long load screens and abysmal frame rate issues, but the GC release runs like a dream. Otherwise Shadow the Hedgehog never crashed, glitched, or did anything to force me to restart. The game runs fine and the gameplay is solid.

This game fell pretty down low in the dark and depressing route that most Sonic fans detest, but it never had the balls to repeatedly force pretentious bullshit down our throats and then slap you after 10 hours of gameplay to say, "Pretend this never happened." This game may have been bad from its conception but Shadow the Hedgehog had a subplot to resolve, and for better or for worse, Sonic Team got this out with no hidden escape plans. How much one can tolerate this may vary, but I appreciate a bad game being released honestly, despite fans' protests, rather than a promising game coming out broken and stabs everyone in the back.


Overall

Great gameplay, so-so presentation, and sloppy storytelling all adds up to an "average" game. Your milage may vary, however. I only gave this game a 3 out of 5 the first time I reviewed it because my personal experience with it has been positive. I still really enjoy Shadow the Hedgehog despite its glaring faults. Without my bias it may as well be a 2 or a 2.5, average.

Once again, I will not demand anyone to pick up this game, even at a dirt cheap price. Pick it up if you want to or not. Just, don't make this your first Sonic game. This is so radically different than anything else in the series that this will give a terrible first impression. Even when I bravely bought this game for $50.00 weeks after it came out, I tried to hold back doubts, but my eleven-year-old self panicked at the opening video.

If this was not eloquent enough, this review done by NickonAquaMagna2 else pretty much hits all the criticisms dead on.


~~~~~~~~~~(Additional Notes)~~~~~~~~~~~

* Links are provided with gameplay footage. None of them belong to me, but I just wanted something to show off some parts of the game.

1 - Looks like the moon did NOT get half-destroyed by the Eclipse Cannon in Sonic Adventure 2. "Continuity? What's that?"

2 - It's sudden non-exploded reappearance further proves the above statement. Bravo, Sonic Team.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Maybe I'll make better reviews if I really try hard, right? Haha, maybe not.

2 comments:

Voltech said...

I grew up with Sonic games, and for a while my brother and I were grabbing whatever games we could get our hands on...that is, right around Shadow the Hedgehog came out. Maybe it was the fact that my brother hated Sonic Heroes. Maybe it was the fact that Shadow the Hedgehog was getting impossibly low review scores. Maybe it was just seeing a hedgehog wield guns. But whatever the case, we ended up taking a break from the blue blur.

That break wouldn't end until I bought a cheap copy of Sonic Colors -- a decision that I have yet to regret.

Anyway, back on topic. I've seen the argument that if you're playing a Sonic game for the story, you're doing it wrong. But if Sega's going to put effort ("effort" being a dubious measure here) into making a story, it deserves to be judged and analyzed. I remember playing Sonic Adventure 2 on the GC when I was 13, and crying (manly) tears when Shadow died; the fact that...well, this game would happen seems like a slap in the face. With a steel gauntlet. Right after you just had a dentist appointment.

Sigh. Oh well. I'm not about to run and buy this game, but maybe it'd be good for a laugh to watch a playthrough on YouTube -- maybe "find the computer room" or something. Whatever the case, thanks for the review.

...Rolling around at the speed of sound...

.:Melanie~Light:. said...

thanks for the comment!

Over time my opinion of Shadow the Hedgehog is less and less positive, but I can not bring myself to hate it as much as so many Sonic fans do. On the other hand, I can see why people wanted Shadow to stay dead and I agree with them on some points.

As much of a punch in the face this game can be, I still argue that it could have been far less painful if Sonic Team know how to handle this kind of game. The main "hook" of Shadow the Hedgehog appears to be the plot: "is Shadow a hero or villain?" If we take the argument that "Sonic games are not about plot" as truth, then this game is indeed terrible because it puts focus on something the series was not intended to have.

Maybe I'm just rambling here. >.<

Not long ago I watched ClementJ642's commentary/walkthrough of it and it is fun to watch, albeit a bit repetitive. He hates the game a lot and he does get annoying as it goes on, but it's good for a few laughs.

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