In Defense of Shadow the Hedgehog – Review
As of right now the Fall issue of Senpai Magazine seems right on track, and I am done with writing my stuff. It will contain a lot of great articles including a 20th Anniversary look back (and forward!) at Sonic the Hedgehog. While I had a lot of fun writing it with my friend Ron, it was also very taxing.
There are so many Sonic games….
And while I have played most of them, there were plenty I hadn’t played or hadn’t played in awhile. The past month was dedicated to “research” (read: non-stop playing) the newer installments. When I say that, I know a lot of people are probably cringing in agony; many die-hards were upset with the new direction the Sonic story took after the Sonic Adventure series. I’ve even heard many point to this game, Shadow the Hedgehog, as where it all went wrong. The newer games brought a new “edginess” to the series that was not there with the earlier Sonic games. When one thinks of Sonic 2 for example, they think of catchy upbeat music, bright colorful scenery, freeing cute animals from silly looking robots, rolling through loops, and speeding to the end of the level. The whole experience is pure fun, but very nonviolent and devoid of much of a story. That formula, which so many had grown to love, had been replaced by this:
And I LOVE it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the older Sonic games still, and frequently pop them into my model 2 to play them. However, I appreciated the new direction the series was going. The new games, for all of their flaws, brought new “substance” to the characters. Even Sonic 2006 did a good job of this, in how it explored things like friendship, trust, betrayal, and love in ways that the older games could never do.
If you’re still reading this after I just praised that game, thank you. No no no, I don’t like Sonic 2006 at all, there’s a lot of things wrong with it. However, Shadow the Hedgehog has its own list of flaws, and I admit that it is a bad game, but I cannot help but like it. Why is that? Well let’s get on with the review and see if we can identify any good points from this haphazard game.
First the good: Did you see that opening cutscene?! Holy shit that’s awesome! Yes I know, it’s Shadow, and he can probably outrun a motorcycle, so why he’s riding one makes no sense, but whatever. I will admit that many were not happy to see a Sonic character using machine guns, riding around in vehicles, and cursing… but again, it was a new direction, and as great as the old Sonic games were, nostalgia can only carry one so far.
The story is also surprisingly good (for a Sonic game), and plays a vital role in the game-play. The game begins with an alien invasion commanded by the mysterious new villain “Black Doom.” He promises Shadow that if he helps him, his memory will be restored. This means he can discover what he is, why he was created, and perhaps even remember more about his love Maria, before she was fatally shot in font of him.
However the cost would be his planet, and the trust of his friends.
Unlike other Sonic games where past events are usually omitted and seemingly forgotten, much of this game references Shadow’s appearances in Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes. That’s right! Actual Continuity! Something that I LOVE seeing in games, and something I’m afraid Sonic Team will abandon for Sonic Generations.
So what does Shadow choose? He has a right to regain his memory, and why should he help the humans’ G.U.N. Forces, especially since they’re the ones that killed Maria? At the same time, he cannot betray his friends, and Maria’s final wish for Shadow to use his powers to better humanity.
The choice is ultimately up to the player!
This grid represents the layout of the levels for the game, moving left to right. The order can be changed depending on what the player does in each level: Helping out Sonic & friends, Helping Black Doom, or saying “to hell” with em both and grabbing a chaos emerald for yourself. Depending on what you do, the story will branch-off into another direction.
Those small circles all the way on the right are the different endings… that’s right, there’s TEN of them! Each one gives a little more insight into the story, and upon completing all ten, the final true ending can be unlocked to finally give Shadow some much-needed closure. Also, upon completing an ending, new weapons can be unlocked to help Shadow on his quest to the final ending.
All that I’ve said before makes this game sound absolutely epic. And if you don’t agree, well… keep in mind, I’m furry, so I don’t find the idea of anthropomorphic characters having emotions outside of “happy” so shocking.
However, I will admit that once you start to actually play the game, then the experience declines drastically.
As I said, along the way you will encounter other heroic or villainous characters, and you have the choice to help out either one.
Or you can just go to the end of the level on your own. Now the levels are set up with the idea of using Shadow’s speed to blaze through them. Backtracking is possible, but by the Master Emerald itself, I promise you, it can get really really tedious.
On this level, for example, I nearly broke my controller in half. At the top of the screen you’ll notice the time I spent on this level up to this point: 27:01:58 – about a half hour trying to complete the Heroic objectives. And this was after multiple restarts/continues, so all told I probably spent about a good two hours on this level. That’s right, TWO HOURS spent on a level in a Sonic the Hedgehog game, THAT SHOULD NOT HAPPEN!
If you’ve never played this game, you’re probably thinking the same thing “That doesn’t sound right… you must really suck!” Well, I didn’t even scratch the surface yet of this game’s issues, after a bit it should become more clear why it is so frustrating to complete alternate goals like “Collect 400 rings” (that’s right, don’t get hit and don’t fall), and “Defeat 50 G.U.N Soldiers” (Sounds easy, until you near the end of the level and realize you missed one somewhere, have fun finding him! The levels are lloooonggg)
Shadow has two basic methods of attacking enemies: using a weapon (usually a gun) and jumping with a homing attack. He can also punch/kick them, or use his spin-dash. However, goodluck trying to hit anything with Shadow’s short-range melee attacks, as you usually get hit first that way, and the spin-dash is usually a one-way ticket off of a platform and down into the abyss for a cheap death.
Speaking of cheap-deaths, the homing attack is absolutely dreadful in this game. Time and again it will regularly fail to lock-onto enemies that it should, and send the black furred hedgehog falling. However, it will shock players by sometimes working surprisingly well in instances where it shouldn’t. Regardless, I have never seen the homing-attack fail this often, not even in Sonic 2006.
Falling, by the way, happens A LOT. It would have been fine if upon falling, Shadow can restart at a checkpoint suffering only a partial loss of rings, but nooo. You fall, and you lose a life. Lose all your lives (most likely by falling cheaply) you restart the level.
So the only real way to take out enemies safely in this game is for Shadow to bust a cap. Sadly, shooting is also a complete mess. The programmers, for whatever reason, neglected to include a basic “aiming” function for Shadow. Instead, the player needs to point Shadow in the general direction of the enemy, fire, and hope the “auto aim” (LOL!) realizes what you’re trying to shoot for and adjusts. This is a major issue, especially since the guns do not have infinite ammo, and there are instances where G.U.N Soldiers will be in close proximity to the aliens, and you’ll accidentally fire at both of them when you really just wanted to aim at a particular target.
The final nail in the coffin for the game-play is the atrocious camera. Camera issues have plagued the newer Sonic games, and here it is especially awful. Time and again, players will throw their controllers in frustration as Shadow falls prey to incoming fire from an off-screen enemy. Also, platforming is made especially difficult by the awkward level design with misguided camera. Combined, they result in the player routinely missing seemingly-easy jumps and falling down pits that are obscured by the level’s layout.
Each level tempts the player to go as fast as they can, enticing them with loops and spinners, all made to make Shadow a black blur of pure speed. However, it is more advisable to take one’s time when playing this, due to all the annoyances above. Proceed carefully, try to defeat enemies without using the “deadly” homing-attack, and pay attention to the surroundings to avoid any backtracking later. It is not the play-style the programmers had in mind, but it works, and will keep Shadow alive much longer.
It is a shame for a game with this much depth and replay value to be such a chore to play at times. Fortunately, the bosses are mercifully easy, and the dialogue between characters is a treat for loyal Sonic fans. Currently, Shadow the Hedgehog can easily be had for five bucks for PS2, and is definitely worth picking up for fans that appreciate what Sonic Team tried to do with this. They wanted to target older fans, and were not afraid to try a bold new direction. The story is not nearly as convoluted as Sonic 2006 (I know I complimented it earlier, but really, how many times does Sonic rescue Elise in that?!) and succeeds in giving the characters a nice amount of emotional depth.
Shadow the Hedgehog is a pretty bad game, make no mistake about it, but some fun can be had with it. My advice for enjoying this is to try to treat it like a interactive graphic novel with some flawed game-play elements, instead of judging it as a video game alone. If you saw the above opening cut scene and liked it, and you enjoyed Shadow in Sonic Adventure 2, then get this game. If not, pass it by, simple as that. I just hope that the negative feedback generated by titles like this and Sonic 2006 haven’t discouraged Sonic Team’s efforts to push Sonic in new directions.
– Furry Senpai Mikekun