July 23, 2007

It’s hardly a surprise that the theatrical release of Disney/Pixar’s latest CG wonder Ratatouille is met day and date with video game adaptations for nearly every platform imaginable. Equally unsurprising is that the bulk of these titles seem designed for a market that does not exist, or at the very least is decidedly niche: players young enough to appreciate the source material but old enough not to become easily frustrated by the title’s unforgiving gameplay.

Developed at THQ’s wholly owned Heavy Iron Studios, Ratatouille follows the platforming exploits of Remy, a young rat who dreams about becoming a great French chef. Given the quality of other similarly tepid releases from Heavy Iron, it’s not so much shocking that Ratatouille fails to impress as it is disappointing. Given the variety of situations and locations made possible in a game seen through the eyes of a rat, the developers have instead turned out yet another run of the mill adventure that will do little to save players from the icon-collecting doldrums brought on by countless similar creations.

While the main game may come off as largely forgettable, Ratatouille does feature a healthy selection of mini-games, both available from the onset and unlocked through play, and some of these offer a measure of fun not found elsewhere in the title, though with only a handful from which to choose, the question of value still lingers heavy in the air like the musty odor of overripe cheese that not even Remy’s brother Emile would find appetizing for long.

Something to keep in mind when playing Ratatouille is that it is based on a movie property which is itself aimed at the younger set. That being the case, the game should feature mechanics that keep those players in mind, or at the very least include an easier game mode designed to help players with fewer years behind them, who might even be grappling with their emerging gamer instincts for the first time with this very game.

Ratatouille includes none of this, and I dare say that most children will look to the nearest adult for help even before the mandatory tutorial mission has been completed, while later levels, areas, and challenges will likely prove nigh unplayable for the game’s presumed target audience.

Interestingly, in this respect, the Wii version manages to stand out from its peers, at least initially, offering more intuitive and forgiving controls than those on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, or GameCube. But this relief is short lived, as even this version eventually slips into the same routine of aggravation exhibited by its counterparts.

It cannot even be viably argued that the title is instead aimed at tweens or young adults, as beyond the frustrating platforming, odd camera angles, and aggravating missions lies an experience that simply isn’t all that fun. It’s not that Ratatouille is broken, but rather that, like so many other movie-to-game translations, it rides too closely upon the coat tails of its source material, recreating various scenes and events from the movie in the context of an interactive experience. But when that experience itself isn’t entertaining without its theatrical crutch, what’s the point? Heavy Iron fell into a similar pitfall with The Incredibles, and it’s unfortunate that here again more is not done with the license.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with Ratatouille. Besides some questionable design, the biggest shortcoming is that it simply does not do enough with what for all intents and purposes should be a compelling vehicle for a fun game. The potential is there, but for whatever reason, be it budget, time, or a mixture of both, the end product simply does not deliver, regardless of how expertly the actors may deliver their lines, or how cute Remy looks scampering about in the kitchen. Ratatouille may be a great movie, but as a game it’s just not worth the effort.

Well it has been a long, strange journey for [i]The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess[/i] for the Gamecube. When the first screens of a new Zelda game were shown when the Gamecube was announced, fanboys around the world cried in joy. However those cries of joy became shameful attacks towards Nintendo when [i]Wind Waker[/i] was shown to the public. Even though the game still played just like a Zelda game, some gamers wrote [i]Wind Waker[/i] off just because of the cartoon visuals. Nintendo decided to appease the masses by announcing a new Zelda game, [i]Twilight Princess[/i], which was similar to the original footage shown when the Gamecube was announced.

Even back at E3 2005 Nintendo was letting gamers play a demo of this new Zelda. I was fortunate enough to play the demo at E3, and I was amazed at how incredible the game was turning out to be. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game and immediately paid off the game in full when I returned home from E3. But I had to wait and wait and wait until late in 2006 before the game was finally released for the Gamecube. It seems that Nintendo wasn’t done baking [i]Twilight Princess[/i], in fact the game shifted over to a new console, which we all know as the Wii. I’m happy to report that even with all of the waiting (and playing second fiddle to the Wii version) Gamecube owners are treated to one of the best Zelda games ever released.

By now I’m sure most of you are aware of the basic plot of [i]Twilight Princess[/i]. The game centers upon you (aka Link) and your journey to save Hyrule from the grips of evil. Sure, Princess Zelda is involved, and the game does focus on saving the Princess, but the main plot centers on saving Hyrule. Parts of the kingdom have been plummeted into darkness, the Twilight, and it’s up to you to release Hyrule from the darkness. Along the way you will meet up with Midna, a strange and obnoxious character who helps you after you’ve changed into a wolf. The Twilight has a strange effect on all of the inhabitants of Hyrule, and the strangest effect is turning you into the wolf. The rest of the plot/story will remain left to you to discover because this game has hours upon hours of gameplay ready for you. I would say you will need at least forty hours of gameplay to get close to finishing the game.

I know, 40 hours of gameplay might seem like much especially to other AAA titles that let you off the hook after 20 hours. But those 40 plus hours will have you playing through some of the most gripping gameplay included in a videogame. The dungeons in this game are probably the most expansive I’ve ever played in any Zelda game. The same premise of previous Zelda games is followed, (find keys, beat mini boss, find boss key, beat boss) but all of the dungeons will have you sucked in trying to find all of the secrets and solve the puzzles. Besides the dungeons the scale of the entire game is truly massive and will leave some of you speechless. Almost all of the locations you find and explore in the game are truly epic in size. Just exploring the entire world could take several (twenty or thirty) minutes, but thankfully you do unlock warp points as you progress in the game. So no, you don’t have to spend ten minutes boating to the next town or dungeon.

The gameplay in [i]Twilight Princess[/i] is still a classic example of 3D gameplay done right, but I need to address a few items. The first item is to say that this game still plays just like [i]Wind Waker[/i] and Ocarina of Time (released as a collectors pack on GC). The same lock-on targeting system is in place that we love, and most of the standard items from previous titles are included as well (boomerang and bow & arrows just to name two). Even when you do play as the wolf the combat can still be played with the lock-on targeting to help you. There are a few differences in searching for items as the wolf but the combat, surprisingly, still “feels” the same. With the combat being identical to the previous titles, you still get a few clunky moments with the camera angle. At certain points in combat the camera angle gets funky and has a hard time locking on to a good angle to view the action. It happens out in the field fighting, and it happens in the dungeons, especially when you’re fighting multiple characters. You can quickly adjust the camera, but these moments have been happening for years now, and it was surprising to see them show up again in [i]Twilight Princess[/i].

Another issue to discuss is the differences between the Wii version and the Gamecube version (come on, I know some of you want to know). The big difference that you will see immediately (at the title screen) is the layout of the Gamecube version. The Wii and Gamecube version are opposite of each other. If the Wii version has something on the right side of a stage, then the Gamecube version will have it on the left side. I spent a ton of hours on the Wii version, and the layout change to the Gamecube version is still disorienting at times.

Another difference between the two versions is, of course, the controls. Obviously the Gamecube seems limited when controlling Link since you’re not using the motion activated Wiimote. But Nintendo didn’t just limit the Gamecube controls with no motion sensor technology; the game is limited in the number of open item slots. The Wii version lets you place four items in the Action Icon holder while the Gamecube only supports two items. Using ranged weapons, such as the bow & arrow and slingshot are a little more time consuming with the Gamecube version. I had more of a dependency with the lock-on system when using range weapons in the Gamecube version. But the GC version does win regarding one difference, free camera control. You can use the C stick to move the camera angle at any time while the Wii version has the camera locked.

Graphically this is one of the best looking Zelda games ever released. It definitely won’t win any awards for best graphics, but the game is gorgeous in its own way. All of the dungeons are exquisitely detailed with attention to everything. Patterns in the ceiling, paintings on walls, enormous structural features such as columns and arches are littered throughout the game. The only bland portions of the graphics I could find were the textures used in rocks and grass when viewed up close. Not pretty by any means. As far as looking different from the Wii version, I didn’t notice any differences. I played the GC version on the Wii and on the Gamecube. Since my official Nintendo component cables haven’t arrived yet for the Wii, I do think the game looked just a little clearer on the Gamecube (with the official Nintendo component cables). But that could be a cable issue and not an actual difference between the two systems. There wasn’t any special effect or graphic features found in the Wii version that are not in the Gamecube version.

Well in the end [i]Twilight Princess[/i] is another classic title from the folks at Nintendo. The game is an epic that will have you clutching your Gamecube controller saying “just a little more” as you keep playing to the point of exhaustion. The graphics are top notch, the gameplay is still incredibly engaging, (even without the Wii controls) and the puzzles/secrets will keep you busy for hours. Sure there are some issues, such as the goofy camera angle issues, but those are minor and shouldn’t convince you to not play this game. If this is supposed to be the swan song of the Gamecube, then you better not miss out on this game.

One of the few exclusive, original RPGs available to the GameCube, [i]Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean[/i] brought several unique features to the genre. Most noticeably is its card (“magnus”) based inventory and combat systems, as well as a plot twist or two that had not yet been beaten into the ground by its predecessors. Though the “islands in the sky” setting reminded me very much of Sega’s Skies of Arcadia (Legends) at first, the game’s unique charms and decent plotline let it eventually stand on its own merits. [i]Baten Kaitos Origins[/i], as you might have guessed by the title, serves as a prequel to [i]EWatLO[/i], set twenty years before the events chronicled in the original. [i]BKO[/i] corrects several nagging problems that plagued its ancestor (descendant? stupid prequels…) while sadly retaining a couple, but it at least brings forth some fresh ideas of its own as well.

The game’s plotline centers around Sagi, a fifteen year-old employed in the Dark Service, a special branch of the Alfard Empire’s military. The Dark Service use semi-autonomous devices called paramachina to aid them in combat; Sagi’s “paramachina” is actually a sentient, magic-wielding puppet named Guillo, who has been Sagi’s companion ever since he unearthed it (Guillo’s gender, if any, is never defined) at a young age. Sagi is also what is called a spiriter, meaning his heart has bonded with that of a spirit — in this case, that means you, the guy (unlike [i]EWatLO[/i], you do not get to input your own gender; its masculinity is part of the narrative this time around) holding the control pad. Spiriters are said to contain the potential to change the world… but so do politicians, and the latter are the main source of conflict once again.

On his first big mission for the Dark Service (assassinating the Emperor, no less!), things go horribly wrong for our heroes and they wind up being blamed for the Emperor’s death even though they were beaten to the punch by someone else, then attacked by a huge monster. After defeating the beast, strange things happen involving some massive headaches, before they finally manage to escape the Emperor’s mansion. They’re still on the run from the Imperial Army, however and just when it looks like they’re about to be captured, a young girl (a couple of years older than Sagi) named Milliarde (“Milly”) makes the scene and helps Sagi and Guillo escape. She then joins you as your third (or fourth, if you want to count the spirit you represent) and final playable character.

From there the plot continues on much like in [i]EWatLO[/i], hopping from island to island as you progress through the roller coaster-like story, twisting and turning in unexpected ways until finally reaching its conclusion. All of the locales from the first title return here, save for the bizarre continent of Mira (currently “phased out”, as it does every few years, although there is one town in [i]BKO[/i] that would be right at home there) and the spoiler-ish continent of Wazn; in their place are the thorny island of Hasseleh and the Coliseum, plus an occasional minor area. Oh, there’s also a strange, somewhat familiar second world that Sagi and company find themselves in — but not quite a part of — at certain times for reasons that don’t become apparent until well into the game’s second disc. The shifting storyline will both provide new insight into the plot of [i]EWatLO[/i] as well as turn a few aspects of that story on their ears, all while giving you a look at the previous generation of this series’ world. If you remember the ages of several characters (mostly NPCs, with a couple of exceptions) from the first title, then you should be on the lookout for their younger selves as you play through [i]BKO[/i] — you won’t be disappointed.

Graphically, this game is identical to [i]EWatLO[/i], which while not a bad thing (the first game was very pretty), is meant literally in many respects. All of the major game locations use the exact same gorgeously pre-rendered backgrounds that the first title used for them (and the corresponding BGM as well!); while this was a great nod to continuity and something of an advantage/Easter egg to those who had played the first title, it really stunk of laziness at times, as the designers only needed to come up with a handful of new settings. It also invites the same problem I had with [i]EWatLO[/i], namely that the backgrounds are completely static, resulting in your character scaling as you progress further away from the camera (Sadaal Suud’s main town of Pherkad is a great/horrible example of why this doesn’t work in an RPG). Additionally, the detailed backgrounds make locating NPCs difficult, as the character models don’t really stand out too well (and may suffer from scaling as well), and there’s no on-screen indicator that you can talk to one of them, unlike the “!” balloon indicating an object you can examine. Many of the palette-swapped enemies are also recycled from the previous game, but that’s been an RPG tradition dating back to Dragon Warrior/Quest, so it can slide. At least the characters are well-designed and unique, just as the Kalas, Xelha, Gibari, Lyude, Savyna, and (The Great) Mizuti were in the original; it could be argued that the three playable characters in [i]BKO[/i] are just amalgamations of the six from [i]EWatLO[/i] (Sagi = Lyude + Kalas, Guillo = Mizuti + Gibari, and Milly = Xelha + Savyna), but that doesn’t make them any less solid. The animations sometimes seem stiff and robotic, especially during cut scenes (which use the in-game models, like most GameCube titles), but it’s not a large issue. The special attacks are as eye-popping as usual, although there’s a good chance that you will be too busy selecting cards to even see them initially.

Where [i]BKO[/i] really departs from [i]EWatLO[/i] is in its combat system. While still card-based, the system has received a complete overhaul and will need to be relearned by series veterans; fortunately, I think [i]BKO[/i]’s system is superior. Instead of each character having their own deck, filled with weapons, special finishers, and items, this time around the entire party shares one deck, containing both generic attacks and items along with individualized specials and equipment. You can save multiple decks and swap between them as you see fit (outside of battles, naturally), allowing you to adjust your strategy to your surroundings much more readily. Also, while [i]BKO[/i] retains the use of “spirit numbers”, no card ever has more than one number on it; as a result, you no longer receive bonuses for setting up X of a kind and/or ascending/descending straights. Numbers in [i]BKO[/i] can only increase numerically, starting from 1 or 0 (all 0’s are equipment that modify your attacks/defense) and reaching a maximum number of 6 or 7, depending on the character. All numbers from 1-3 (minus four special cards that only Milly can use) are your generic attacks, in increasing potency as they increase in number; numbers 4-7 are super-powered special attacks that demand a certain amount of MP to use. MP is built up simply by playing cards, so the longer you can make your chains, the more MP you build up, to a maximum level of five. Also, if one character is ready to receive commands immediately after the previous character ended with a special, you may chain the character’s attacks together with a weak (#1) attack to create a Relay Combo and jack up the amount of Technique Points (used to upgrade your deck class) earned from the battle; equipment marked with an R may also be thrown in before the follow-up weak attack without breaking the Relay. Items and strategies (like Escape) do not have spirit numbers and cannot be used in any part of a combo. There is no reshuffling, as used and discarded cards are simply placed back into the deck immediately, eliminating the breaks in action from the first game. Finally, there is no longer a defensive portion of combat — if you have a defensive item equipped, it will soften the enemies’ blows for a set number of hits/time without you needing to do anything.

All of that looks a lot more complicated than it is in practice, especially since the game highlights which cards are legal to play next as you select each one (including specially-indicating which ones can enable a Relay). Also, your guardian spirit may help you out from time to time by placing the exact card(s) you need on top of your deck, allowing you much smoother “draws” and more devastating combos. This is especially true once you gain access to the “MP Burst” ability, which can turn your maxed-out MP meter into an infinite resource for a limited time, allowing you to potentially chain together up to 25 cards for a spectacular beatdown; my record was 23 cards, to the tune of 50 hits and a massive 20,994 points of damage to a group of 3 enemies — and yes, the game keeps track of your longest combo to date, along with a few other statistics.

Other than the combat, the other major advantage [i]BKO[/i] has over the original game is that the voice acting — or more accurately, the recording of that VA — in [i]BKO[/i] doesn’t suck. One of the first things most players did during [i]EWatLO[/i] was to turn off the voices in the cut scenes (you were stuck with the in-battle sound clips either way) because of a horrible echoing that slipped through quality control and made the voices painful to hear. [i]BKO[/i] does not have this problem, and the actors perform well enough to be enjoyable this time around (although they do start out a bit wooden). There’s still a noticeable hiccup when the dialogue is supposed to reference you (Sagi’s guardian spirit) by whatever name you entered, but that’s the nature of the beast. As for the rest of the game’s sound, the score is just as good as ever (of course, as I mentioned, in some cases that’s because it’s the same track), and the sound effects more than get the job done.

One major aspect of the original that has also been tweaked for [i]BKO[/i] is how you create new magnus. In the last game, you needed to include bizarre, often useless magnus in your decks and use them in a specific sequence in order to obtain certain items; this was a needless chore that has been more conveniently divided into two separate functions in [i]BKO[/i]. Your equipment magnus can be upgraded at various shops if you have the proper Quest Magnus, and you can mix certain Quest Magnus together once you acquire an item called a “Magnus Mixer,” which will combine their essences while you battle without taking up valuable deck slots. Of course, your Quest Magnus can and will still change over time and may even be affected by neighboring Magnus in your inventory, but I don’t believe any of your Battle Magnus are affected this time around. Finally, don’t worry about having to use any stupid cameras to earn cash; enemies in [i]BKO[/i] drop money just like in any other RPG, and there are even a ton of “Magnus Pack Coupons” to be found that can be redeemed for ten random Battle Magnus at any store.

The loss of Mira means that [i]BKO[/i] doesn’t have the surprising variety in “dungeon” areas that [i]EWatLO[/i] eventually brought forth, and the re-treading of old stomping grounds might actually cause veteran BK fans to feel like there isn’t as much newness to be found in this title. This is largely superficial, as a lot of this feeling is rooted in this game’s being a true sequel/prequel to the previous title and not just a game having similar mechanics and the franchise name with a new number slapped on the end. After players have grown used to the new combat system, the top complaint is usually that the enemies in [i]BKO[/i] hit a [b]lot[/b] harder than in the previous game, which is the by-product of the revamped equipment system and the fact that you never need to heal outside of combat; your party is automatically restored to full health and status after every encounter (except for a few gauntlet-style fights) without demanding any consumable items from your inventory.

Unfortunately, there are other, more serious problems lurking within [i]BKO[/i]’s coding. Obscure glitches that slipped past testing can result in you being shut-out of certain sidequests if you accidentally trigger them (this is why I was unable to become Champion of the Coliseum, for instance); some sidequests seem impossible to complete even once you do receive them, and many require an insane amount of backtracking and errand-running, which is not a good thing when travel is just as slow as it was in [i]EWatLO[/i]. The new “wing dash” feature helps a little, but not much, as exceeding your time limit results in you moving slower than your normal walking pace until you recover. The wing dash is also a source of great frustration in the final dungeon of the game, as finicky controls will cause you to fall victim to a stupid trap more times than any competent player should normally.

Perhaps the most devastating problem with the game, however, is a [b]very[/b] difficult boss battle that hits [b]immediately[/b] after switching to Disc 2; because the game forces you to save before switching discs, you might find yourself trapped in a no-win situation if you save over your file unprepared. Be aware of this and save to a different slot when you make it to this point, in case you feel the need to level up some more. I took the thing down on my fourth try after radically altering my deck-building strategy, but I never avoided combats at any point and made sure to upgrade my deck class regularly. There was only one point in the game where I felt I needed to level up before taking on a boss, and it came at a point where I had several other missions to complete anyway, so I just made that one the last on my “to do” list.

Overall, [i]Baten Kaitos Origins[/i] is a worthy successor to [i]Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean[/i] in just about every respect, while also standing on its own fairly well. Unlike the [i]Star Wars[/i] movies, I believe that this is a prequel that may actually benefit from being experienced [i]before[/i] the original rather than giving away all of its secrets in advance. It means taking some “downgrades” if you want to continue the story, but both plotlines are independent enough that playing through them in either order will feel “right”, with the references made in [i]BKO[/i] being treated as foreshadowing instead.

[i]Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy[/i] ([i]LSW2[/i]) is a difficult game to review. I keep finding myself trying to reconcile my need for well-designed, challenging problems with my appreciation for simplistic gameplay and Just Dumb Fun; my mature gaming tastes are both at odds with and acting in concert with my childish glee. It’s as if I’m trapped between two worlds — somewhat fitting for this “your-chocolate-in-my-peanut butter” sequel, which is every bit as bipolar as its predecessor.

At its core, [i]LSW2[/i] is a basic platformer with strong collect-a-thon elements for you obsessive types. You proceed through the three episodes in the original Star Wars trilogy, each comprised of six sub-chapters, collecting Lego studs (the game’s currency) and blasting pretty much everything that moves and, to be honest, just about anything else you feel like blasting as well. There’s no real strategy to it; it’s barely even beyond base button-mashing at times. Occasionally you’ll have to stop and figure out how to bypass an obstacle, but generally the answer is lying in a nearby heap of Lego bricks waiting for you to assemble them into a platform, cannon, or what-have-you — and if you don’t see a heap, then you probably have to make one by blasting stuff. If you’re not concerned with acquiring True Jedi Status (by collecting a set number of studs per chapter), then you have all the time in the world to experiment and muddle your way through somehow, as you can respawn indefinitely without caring that you probably lose a couple thousand studs each time. There is literally no pressure and frankly not too much challenge either.

With that being said, I don’t want to meet the kind of gamer who is unable to enjoy this game. If you can honestly say that you’ve played through a couple of levels of either this game or the previous [i]LSW[/i] and didn’t have a smile on your face as you gleefully (and probably systematically) dismantled every wall, barrel, console, and enemy with repeated application of a plastic lightsaber, then you’ve lost all sense of your childhood (or possibly never had one to speak of). This is exactly the same type of gameplay that makes Rampage so popular, and it has a much better presentation and (licensed) storyline than any of the titles in Midway’s Godzilla/King Kong homage.

At the heart of [i]LSW2[/i] is simplicity, much like the plastic building blocks from which the graphics take their unique look. You never need any more than four buttons in Story Mode: jump (some characters can double-jump), attack/defend, switch characters, and build/special; for “Free Play” mode (unlocked for each chapter after you complete it in Story Mode), you also need one or two for changing your current character. Using those simple commands and the unique abilities of each character (class), you have all the tools you need to progress through the game. This is literally gameplay so simple that a child can master it. In fact, with no frustrating limiting factors, this is a great title for less-experienced gamers (both young and old); every mode also offers cooperative play for two players, meaning you can play right beside your child, younger sibling, parent, grandparent, boy/girlfriend, specially-trained monkey… whatever. Why should you hog all the fun for yourself, after all?

In addition to the Free Play modes, there are unlockable bonus levels for each Episode once you complete all six chapters and have enough Gold Bricks. There are also some additional levels that you can unlock as you progress through the game. All those studs you collected can be used to purchase additional characters for Free Play as you encounter them in the game, as well as to buy cheat options (powered-up blasters, invulnerability, mini-kit detectors, etc.) that you unlock by finding each chapter’s red Power Brick — often fiendishly hidden away in the most out-of-the-way locales. You can also mix and match certain character “pieces” to create your own characters for Free Play, either combining various abilities or just creating your own distinctive look. Finally, for the price of 200,000 studs, you can unlock the ability to import your [i]LSW[/i] save file and most of the characters and mini-kits you’ve obtained in the first title (although some characters won’t be carried over due to their inclusion in [i]LSW2[/i]), assuming you played it on the same platform; Xbox360 owners can purchase an equivalent file from the Marketplace, since that system didn’t get [i]LSW[/i].

Visually, the game combines basic plastic bricks with 21st-century gaming technology to both simulate an actual Lego play experience and improve upon it, adding reflections, lighting, facial expressions (Lego Han’s smirk is awesome) and some rudimentary physics to the distinctive blocky construction. In-game cut scenes advance the plot in the finest pantomime traditions (plastic bricks don’t talk, but they do occasionally laugh and otherwise audibly emote) at fairly regular intervals. In the audio department, the usual top-shelf Star Wars score accompanies most scenes, with LucasArts sound effects providing authentic lightsaber swings and blaster shots along with the ever-present explosions.

The game is not perfect, however. The most annoying aspect is the usual bane of 3rd-person platforming titles: the camera. You can pan it a bit to look around, but there is no zoom or free-roaming ability, which can and will be a pain for some jumping puzzles. Additionally, those cut scenes I mentioned are unskippable, so you’ll have to sit through them each time you hit them. Finally, vehicle-based missions like the Rebel Attack on the Death Star (Episode IV, Chapter 6) can be difficult to control, as they moved from being “on rails” in [i]LSW[/i] to more free-range in [i]LSW2[/i]. I would also be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that there have been reports of the game locking up on a couple stages, across all platforms; fortunately, the game’s auto-save feature minimizes the losses caused by these occurrences, but they can still be aggravating if they strike near the end of a long session.

And so I find myself back where I was at the beginning of this review, unsure of how to actually score the game (at least as far as our ratings here at Snackbar Games go). The game’s absolute lack of difficulty means that you’ll probably beat the main Story Mode in the space of a rental, and you could probably unlock everything in an additional day or two if you devoted yourself to it. On the other hand, this is such a feel-good, play-anytime (with anyone) title that it almost deserves a full purchase just to have it in your library. I could go either way on this one, but in the end I think I’ll bump it up to a full purchase; despite the shortcomings, this is a quality title and you should easily get your money’s worth out of it — especially if you play co-op with a friend and/or someone you love.


July 28, 2006

My introduction to [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] was not until well after its release date. I had heard of the title mentioned, but it didn’t make enough of a blip on my radar to garner a pre-release glance. Having logged a very significant amount of time on it I can safely say that it is one of the more quirky games to come out recently and while not as strange as the original Katamari Damacy it definitely gives me the same quirky vibe.

[i]Chibi-Robo[/i] is at its core simply a cleaning game. I know that sounds odd, but it is what you will spend the bulk of your time doing. You, [i]Chibi-Robo[/i], were given to little Jenny Sanderson for her 8th birthday. In addition to being a toy you also help out around the house by cleaning up and doing various other tasks. An evil plot unfolds that pits [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] against the evil Spydoz of Macroware Robotics, Inc. The relatively simple story and concept of this game lend it to being very open ended and quite addictive.

The visuals in [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] are pretty standard fare and there are times where the camera acts up and gets a little irritating. Sound wise the game features quite possibly the most annoying “jibber jabber” for the simulated talking and without a way to skip cutscenes will have you diving for the mute button.

Your time in the game is divided into nights and days. At the end of the night or the day you must return to the Chibi House to recharge and tally up your points. You are also able to do this at any point during your daily adventures. Initially each day and night is only 5 minutes long which makes the time go by very fast. As you collect moolah, the currency in this fictitious place, you will be able to purchase up to 10 or even 15 minute “segments” of gameplay. I prefer the 15 minute days myself. The house is a very different place at night versus day so both times of day serve unique purposes. The more you play, the more of the house you are able to explore.

As the game progresses you will be collecting various things: moolah, happy points, and scrap. Moolah is used to buy upgrades and various tools. Your happy points are awarded for cleaning and accomplishing tasks in the game and are used to rank you on the overall Chibi Ranking list. Achieving a certain rank thrusts you into Super Chibi-Robo which is just an upgraded version of your former self.

In addition to new areas you can upgrade [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] with tools, weapons, and various vehicles. These will all help you accomplish the ultimate goal of keeping your host family, the Sandersons, happy.

I don’t want to reveal too many of the secrets along the way as discovery is part of the reason this game has kept my attention so long. At the end of the day [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] is actually a really fun game for all ages. As I mentioned earlier, the Charlie Brown style jibber jabber will drive you insane, but the talking is only heavy in the early stages of the game or when you initiate it, which you have to do at times. Since [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] is a little quirky and not a sleeper hit quite like Katamari was, I am going to recommend it as a rental first. For me, it’s part of my library for good, but others may not feel the same.

Since the first game for the Super Nintendo, the [i]Harvest Moon[/i] series has grown in popularity. You either know it as a classic favorite or as that one game where you plant vegetables. The series is back for another go with [i]Harvest Moon: Magical Melody[/i]. [i]Magical Melody[/i] hopes to take the series back to its roots after [i]A Wonderful Life[/i] bored fans to tears, while adding in a few new things along the way. Fans will appreciate a lot of the things added into the old formula and still have fun the same way that they did with previous titles in the series. The repetitive nature of the series will continue to drive away most gamers, but fans can expect one of the best games in the series yet.

[i]Magical Melody[/i] begins with your character moving into town to take part in a farming program. After purchasing a plot of land, you are greeted by three little elf creatures, who take you to a petrified statue of the Harvest Goddess, turned to stone because people no longer believe in her. It’s up to you, as well as your rival, to collect as many Happiness Notes in order to revive her. While this is the overall main goal of the game, you are still charged with building up a successful farm, marrying one of the many men or women in the town, and generally leading a successful life. Notes are gathered by doing general tasks within the game, so collecting almost comes naturally (or sometimes by accident) and doesn’t really hinder the main focus the series is known for.

All of [i]Magical Melody[/i] is sort of a tribute to the entire [i]Harvest Moon[/i] series as a whole. You could probably look at the game as being fan service to those faithful enough who have played since the first game on the Super Nintendo. All of the characters within the game are composed directly from previous games in the series, although there are a few completely new characters and some seem like re-tooled versions. You are given a choice to play as a boy or a girl, but those who choose to play as a male will be able to choose from ten different guys, all of which are drawn directly from [i]Harvest Moon[/i] for the SNES or [i]Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland[/i]. Female players also have ten choices, and although some of them are technically new to the series, they all are obviously crafted after characters from [i]Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town[/i].

Some new things have been added that are drastically different from previous games. The most evident addition is the ability to build your farm in a number of different locations around town, each having different advantages and disadvantages. This leads the series into a kind of free-form feel, and takes away a bit of the linear game play the series is known for. Once you get enough money, you can essentially purchase much of the town’s land and build as many different farms as your feel, designating one area to animals, another to growing crops, or just setting up a vacation home up in the mountains. It is certainly one of the better updates the series has seen over the years, and actually adds in a bit more strategy into the game.

Of course, all of the staples of [i]Harvest Moon[/i] have made a return in [i]Magical Melody[/i]. The game returns to the traditional formula of days lasting a few real-time minutes, as opposed to [i]A Wonderful Life[/i]’s twenty-four real-time minutes to every day. Crops, animals, and just about everything else have reverted back to the traditional game play, and really, [i]Magical Melody[/i] seems like a completely different game from its predecessor, [i]A Wonderful Life[/i]. Fans will no doubt have few issues with what’s to be had in [i]Magical Melody[/i], but those who haven’t been turned on by the series so far will have little reason to try again with this game.

Another contributing factor to the fact that only fans will be attracted by this game is the graphics and art style, which, quite honestly, look to be straight out of a child’s picture book. To put it bluntly, the look of the game may very well turn off many people. Things look reminiscent of a more refined Animal Crossing, and characters take on the, what’s called in anime circles, chibi look (that is, they look like children with huge heads and very separated legs). Fans will probably not be phased by the looks of the game, or if they are, they probably will not think much of it. The game still remains the same as always, even with the quirky graphics style. Just don’t expect to get your friends hooked on the series when they take a look at [i]Magical Melody[/i]. It will probably only end in pain.

Overall, this is a perfect game for fans of the series. It takes everything from past games in the series and reinvents the formula to give us something new. Again, [i]Magical Melody[/i], combined with the graphical presentation of the game, will probably not convert those who look at the game with eyes rolling upward. Even so, if Natsume hasn’t gotten those people hooked on the series yet, they probably will never do so, and know that appeasing the fans will be enough. In the end, [i]Harvest Moon: Magical Melody[/i] is a game for the fans, and acts as a tribute for those fans. And those fans will no doubt find a lot to love in this new installment.


May 3, 2006

One of the swiftest ways to kill your enjoyment of a game is to get your hopes up too high before playing it, especially when there isn’t a lot of company hype getting in the way. When I pre-ordered [i]Odama[/i] — solely to ensure that my local EB would even have a copy, since I knew that this was going to be a niche title at best — I was eagerly anticipating some “demolition derby” pinball set on the backdrop of feudal Japan. Being able to give my troops commands to enable various areas of the board seemed like just the kind of odd twist that would make the game unique.

The first hour of actual play, therefore, turned out to be a prolonged series of swift kicks to the junk as my expectations were shattered time and again. [i]Odama[/i] is more a strategy title with a pinball interface than it is a pinball table with strategy elements, and that’s a rough paradigm shift for devotees of the silver ball like myself (ever since I was a young boy); sadly, we’re also the group of gamers most likely to give [i]Odama[/i] a shot in the first place. What we encounter, instead of our beloved physics, is something wearing a familiar skin and yet clearly alien underneath: targets that you should try to not hit; obstacles that are destroyed upon impact instead of redirecting your shot; power-ups like some sort of “shmup”; slightly-stupid AI that needs your nearly-constant verbal attention while you’re trying to keep the ball in play; a victory condition that has absolutely nothing to do with your flipper accuracy; and perhaps the most egregious crime (nay, sin) against pinballers everywhere, [b]a time limit[/b].

Nothing else is really a factor here. The graphics are small and at times undetailed, but they serve their purpose of mixing a battlefield and pinball table well, with “ramps” and other targets somewhat innocuously masquerading as natural formations or structures. The physical controls are also simple and intuitive, with the L and R buttons operating their respective flippers and the control stick both “tilting” the table and aiming your cannon for firing replacement Odamas — or tasty rice balls — on to the field; the Z button summons forth reserve recruits if you have any and do not already have too many on the field. On a couple of stages, the C-stick moves the camera to a different segment of the field, as these sieges feature multiple “fronts” for your assault. Finally, the D-pad is used to select targets for your troops, like keys, catapults, additional flippers, and enemy generals; once you’ve selected the target, hitting X and issuing the “Rally” command will send some of your men over to complete the task.

Ah yes, the infamous voice commands. [i]Odama[/i] comes with the GCN Microphone, which you might already own if you’ve played Mario Party 7 or Karaoke Revolution. It also comes with a convenient clip that affixes to the top of the GCN pad (or Wavebird) to provide convenient hands-free access, since you’ll want both hands on the pad for flipper duty. On the first few stages, you’ll need to fire the [i]Odama[/i] at glowing scrolls in order to learn new commands for your troops; until you learn “Press Forward” (which should be the second scroll you hit), you will not be able to convince your forces to make the final push through the gate on each map, so keep an eye out for them. Other commands include “March Left/Right”, “Company Halt”, and “Charge!”, plus the aforementioned “Rally” and other, lesser-used directions. The voice recognition is solid, and you don’t need to shout your orders (although you might be screaming for other reasons).

Sadly, the gameplay itself is the biggest obstacle to enjoying [i]Odama[/i]. For many, the first hour of play is also the only hour. The game is just too difficult, too unwieldy, too bizarre, and/or too “not what I wanted it to be”. And these are all fair assessments. There is also the matter of extensive damage to personal property and/or physical health due to fist-smashing and blood-boiling frustration to consider. But those who stick it out, who learn the ways of the [i]Odama[/i] and the Path of Heavenly Duty (also called the “Way of Ninten”… or “Ninten-do”), and who take up the cause of reclaiming the lands and honor of the Kurasawa clan by delivering the Ninten Bell through ten enemy-filled battlefields… they will not be completely unrewarded. Especially not once they find the spoiler-worthy “bonus stage” on the final level and have their “Godzilla meets pinball” dreams finally fulfilled without any of those other distractions, even if only briefly.

I’m not going to lie to you, though: for a majority of players, it won’t be worth the effort. [i]Odama[/i] is a game that demands near-military levels of concentration, and at times Budda-like levels of patience and tolerance. Little by little I had my initial doubts and frustrations fall by the wayside as I progressed — and in some cases, regressed, as I occasionally felt the need to retrace my steps in order to advance to the next board with a better army — through the intricacies of the interface, until finally, via hard work and determination, victory was mine. And it was indeed a sweet sensation. But “hard work and determination” isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun gaming experience, and I wouldn’t fault you for abandoning the game after your first few tries. Give it a rent first and see if you can find the motivation to see this game through to its conclusion.

The ending of the game suggests a sequel, as “The End” is crossed out in favor of “To be Continued”. I hope that, if nothing else, Vivarium abandons the time limit for any [i]Odama 2[/i] that might come down the line. As I learned tricks to overcome obstacles (like the proper use of rice balls), I was able to forgive just about every other transgression that [i]Odama[/i] hurled at me, from seemingly poor AI to questionable pinball physics, but no pinball-based game should ever have a time limit placed on what is an inherently wildly-inaccurate interface: you’re supposed to lose when the ball goes between the flippers (or in the additional case of [i]Odama[/i], when the Ninten Bell is forced between them by opposing forces) and not for any other reason. I lost far too many boards by not being able to hit a crucial ramp or target in a timely manner, and that’s simply unfair. The only use I could see that [i]Odama[/i] even has for the time limit — other than as an arbitrary inflation of difficulty — is as an impromptu scoring device (every 100 seconds you have left over after each board results in an “extra ball”) that could easily be replaced by an actual score tally.

When I found my copy of [i]Super Mario Strikers[/i] in my mailbox I was genuinely excited. I looked forward to popping it into my Gamecube and getting sucked into its multiple game modes and surprisingly deep gameplay for hours and hours. I soon found out this isn’t what we have come to expect from a Mario game. SMS is the latest in the Mario series of sports games. This time around Mario is trying his hand at soccer. The only question is: Will this title compare to the likes of Mario Tennis or Mario Kart?

Both visually and audibly, [i]SMS[/i] is just what you would expect from a Mario game. The visuals are polished, bright, and very “kiddie”. Character models are pretty simple but look nice and the stadiums are unique and very nicely done. The audio is much the same with nothing to complain about or praise. You’ll hear plenty of the usual sound bites, along with solid sound effects in-game as well as when navigating menus.

The game is as average is it gets. Unlike most other Mario sports titles this game doesn’t have any fun mini-games or handfuls of different modes. You are relegated to play now, play against a friend, or play in Cup Mode. You can work your way from the Flower Cup all the way to the Bowser Cup unlocking new arenas as you go. Once you take the Bowser Cup you will unlock one more tournament where, if you win, you will unlock the ONLY unlockable character in the entire game.

Now while this may sound fun, the game’s simplistic controls and extremely easy gameplay make it fly by in all its mediocrity. The game is played basically with just the left analog, along with the A,B, and Y buttons. If the opposing team has the ball all you need to do is slide tackle or just plain hit them to get it back. Once you get the timing of the “super strike” down you will score at will.

Now as I’ve sat here and written this review it feels as if I’ve missed something or left something out. Well, that’s the same feeling I get as I play through this game. It’s not a bad game, it’s a solid title to pick up and play when you need to kill 30 minutes before work, but it’s as if Nintendo forgot to put the rest of the game on the disc. It won’t keep your attention for long, but if you’re looking for a game for the young ones or to just kill time with here and there, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Games with Sonic in them are cool. The ‘blue streak’, as he is sometimes called was one of the coolest console mascots back in the days of the Genesis. The games focused on him, and only him (with the exception of Sonic & Knuckles). [i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i], however, is not cool, as we will find out as this review goes on.

The first thing you might notice about this game is that it’s a Sonic title… on the Nintendo Gamecube console. Yes, now that the Dreamcast has gone under, the blue hedgehog has made his way onto a Nintendo console, but with mixed results. [i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i] is merely a simple port of the Dreamcast’s [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i] released a year before in 2001. While there are some changes to the game in [i]Battle[/i], it really won’t matter which system you play this on. As the title suggests, [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i] is the sequel to the Dreamcast hit Sonic Adventure. However, this time around, the developers have changed around the game a little. In the first installment, you could choose which character you want to play as after you unlock them by playing as Sonic. In [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i], instead of choosing which character you play as, you choose from two different stories, the Hero story, or the Dark story. Each story takes three different characters going through two different stories, each story meeting with the other from time to time and eventually, clashing at the end to see which side wins. The Hero story stars Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower, and Knuckles the Echidna, while the Dark story stars Dr. Eggman, and two new additions to the Sonic universe; Rouge the Bat and Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic’s alter-ego.

The three characters in each story go through their own different types of levels. Sonic and Shadow play through corridor-like speed levels, while Tails and Dr. Eggman pilot mechs through simplistic shooting levels. Knuckles and Rouge go through huge levels, looking for different items ranging from Chaos Emeralds to keys. This is where [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i] and [i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i]’s first problems emerge.

The shooting levels that you take Tails and Dr. Eggman through are incredibly simplistic. In [i]Battle[/i]’s case, all you really do is go through the level, hold down the ‘B’ button, lock on to enemies and other objects, and release to fire missiles at everything that your laser-sight picks up. Older gamers will easily complete these levels, and they seem more suited to the younger audience. The levels that you take Knuckles and Rouge through are just plain annoying. Those consist of you taking either character and running around the level until your locator at the bottom of the screen begins to flash, playing the ‘hot or cold’ game basically. These levels become incredibly tedious, and as luck would have it, the game chooses to play these kinds of levels the most.

However, as boring as the other two gameplay types are, Sonic and Shadow’s levels are very fun to play through. In fact, these levels are probably the only fun part about [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i], as they are much more compelling than Tails’ or Rouge’s levels. The problem is, Sonic and Shadow’s levels are scarce compared to the other character’s levels, and since their levels are really the only fun levels in the game, it’s a real blow to the overall quality of it. Most platformers are praised for making games with a variety of gameplay genres, but [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i]’s gametypes get very tedious and are just plain unchallenging.

As mentioned earlier, [i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i] is a port of the Dreamcast’s [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i], so you might be wondering if there is any sort of difference between the two. In short, yes, there is a difference, but if you played [i]Sonic Adventure 2[/i] on the Dreamcast, the Gamecube’s version is really no different. The Gamecube version contains a multiplayer section, but compared to other great multiplayer games like Super Smash Bros. Melee, [i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i]’s multiplayer is lacking, and isn’t really that interesting in the end. The graphics are slightly better than the Dreamcast’s version, but they are by no means incredible. The framerate is higher than the Dreamcast’s version, so there is a plus, but again, it is really no reason to play it again on the Gamecube. The game has horrible voice acting. All the characters seem pretty lifeless when they talk, especially Shadow, who has that ominously dark, evil dialogue, but fails to back it up with an ominously dark, evil voice. I’m going to use Knuckles as an example though, as when he talks, it sounds like he really isn’t aware of what’s going on around him, and sounds completely random. The voice actor who played Knuckles’ voice obviously is not very good at bringing his characters to life. To top things off, the models still move their lips like they are talking in Japanese, so the dialogue looks strange and off because of it.

Now, while Knuckles and Dr. Eggman’s levels are bad enough on their own, they are worsened by the horrible camera angles. Knuckles and Rouge’s levels are especially hurt by the camera. In fact, the camera in [i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i] is one of the worst cameras I have ever seen in a video game. Strangely enough, the camera really isn’t a problem in Sonic and Shadow’s levels, which is probably one more reason why they are so much better than the other character’s levels.

The music in the game has a mixed reaction from me. Each character’s level has a different form of music. Sonic’s music has a lighthearted pop-rock feel to it, while Shadow’s is the same, only darker sounding. Knuckles has hip-hop and rap music, while Rouge has annoying pop sound to it, and Tails’ is mostly rock while Dr. Eggman’s seems like a sort of mechanical grunge. While most of the songs (save for Rouge’s songs) are slightly catchy, some are marred by lyrics like ‘I’m gonna follow my rainbow’ and ‘live and learn’. One problem with the music is that, at times, the character’s dialogue is drowned out by the music, although with the horrible voice-overs, that may be a blessing in disguise.

[i]Sonic Adventure 2: Battle[/i] is very disappointing. Its storyline is compelling enough to keep most people interested, but the voice-overs will make it hard to enjoy cutscenes. Combine this with simplistic gameplay and a bad camera and you’ve got a perfect candidate for a weekend rental. While some may be drawn in by the challenge of making all ‘S’ grades in every level or the Chao Garden (which is surprisingly interesting), it really doesn’t take very long to complete the game, and unfortunately, has very little replay value, unless you are intent on a perfect score on every level. It’s quite obvious that any future Sonic title should focus itself on the blue hedgehog and his trademark speed alone, rather than the other minor players in the Sonic universe.

Sonic Heroes

February 19, 2006

There once was a time when Sonic the Hedgehog was a contender. Back in the early days of console gaming, there was no rivalry greater than that of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Nintendo’s Super Mario. But where Mario made the transition into a three-dimensional environment almost perfectly, Sonic, sadly, did not.

Ever since Sonic went 3-D in [i]Sonic Adventure[/i] for the Sega Dreamcast, there’s been something missing from the series. While the game received much acclaim from gamers and reviewers alike, it was very obvious that the series had taken a drastic turn. The frenzied speed of the original Sonic titles for the Sega Genesis was gone, replaced by slow moving action of Knuckles searching for shattered Emerald pieces. Even Sonic’s part in Sonic Adventure had slowed to a crawl, with the classic corridor-style level replaced with spacious, full blown-out 3-D levels. The excessive amount of new characters didn’t do the series much good either, taking the main focus away from Sonic and more on side characters. The series has also seen some of the most annoying camera angles and horrible voice acting in gaming. Now, nearly 5 years after the release of Sonic Adventure, [i]Sonic Heroes[/i] tries it’s best to revive the original speed of the 2-D era, and while it does succeed in doing so, it fails in other areas.

Note the ‘Heroes’ part of [i]Sonic Heroes[/i]. Yes, it’s plural, meaning more than one. [i]Heroes[/i] separates itself from Sonic’s previous installments by letting you control three different characters at once. The game has four different teams, which we’ll cover later, and each of the three characters in a team has different abilities that must be used to progress through the story mode. There are three different types in each team; Fly, Speed, and Power. For example, in Team Sonic, Knuckles is classified as the Power character, and is used to fight enemies and break obstacles that the others cannot. Tails is classified as a Flying character, and helps Knuckles and Sonic up to higher ledges. And Sonic is the Speed character of the bunch, used to speed quickly through loops and pathways. You need to learn how to effectively switch between characters in order to complete levels, and while it takes some getting used to, it will eventually become second nature.

As said earlier, [i]Heroes[/i] has 4 different teams to choose from. Team Sonic is made up of Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower, and Knuckles the Echidna. Team Dark is made up of Rouge the Bat, and Omega, the only robot made by Eggman that has actual emotions. Team Dark also has Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic’s alter-ego, who was supposed to have died in space at the end of Sonic Adventure 2, but somehow survived to be in this title. Amy Rose, Cream the Rabbit, and Big, the… I don’t know what Big is exactly, make up Team Rose. Team Rose is by far the most annoying team in the game, with Cream sounding like she’s voiced by a 30 year old man trying to sound like a little girl at times, and Big, who has the brains of an infant and is obsessed with his Froggy. Then we have the most questionable team in the game, Team Chaotix. Chaotix is made up of Vector the Crocodile, Espio the Chameleon, and Charmy Bee. If you have never heard of these guys, don’t worry, you haven’t missed a new addition to the character pool in the last few years, nor are they newly introduced to [i]Heroes[/i]. These guys were last seen in Knuckles Chaotix, for the ill-fated 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis. The only people who might remember these guys are die-hard Sega fans who bought the 32X, or perhaps people who read Sonic the Hedgehog comics back in the day.

All these characters and team selections bring up [i]Heroes[/i]’ first problem. For a Sonic game, [i]Heroes[/i] really doesn’t focus on Sonic. In fact, in its entirety, Sonic is almost treated as a minor character in the game. The only time Sonic shows up is when you play as Team Sonic and during other team’s cut scenes (which isn’t often). Even when you’re playing as Team Sonic, since you have to use all three characters, you’ll only end up using Sonic one-third of the time. On the plus side however, [i]Heroes[/i] doesn’t add any new characters to the Sonic universe, although it does take existing ones from Chaotix, Sonic Advance 2, and the Sonic Adventure series.

One of the things [i]Heroes[/i] does right is bring back the speed of the original Sonic titles. Compared to its previous 3-D titles, [i]Sonic Heroes[/i] is easily the fastest and is the first 3-D Sonic title to come close to the frenzied speed of the Genesis’ Sonic. However, the team swapping slows down [i]Heroes[/i] considerably. As soon as the speed begins to pick up, you will usually have to switch characters and stop to fly over obstacles, or find a switch to activate a door. It’s a good feeling of Sonic nostalgia when you begin to pick up speed and go through loops at lighting fast speeds, but just as soon as it starts, you’re forced to switch characters to compete certain tasks. It really slows down the speed of the game.

Another big problem with [i]Heroes[/i] is that, aside from difficulty settings, every team plays through the exact same levels in the exact same order. The only real difference is that some team’s levels are longer while others are shorter. Team Sonic’s levels are moderate in difficulty, while Team Rose’s levels are shorter and much easier. Team Dark’s levels are just like Team Sonic’s, but they have more enemies, some being more hazardous. The only team that really sticks out is Team Chaotix, which plays through the same levels, but has different goals, such as destroying every robot in a level. [i]Heroes[/i] still goes by the harsh level grading system that the first two installments had, and in order to get all A’s, you’ll have to play a good long time.

The camera angles were very awkward in the previous Sonic Adventure games. [i]Heroes[/i] improves slightly on the camera, but for the most part, it’s still flawed. At times, it won’t lock onto an enemy, specifically bosses and you’ll be forced to navigate the camera manually. Other times, it will get stuck at an awkward angle and you won’t be able to see what’s going on 50 feet away from you. The voice acting is much improved over Sonic Adventure’s horrid voice overs, but it is by no means tolerable. The game even has some major glitches in it, although they rarely happen. One such glitch was at the beginning of a fight against another team, the opponents started out over the water. As soon as the fight began, they dropped into the water, giving me the victory. Other glitches include your character falling through the floor. The spastic controls don’t help the game much either. At times, you will press the B button only to fly all over the place, and most likely off the edge of a platform. The controls are one of the more intolerable features of [i]Heroes[/i].

[i]Sonic Heroes[/i] is one of the more disappointing Sonic titles to come out in recent years. Die-hard fans of the original Sonic titles that didn’t enjoy the previous 3-D Sonic titles may get a kick from the revived speed, but be cautious. Be aware that the Gamecube version is supposedly the best version you can get, while the Xbox version is mediocre. The PS2 version however suffers from poor frame rates and is generally lesser in quality than the Gamecube and Xbox versions. [i]Sonic Heroes[/i] may serve many better as a rental.