Sonic made his first appearance in 1991, in a platforming game for the SEGA Genesis console aptly named 'Sonic the Hedgehog'. Sonic, like many classic game series, eventually made the jump to 3D. But it still kept in forefront the same essence that the original game possessed: speed. And after several installments, came the inevitable offshoots. The offshoot in review involves Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic's totally bad, fast shooting, rocket powered, somewhat alternate version. Confused? I was. And still am, to an extent. Shadow the Hedgehog is my first 3D Sonic adventure, and I was left entertained if not bewildered about what just happened.
Still, I knew whatever it was, it was fast.
The game starts off with a rather nice CGI sequence of a black and red Hedgehog pondering his past. The only memory he possesses isn't pleasant, and as he ponders the girl in it a mysterious creature appears and claims to be able to reveal Shadow's past if he will bring him all seven Chaos Emeralds. The creature's name is Black Doom, and shortly after telling Shadow “the time is near”, his alien army drops from the sky and starts ravaging the local city in a fiery and explosive kind of way. Shadow, determined to learn the secrets of his past at any cost, zooms off into the chaos and destruction to find the seven mysterious gems.
The tale starts here, and as nice as this beginning was, I really had no idea what was happening later on in the story. Even from the start, the storyline is cut up into pieces that don't quite fit with each other. By the end you'll have more questions than solid facts and, if you're like me, may be left feeling as though you're missing a lot of important information. This is because of the multiple paths and endings available to you, but that's no excuse for laying out individual story arcs that leave half the story in a foggy veil.
There are a total of eleven different endings to this game, determined from the choices you make as you progress. In general, you'll have three ways to complete each level. The hero's way usually consists of helping Sonic or other heroes save the world using the power of the Chaos Emeralds and heroic gumption. Shadow's path follows the titular character racing his way through seven different locales to find the Chaos Emeralds and use them for his own purposes. And then there's the Dark routes, in which you generally wreak havoc, fight GUN soldiers and destroy as much as you possibly can.
I appreciated that the old Sonic health system was replaced. In the original Sonic games, you collected golden rings for various purposes, one of which was to stop you from dying in the event you took damage. But a single hit scattered all of your rings, leaving you defenseless. You still collect rings as health, but this time a single hit only pulls six from your ring count, giving you multiple hits as it increases, which is much less frustrating.
Once Shadow finds a Chaos Emerald he earns the Chaos power, which is regulated by your actions. Do enough good things--like putting out fires, killing aliens, or helping someone--and you'll fill up the blue meter and get the Chaos Control power. This allows you to move at hypersonic speeds, covering a large portion of the entire level in a single blast. In boss battles it freezes time much like in the Matrix, allowing Shadow to move at normal speeds while everything else stops in place. Do evil things--like blowing stuff up, or killing everything but aliens--and you get the mighty Chaos Blast, which makes Shadow a moving explosion, killing or destroying everything within a certain radius.
These Chaos control moments are not, of course, your only way of fighting. Shadow has the option of either a gun or a homing jump attack. Gun control is simple, but it works. You control the reticule by pointing Shadow towards your enemies, and he will automatically target the nearest one. No complaints, with the exception that the nearest enemy is not always the one you want to shoot. The homing attack is more problematic. Unless you keep a tight rein on it, or are facing in the right direction, you are liable to plummet off of a cliff, or off the sides of the level. I died more times than I can count by bad timing or slightly off aim. It also stops working at times, leaving you hanging in the air for a few moments, or worse: rocketing off the nearby ledge for no apparent reason. Like the guns, it target's the nearest enemy to attack. Problem is, nearby GUN soldiers are included in Shadow's target list, and tend to suffer death as a result of the lack of fine control in the fighting system.
In order to unlock the eleventh true ending, you must beat the game ten times with all the various false endings. Thankfully, it's not hard to get the numerous different endings. Your path is laid out in pyramid fashion, with the first level being the top and each level afterward branching out depending on your choices in the preceding level (which you can keep track of in the pause menu). Your final choice determines your ending.
The main problem with this system is that there really needs to be a large amount of courses for it to work well. Any given time you play the game, there will only be seven levels. So you have the ability to change your course, but not very much. You can't go back and change them after you beat a level either, so you'd better plan ahead.
Another problem is that completing any objectives for the hero or dark paths means you have to stop the fluid motion of running and jumping, and wander around looking for the current objective. Either bombs to blow up the location, or data discs to hack into a computer, or maybe even to shut down generators.
I had more fun going Shadow's way in each of the levels rather than the Hero or Dark path, because running, leaping, and flying through the sundry locales was more fun than fighting through enemies to get whatever was assigned. The feeling of velocity is nailed down wonderfully, but close quarters is lacking. You're left to rely on the issue filled combat system to complete the mission. Movement is simply too free for the small quarters you'll operate in, leading to frustration more often than not. Many times I leaped off of a cliff or into an enemy because Shadow suddenly kicked on his rocket shoes in a close combat area.
Normally I have the opposite problems with games; I usually feel the character doesn't move fast enough, but a twitch will send Shadow racing. There's a built in safety that will make him catch himself when you hit a cliff edge running, but it's annoying to run straight into an enemy when you were originally attempting to punch him. After a few hours the controls became comfortable enough, but those first few hours were a trial. The only saving grace for this is the multiple save points in the stages. Likely, you won't be very far from one when you tank it off a ledge.
Movement aside, most of the controls are fine. With the exception of the camera, since it has a bothersome control system. It stops functioning while Shadow is climbing. It makes it hard to land jumps correctly, and get's annoying after a short while.
The various endings are all rather similar, sharing Shadow's search for a purpose. But that one shared thought is about as deep as the story gets. It doesn't help that each character has either a squeaky high pitched voice, a ridiculously deep baritone, or an overly stressed normal voice.. It sounds as though you're listening to a Saturday morning cartoon. Which, come to think of it, you may actually be.
You would think that with eleven endings to choose from, a few of them would be worth the time you put into reaching them, but this is not to be. All of them, save the final ending, have very little monologue and are over in about thirty seconds, and they all happen to be rather similar. Maybe I was expecting too much, but I would've liked some deeper resolutions, even from the false or evil endings. Still, if you like the game, there is plenty of incentive to get all the endings. A typical 'storyline' will only take a few hours to complete, depending on which missions you take. It's entirely possible to complete one in 45 minutes or so. It also has a multiplayer mode, which is an extremely simple and easy frag fest. No alternate modes available, and a kill limit of three. It's not something I'd expect to be fun for very long.
Morally, there are a few pitfalls. Shadow has a rather dirty mouth, and over the course of the game you will hear him say “d**n” a hundred times or more. He says it nearly every time he gets hit, and every time he dies he exclaims “D**n, not here”. It's said in the character's speech through various situations too. So even if you are really good, you'll hear it a dozen times. There are few instances of other profanity, but it is there. For example, Shadow tells Black Doom that he's going to send him back to hell. It's surprisingly violent for an E10+, as giant enemies fall apart into chunks with a puff of green blood. The blood is less noticeable with smaller enemies, and they just disappear with a poof. The body parts don't lay around after they explode, but it was still odd for a rating this low. You may also come across Rouge the bat, who is the obligatory female character wearing tight leather.
In an interesting twist, GUN soldiers do not disappear at first (or blow apart), but instead fall to the ground and mutter despondent phrases until their deaths. At times you'll be able to find a blue container nearby that will heal them, but the majority of the time you're going to have to live with it. It interested me that, while the bad guys simply die, the good guys make you feel guilty for killing them. And after beating the hero side of the game, you unlock a 'heal cannon' which does what its name implies.
As far as metaphysical aspects go, the origins and powers of the Chaos Emeralds are never really explained. You're simply told that they are objects of immense power. The game is pretty clean as far as spiritual stuff goes.
Taking the evil paths will, of course, lead to evil; you will rebel against authority, murder, and do the other normal villain things. Much of the evil side of the game is killing GUN soldiers and robots (who are the good guys aside from Sonic and his pals) and partaking of wanton destruction. Shadow is allied only to himself in these stories, caring very little what happens to the people around him. A major part of the game is Shadow trying to figure out who he is, what he is, and what is his purpose. He's willing to use any methods to answer that question, and depending on the methods you use, you become a hero or a nightmare.
The game is fairly well done visuals wise. CGI sequences are pretty, though the humans look like they were pulled straight from Anime. Humans inside the levels look weird, being short and moving rather like a large bird of some sort. The areas are huge in length but very narrow; you'll run through a desert (complete with whirlwinds) and an ancient temple in one level. Cyberspace is almost nauseating with it's migraine inducing colors, and funnily enough, clearly based on Tron. You'll even take a trip to space and run along the outside of a giant space station. No slowdown of the frame rate or stuttering, even when racing through enemies over a bubbling acid pool.
You have the option of listening to the game's soundtrack from the menu, but aside from Shadow's theme song the music isn't that memorable. Most of it is overly serious rock or metal, fitting well with Shadow's cartoon persona. Some of it has troublesome lyrics, if you do happen to listen to it. 'Almost Dead' by Powerman 5000, played as the credits roll after a certain ending, sings “No more gods, no more graves...Heaven can't save me, Hell's a joke”.
Now that the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii are sitting well into this generation, many of the last generation games can be had for amazingly cheap. I have little money to spare, so when I get money for a new game, I browse the local catalog, searching for gold that can be purchased at the price of a McDonalds cheeseburger.
At the local price of ten bucks, Shadow is more of a 'silver' find in that respect. It's a fun game with plenty of hours of enjoyment in it, if you're willing to overlook the small cornucopia of flaws. Most of which are minor when you sit and think about them, but frustrating when you actually try to play the game with them hanging over your head. It is somewhat alarming that a game seemingly aimed toward children has so much language and violence in it, ESRB warning or not. And to mildly spoil the story, it deals with doing what you're created to do, with Shadow having a long winding path before he finds out exactly what that is. It's affirming that, maybe subconsciously, game developers in this world of half truths admit and even claim that people have a reason for existence, not just accidental creation. Which is something surprisingly unexpected pulled from a shallow action game.