Note: This is a loooooooooooooooooong post, so you might want to take a few breaks, or something.
I've always been a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. Don't get me wrong, I love Mario too, but Sonic has always held a special place in my fanboy heart. Perhaps it's because the first console I ever owned was a Sega Genesis and the first game I played on that console was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I grew up during the famed console wars between Sega and Nintendo and it seemed, to me, that Sonic was aimed at an older audience, thereby making him cooler than Mario (I was a kid at the time, so sue me). The games were damn good too: with the blistering speed (for the time) Sonic could produce, the awesome music, and the pleasing environments, I immediately became a video gamer, eventually mutating into the monstrosity I am today. While Nintendo did greatly dampen my Sega love with the release of Super Mario 64, it surged again when Sega created the Dreamcast, and with it, Sonic Adventure in 1999.
Unlike his plumber counterpart, Sonic didn't translate as well to 3D. For one thing, the camera was prone to awkward angles, which made falling into some endless abyss all too easy. Also, some of the adventure aspects were frustrating -- for example, at certain points you have to search for a statue and place it in a niche to access the next level. The problem is that the statues can be damn hard to find: they blend in with the environment, so it isn't hard to fly right past them.
Another annoying thing is that one character you play as (Knuckles) is forced to search for jewel shards as part of his campaign. The game slows to a crawl during these levels, as you do nothing except glide around the stage, climb up walls, dig underground, and follow a radar to the crystals. I never understood why Sonic Team put these episodes in the game, and I've never cared for it.
While the game hasn't aged well, there were some neat aspects to it. The addition of voice actors was a ballsy choice, but I still support it, despite the somewhat painful quality at times. There was also a pretty bitchin' soundtrack that I still listen to today. Finally, there was an actual story to go along the gameplay. Usually, the Sonic games would outline an abstract plot, like "Dr. Robotnik wants the Chaos Emeralds to complete his doomsday machine, blah blah blah" and nothing more. Here we actually get several plot lines, one of which pieces together the motivations of one of the primary antagonists. At the time, I thought it was a portent of things to come: complex plots, fleshed-out characters, stuff that would appeal to an older audience. All in all, a fun but flawed game.
It was popular enough to warrant a sequel, the creatively named Sonic Adventure 2. With this installment, Sonic Team disposed of all those bothersome adventure stages that required you to search for statues and all that. We also got two new characters: Rouge (a female bat) and Shadow (a goth version of Sonic). Like the previous game, the music was pretty good, although not as memorable.The storyline was a bit darker this time around, dealing with revenge, loss, and a bunch of other not-so-kiddie-friendly themes. There's a part where Robotnik actually pulls out a gun and threatens to kill Amy Rose (another character) unless Sonic brings him a Chaos Emerald. The next level has you fighting your way through baddies while Robotnik taunts you over the PA system about how you're moving too slow and the like. It's a surprisingly dramatic moment, one I hoped would be repeated in later games. In addition, the ending is kind of bittersweet -- sure, Sonic and his friends save the world and Shadow redeems himself, but it's implied that he dies while doing so.
However, the flaws were much bigger this time around. Robotnik and Tails now share similar stages, in which they walk around in bipedal robots and shoot stuff. It's about as fun as it sounds. The controls are really clunky during these episodes, mostly because the mechas have all the mobility of a skyscraper. The camera is uncooperative, all too often switching to an angle that makes it impossible for me to judge the distance between two platforms. Worse, those annoying search quests are back, only they've been doubled. Yes, now Rouge is tasked with finding stupid shit, just like Knuckles. Even worse, certain levels have time limits, causing the player to tear their hair out in frustration after failing to beat the clock for the 500th time.
Time passed, and Sega released Sonic Heroes, a game that went back to basics in terms of story and gameplay. This time Robotnik is simply bent on taking over the world with his massive Egg Armada, and it's your job to go from one end of the level to the other. No twists, no tricks, just a simple story with simple gameplay. In theory. In reality, it turned out to be a bit of a clusterfuck. To me, this is where the Sonic franchise started to go off the rails, and there are several reasons why:
1. Dumbing down the story. I'm not expecting Final Fantasy-caliber storylines here, but it's really simplistic here, especially when compared to the earlier entries.
2. No variety in gameplay. The schtick is that you can play as different teams, each team consisting of three characters. The problem is that every team is going through the same levels, doing the same things (except for one, which I'll get to later), fighting the same bosses. There's almost no difference at all, except in difficulty.
3. Too many characters. Let's count the number of characters from game to game -- in the original Sonic Adventure we had four major characters, not including Robotnik (I realize there were actually six characters, but if you played the game you'll see why I'm not including them). They were: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose. In SA2, we were given Shadow and Rouge, in addition to having Robotnik as a playable character -- excuse me, Eggman, as he's called now -- why? It's probably the least intimidating villain name out there, except for maybe "Dr. Binky". Anyway, that's seven characters. Now in Heroes we have the addition of Cream the Rabbit, a robot named Omega, Big the Cat, and the Chaotix, a team consisting of a bee, a chameleon, and a croccodile. Robotnik isn't playable anymore, but that still gives us TWELVE characters. Think about it: do you really want to play a game that has you taking control of twelve goddamn characters?
4. Too many goddamn characters! I can kind of see why they included Cream, since she was part of the Sonic X anime that was airing in Japan around this time, but Big the Cat is a miserable fucktard. Did I mention him? He was one of the characters in SA, but he was as fun as castration. It wasn't so much his character (though he's about a second away from asking, "Which way did he go, George?") as it was his gameplay. You know what you did for the entire campaign? Fish. Because when I think "Sonic the Hedgehog", I think "Bass Masters". He's useless as far as i'm concerned. Team Chaotix is even worse, as their sole purpose in the game is to...collect stuff. What the fuck? Does nobody realize how boring this is? It's like a goddamn homework assignment, which means that playing as Team Chaotix is a waste of time. Unfortunately, you have to play as them, otherwise you'll never unlock the final boss.
I'm probably making this sound worse than it is -- in fact, the game is just really mediocre. One of the biggest things about this game was that it included the return of Metal Sonic, who was last seen in Sonic CD. The problem is that I never fought him, because I can't finish the damn game. To unlock the final episode you have to collect all seven Chaos Emeralds in these bonus stages, kind of like in the original games. The problem is that these stages are available only on the odd-numbered levels, and you have to collect a key to access them -- if you get hit once, you lose the key, which means you have to find another one. And when I finally do get to the bonus stage, I can't catch up to the fucking emerald! I probably could if I tried, but I don't have the patience for this kind of thing.
After that, Sega and Sonic Team decided to create a little spin-off, starring Sonic's moody rival, Shadow. The premise is that Shadow managed to survive his fall to Earth, but has amnesia as a result. Because of the events of Sonic Heroes, Shadow isn't sure if he's the real Shadow or just a clone. There's no time to sit and ponder, however, because Earth is being invaded by an alien race called the Black Arms, led by Black Doom, traveling across the galaxy by way of the Black Comet -- I bet it took the writers an all-night brainstorming session to come up with those original names. Black Doom commands Shadow to retrieve the Chaos Emeralds for him; in exchange, he'll reveal the truth about Shadow's past.
I was surprised at the maturity level of the game. Besides the dark tone, the game was also rather violent (compared to earlier Sonic games). Probably the biggest shocker of all was that the characters swore. Sure, it was only words like "hell" and "damn", but it was still pretty jarring. Then again, Sonic does say "shit" in the Sonic X anime. While I applaud Sega for aiming at an older audience, this is all abandoned in the next game, so why put it in? Another interesting concept is that there are multiple endings, ten of them, not including the "true" ending. The problem is that the endings don't really differ from each other, and you have to get every ending in order to access the final episode. Therefore, I found myself trudging through the same levels over and over so I could make a single decision that slightly altered the morality path I was on. It was boring after the third time I had to do this, and it became excrutiating by the sixth. Finally, Shadow is able to use guns and drive vehicles, neither of which I used because it seemed like a gimmick.
While the game was looked down upon by critics, I think it was just mediocre. There are some good ideas here, with some memorable songs sprinkled throughout, but on the whole it's forgettable. Later, Sega released Sonic Riders, a racing game I can't give an opnion on because I shut it off after ten minutes. Which brings up to Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. If you lived through my boring ramblings, congratulations! It only gets worse from here.
Sonic the Hedgehog was hyped to the hills by Sega and Sonic Team, saying this game was a "return to the roots" for the franchise. No more guns, swearing, or any of the stuff that plagued the earlier games, just Sonic running like a maniac and destroying enemies. Critics were excited, Sonic fans were excited, I was excited. Here was a game that would restore the hedgehog to his former glory, a game that would show that Sonic could work in 3D, a game that fans could be proud of. We all waiting in nail-biting anticipation.
Finally, the game was released -- and the shit hit the fan.
Opinions ranged from "bad" to "fucking god-awful", and it was due to a variety of reasons: the game had bugs, the camera was awful, the controls were unresponsive, the story was shit -- it goes on and on. At first I thought, "Well, it's just a few critics. I'm sure it's not that bad." When more and more people -- including the fans -- started to voice their displeasure, I was convinced that this was the worst Sonic game in a long time. I decided that I wouldn't waste my time playing such a POS, but then I read about aspects of the story that seemed too good to miss (I'll get to that later). A little voice inside my head was saying, "C'mon, how bad could it be?" So, being the idiot that I am, I rented a copy and started playing.
Folks, it's just as bad as they said. It's just as bad, and so much worse.
The game starts out in the country of Soleanna, ruled by Princess Elise. I must admit that the graphics and animation in the opening cutscene were quite good, although I question the decision to replace Sonic's legs with stilts. Besides that, the biggest problem here is that all of the humans are rendered in this ultra-realistic style, like Final Fantasy; Sonic, meanwhile, remains the same. So, when you put together realistic people with a giant, blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog, things look a bit wierd, to say the least.
Elise is busy opening the "Festival of the Sun", a celebration that honors Solaris, the sun god that Soleanna worships. Unfortunately, Robotnik appears and kidnaps the princess for the "power she holds within" or something like that. He's also been done in that realistic style too, making the poor bastard look like the love child of Liberace and Elmer Fudd.
Luckily, Sonic arrives to knock the mechanical tar out of Robotnik's minions. Watching Sonic zoom around and destroy robots, one may mistake the opening cinema for a scene from some direct-to-DVD movie. It's a nice moment that doesn't last. Anyway, Sonic manages to rescue Elise before she is promptly kidnapped again. This girl is already making Princess Peach look like a badass.
My first mission is to search for clues as to Elise's whereabouts, and it's here that the game starts to fall apart. I haven't even gotten to the first zone yet and things suck already. I'm supposed to talk to the townspeople, but almost all of them have nothing useful to say. Oddly, they all make these grunting noises and have the habit of jerking and waving their arms around, like the entire city is afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome. While some of them give vague clues about where I have to go, others offer sub-missions requiring me to run around in a certain amount of time or destroy something in a certain amount of time -- you know, filler. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the godawful load times.
Here's how things usually play out: I talk to a person, which leads to a ten-second load time. They tell me what I have to do, and then the game has to load some more. After I succeed or fail there's even more loading, then the person congratulates/scolds me, which is followed up by -- you guessed it -- more loading.
Which begs the question: what the fuck is the game loading? It isn't exactly a system (hedge)hog. What's worse is that these missions are necessary to proceed, because I need the rings I receive as a reward to buy shit that will get me to the next level. What's the point?
So I buy the shit I need and I finally access the first zone, only to find that the controls were designed by someone with severe brain damage. Nudging the control stick registers as a frantic jamming, so I find myself rocking the stick back and forth to compensate. Other times the control is too stiff, like when I'm jumping off a spring pad: even if I push on the control stick several times, I can't move more than an inch, so I have to resort to using my homing attack to propel myself forward. This is fine most of the time, but at certain points I have to land on a thin platform, ending up roughly ten miles past my target.
The camera is one uncooperative son of a bitch. All too often it switches to a "cinematic" angle in order to make Sonic look as awesome as possible, but the downside to this is that I usually end up falling off a platforn or smashing into an enemy because I couldn't see what was in front of me. Other times, the camera decided to swing behind an obstacle; whether it was trying to make the game more challenging or just piss me off, I never found out. Either way, it succeeded.
Eventually, Sonic manages to rescue Elise, and the two of them decide to take a break and jerk around in a field. No, not that kind of jerking around. This field appears to occupy some part of the space-time continuum where everything is straight out of a romantic fantasy: chirping birds, flowers everywhere, petals floating on the breeze -- the only thing missing is a unicorn. Elise is sad because it's hard out here for a pimp -- um, a princess. Elise's father would constantly tell her to "Be strong and don't cry." While it sounds like pop was a cold-hearted asshole, there's a reason he never wanted Elise to cry. Believe me, when you find out what that reason is, you'll be trying not to cry too. Sonic tries to cheer Elise up by telling her to "Just smile!" Yeah, thanks. Then they run through the field -- well, Sonic runs, Elise stumbles because she's wearing high heels.
Alas, this syrupy nonsense comes to an end when Sonic is attacked by a hedgehog named Silver. I had my ass handed to me more than once, since Silver used psychokinesis to fling Sonic around like a rag doll. After the fight, Silver tries to kill Sonic, but is stopped by . . . Amy Rose. Yeah, I was wondering where she came from, too. I'll explain later. Anyway, Elise is kidnapped again, so it's back to Soleanna to do some meaningless tasks. This time, I have to find out which of the five lieutenants in the city is really a captain. Now you'd think that the captain would be wearing an insignia that identifies him as such, but then you'd be applying logic to a game that has none. Turns out that the captain is the guy who gave me the task in the first place. What the fuck? He goes on to say that he wasn't sure I was trustworthy -- dude, I rescued your princess twice and saved the fucking world numerous times; what do you mean I might not be trustworthy?
So the next level has Sonic snowboarding around, trying to find Robotnik's base. Before I forget, I should mention that you can take control of different characters during the stages: here you can control Tails and Knuckles. Knuckles fares okay, simply because he can actually fight, but Tails is miserable. His main attack consists of throwing this weird bomb that's a bitch to aim and does almost no damage. Plus, he drops like a stone whenever he runs out of energy when flying. This led to more than a few situations where I died because I missed a platform by a foot, which led to colorful language.
The three find Robotnik and Elise, the former rambling about Solaris and the power Elise holds. Robotnik tells Sonic to put his Chaos Emerald (oh yeah, Elise gave him a Chaos Emerald, did I forget that?) into a control panel, which he does. Sonic is quite trusting of this megalomaniac, since the last time this happened he was jettisoned into space and nearly blown up. Lo and behold, Robotnik traps the trio and activates something he calls a "Solaris prototype", which will allow him to control time and space and become master of the universe, or something. He activates Chaos Control and warps Sonic and the others to an unknown location.
Seems they were transported to Judgment Day, since the city they land in is little more than an inferno. Shadow and Rouge appear (again, I'll explain later) and reveal that this is actually the distant future. To get back to the present, they need to use Chaos Control again, but one Chaos Emerald won't cut it. So Sonic and his friends set out to find another one.
Have I mentioned that whenever your character hits a wall, they stop dead in their tracks? It's annoying as hell. It doesn't matter if I'm going at a light jog, Sonic still acts like he slammed into that wall at 100 mph. That's another thing: Sonic isn't all that fast. Sure, he might give an Olympic sprinter a run for their money, but he's supposed to be the fastest thing alive!
Speaking of speed, there are a few times during the game where Sonic manages to run along at some very high speeds, showing off the kind of fast-paced action that's possible using next-gen technology; but it's ruined by the horrible controls. If you thought controlling Sonic was difficult before, try doing it at break-neck speed while avoiding obstacles and jumping over chasms. If you miss a jump, you die. If you hit too many obstacles, you die. I had to repeat this stage numerous times because I overshot a platform and died. The save system sucks, too. You are not allowed to save during the levels, only between them -- so if you forget to save and lose all of your lives, you could be sent back 20-30 minutes!
I don't think I've ever played a game with this many flaws.
Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails find their way to an abandoned database, where they find Silver, Blaze the Cat (from Sonic Rush), and a hedgehog that resembles Shadow telling them that Silver must destroy the "Iblis Trigger". Iblis is the creature that is wreaking havoc on the world right now, and this mysterious hedgehog says that it's Sonic who released Iblis. This explains why Silver has been going all homicidal on the Blue Blur. Tails checks the database and discovers that everything went to shit when Elise died in an explosion on Robotnik's battleship. Why did everything go to shit? I'll, um, explain later. I swear!
Sonic and his friends find that there's a Chaos Emerald located in an active volcano, so they go after it, naturally. And I end up getting pissed off, naturally. A big problem is that I can't stick to the surfaces I'm running on. I try pressing the control stick towards the wall, away from the wall, up, down, and just leaving ti alone. No matter what I do, I end up in a pool of magma.
Alright, so I finally make it to the Chaos Emerald, only to have it swallowed by Iblis. The boss fight takes place in an enormous arena, which would be cool if I weren't confined to a fraction of it. Long story short, Sonic gets the Emerald and everybody is transported back to the present.
Eventually, Sonic saves Elise and they escape from Robotnik. Before I forget, some levels have Sonic carrying around Elise, like a groom carrying his bride over the threshold. It's appropriate, since there's a disturbing subtext here: Elise frequently looks at Sonic with enamour, she hugs him, she pours out her heart to him -- there's a special move that can only be performed when Sonic carries Elise, called "Aura", which "combines the power of our hearts" (according to Elise) and allows Sonic to walk across water, like he's Jesus. Anyway, Sonic is attacked by Silver and Elise is captured again. Thankfully, Shadow appears and distracts Silver long enough for Sonic to make his getaway. He rescues Elise again when she jumps from Robotnik's ship, because, I guess, she's tired of being a liability.
After the two make their way through Tropical Jungle -- by the way, the stages have really creative titles, like New City, Castle Town, and Dusty Desert. I wonder how many all-nighters the writers endured before they came up with these names? After they make their way through the jungle, things go smoothly for a while, until Robotnik threatens to destroy Soleanna if the princess doesn't surrender herself. Elise refuses to bow to this madman's demands and immediately gives in -- wait, what? I busted my ass for nothing? Thanks a lot, Elise, you can fend for yourself from now on.
But the game won't let me quit, the bastard. Instead, I must find a Chaos Emerald in an old castle, because the plot requires I do so. Before I do that, Sonic must complete three trials. Fuck, why can't I just go into the damn castle? I have to jump through hoops to accomplish the smallest task in this clusterfuck -- in real life, I don't have to complete a riddle if I wanted to go to the store, so why should I in a game?
The trials consist of the following: the Test of Intelligence, which should really be called the Test of Trial and Error; the Test of Courage, where Sonic must destroy a bunch of enemies without getting hit once; and the Test of Love. That last one is interesting, because Sonic must choose between his two "loves" -- Elise and Amy Rose. I chose Amy; at the very least, she's the same species as Sonic. The guy who gives me the trial says that "this person will help you in the upcoming battle." Which is a crock of shit, since neither of them show up in any battle. Thanks for including something else that's utterly pointless, Sega.
Sonic bumps into Silver, who has had a change of heart and now wants to help. Wonderful. Why did he change his mind? I'll exp -- look, just forget it. Despite Silver's help, Robotnik's battleship explodes anyway, because . . . the warranty ran out? Sonic is devastated -- it's nice to see him expressing emotion over such an event, but it's quickly undone when Silver reminds him that they can use Chaos Control to go back in time and save Elise. Yeah, why have a dramatic death with potentially earth-changing consequences when we can have the player undo the whole thing?
Long story short: Sonic rescues Elise, defeats Robotnik, and shares a laugh. See, Elise is all bummed out because of this whole thing, but Sonic tells her to "Just smile!" Then a butterfly lands on his nose and they laugh and laugh -- golly, what a knee-slapper!
Remember all those scenes in Star Wars Episode II where Anakin and Padme are rolling around the grass, laughing and supposedly being cutesy and romantic? Except it comes off as fake and stiff? Yeah, this is just like that, except replace Anakin with an anthropomorphic hedgehog, which makes it about a billion times more uncomfortable. It doesn't matter that he isn't a human, she loves him for him! Never has true love been more disgusting. How would they even do it, anyway? Would Elise give birth to humans, hedgehogs, or some kind of horrible mutation?
I think I'm going to be sick.
What's funny is that the music ("Sweet Dream") that plays over the end credits is pretty damn good. Except for the implied bestiality, of course.
Did I mention this is only the first episode? Hey, you might be tired of reading this, but I'm the one who had to play the goddamn thing.
So the next episode has us playing as Shadow. He basically plays the same as Sonic, except replace the superspeed sections with driving. Look, I don't want to drive cars! I want to run at really high speeds with controls that work -- if I wanted to drive cars, I'd play Grand Theft Auto IV. At least I don't have to repeat these sections over and over because I accidentally bump into something.
The story goes something like this: Shadow is contacted by the government and asked to rescue one of their agent, who turns out to be Rouge. She's stolen something called the "Scepter of Darkness" from Robotnik, because, I guess, someone had to. They're cornered by Robotnik and his minions, and in the ensuing fight the scepter is shattered, releasing this black goo. The goo takes on the form of Shadow (except he's missing a mouth, which is kind of creepy) -- yeah, it's the same hedgehog that convinced Silver and Blaze that Sonic was the Iblis Trigger. His name is Mephiles and he seems to recognize Shadow. Mephiles thanks him and then promptly sends Shadow and Rouge to the future -- the same future that Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles ended up in. Shadow and Rouge discover a deactivated Omega, which is supposed to be sad or something. The game plays just like the Sonic campaign: go into the volcano, fight Iblis, get the Chaos Emerald.
The difference is that some stages have Rouge flying around, looking for keys. When is Sega going to learn that that's Mario's thing, not Sonic's? I'm tired of having to search for shit in hidden places just to open a door or something. I wouldn't mind so much if these parts were properly integrated, but the transition between them has an almost audible "clunk".
Shadow decides to remain in the future and await Mephiles, while Rouge and the others return to the present. She finds Omega and gives him a Chaos Emerald, telling the robot to basically sit on his metallic ass and wait for Shadow. Back in the future, Mephiles tells Shadow that humans will grow to fear him and eventually imprison him, but Mephiles is willing to help Shadow, provided the latter becomes the former's bitch. Shadow is all "Hell no," which pisses off Mephiles so much he transforms into a hedgehog that looks like the offspring of a geode and Satan. I will admit that Mephiles has one hell of an evil laugh.
The battle between Shadow and Mephiles is surprisingly non-linear, in that it takes a bit of thinking before you can attack Mephiles. He starts out as Shadow's shadow, and you must make him "real" again. To do this, you must fill up your "Action Gauge" and activate "Chaos Boost" , at which point you can "defeat" him and continue the "game". It takes a helluva long time to fill up the guage, and since it runs out quickly it takes somewhere around ten minutes to kill this guy. Suddenly, Omega shows up and kicks ass -- by the way, why the hell did his voice actor go with a high-pitched nasal tone? He sounds like a bee humming a kazoo.
Mephiles retreats to modern-day Soleanna, so Shadow and Omega follow. After meeting up with Rouge, the three decide to go their seperate ways: Shadow will question Robotnik, Rouge will search for Mephiles, and Omega will practice his disappearing act -- and he does quite well, I must say.
Shadow tracks down Robotnik, not exactly a mean feat considering the doctor chooses to travel in the most conspicuous train ever. While Shadow could easily outrun the train, the developers figured that wasn't annoying or difficult enough, so Shadow must ride a motorcycle. Never mind the fact that the motorcycle is a thousand times slower than Shadow -- if you don't use it, the game ends for reasons beyond human comprehension. The motorcycle is, naturally, a piece of shit. It's like trying to steer an out-of-control jet fighter made of lead and ass.
Shadow finds Sonic under attack by Silver, so he must engage Silver in combat. It's just like the boss fight in the Sonic episode, except with trains. I'll admit I chuckled when Shadow uses Chaos Control to bitch-slap Silver. All of this comes to a head when Shadow rips open a portal and bids for silver to follow him. You'd think these guys would learn that screwing around with the space-time continuum has some severe consequences. Also, how does Shadow know where (and when) to go? Does he just say, "Take me to a convenient plot device"?
The two of them end up witnessing the failure of the much ballyhooed Solaris Project, where it's revealed that Iblis and Mephiles are two seperate components of Solaris. It appears that Elise's father was trying to control Solaris, and no, I don't know why. Perhaps he was bored. Silver goes after Iblis, while Shadow seals Mephiles in the Scepter of Darkness, which explains why Mephiles knew Shadow. So, there's one plot arc you needn't worry yourself sick over.
Back in the present, Shadow must find another scepter so he can seal Mephiles once and for all. After performing a series of menial tasks that I can't be bothered to cover, Shadow gets another scepter and teams up with Rouge and Omega to pursue Mephiles. Along the way, Omega confesses that he is the one that will capture Shadow in the future, which isn't shocking or anything. If Omega was Shadow's friend I would be shocked, but Shadow doesn't have friends -- he has acquaintances he dislikes less.
They find Mephiles and try to seal him in the Scepter of Darkness, but it fails because the script says so. Mephiles creates a bunch of clones, which gives Shadow an excuse to go completely apeshit. Why didn't he display this kind of power back in SA2? Probably because he wasn't a "good guy" back then -- or at least, what passes for a good guy.
A minor note: Shadow's theme song is worlds better than Sonic's. The latter's theme is a mixture of hip-hop and soft rock, and I can't listen to it for more than ten seconds. Shadow's theme, on the other hand, is ful of those pounding drums and rockin' guitars that you'd expect to be in Sonic's theme. It's funny (and pathetic) that a supporting character comes off better than the main protagonist.
Now we move on to Silver's episode. The gameplay is different from Sonic and Shadow, in that Silver uses his psychic powers to fight enemies and solve puzzles. It's fun to hurl shit around, but it isn't fun to constantly run out of psychic energy when levitating from platform to platform.
Silver's story is that his world was devastated by Iblis (what he calls the "Flames of Disaster"). He and his friend Blaze are constantly fighting this immortal being, with no reprieve in sight. One day, Mephiles appears (in his Shadow form) and informs Silver that he can stop the Flames of Disaster by killing Sonic, which Mephiles says is the Iblis Trigger -- this should sound familiar, as the same thing happened in the Sonic episode. It isn't clear why Mephiles wants Sonic dead, as I don't think he knows who Sonic is; if anything, you'd think he'd want Shadow dead, as he's the one who sealed Mephiles in the first place.
The trio travel to the past -- or the present, depending on your point of view -- to search for Sonic. Silver gets a warm welcome courtesy of Amy Rose, who mistakes him for Sonic. I think Amy needs some contacts, because she's mistaken other hedgehogs for Sonic for a while now, even when there's no reason to. Shadow I could understand, since he kind of resembles Sonic, but Silver looks nothing like him. Anyway, Amy offers to help Silver find the Iblis Trigger, not knowing they're both looking for the same person.
As you know, Silver ends up fighting Sonic, but Amy intervenes at the last minute. She states that Sonic would never destroy the world, and that she would choose Sonic over the world. Admirable, except if Sonic ever did try to destroy the world, she'd be screwed. No, not like that. Silver speaks with Blaze, asking if it's okay to kill one person to save a thousand. Presumably, Blaze and Silver would now engage in a riveting philosophical discussion concerning morality -- how thin is the line between good and evil, do the ends justify the means, and so on. In this POS, Blaze simply says "Yes" and that's that.
A minor note: the player takes control of Amy at times in addition to Blaze. The latter I can understand, but why Amy? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to have her in Sonic's episode? The answer is yes, it would, but that would fuck up the "three characters for each episode" theme that Sonic Team has, plus it would interfere with the -- *gag* -- love story between Elise and Sonic. Who wants that?
It's around this time that the worst puzzle in the world rears its ugly head. One stage requires me to roll a giant billiard ball down a hallway and into a hole so a door can open. The problem is that there are several huge holes before that, and if the ball falls into any of them, you have to start again. Plus, the ball explodes if it's jostled too hard -- so even pushing the damn thing is a pain. Worst of all, the ball can only take ten hits before it explodes, so you can't be too cautious. It took me twenty minutes and at least fifty tries before I could get that goddamn ball into the right goddamn hole, and I was seriously considering leaving the game unfinished. My stubborn gamer's pride won out, however, and I managed to finish the level.
Later we get the whole Shadow vs. Silver fight, along with the revelation that Iblis was actually sealing inside Elise, who was only seven years old at the time. Silver swears that he won't be Mephiles' pawn anymore, and decides to help Sonic save Elise. As you know, Elise dies, but Sonic and Silver use Chaos Control to travel back in time . . . well, Sonic does. He gives Silver his Chaos Emerald so he can return to his own world and defeat Iblis.
Silver does manage to defeat Iblis, but he's unable to seal it inside his body. Blaze, on the other hand, easily accepts Iblis. I'm unsure why -- maybe it has something to do with the fact that she's pyrokinetic. Whatever the reason, she disappears, leaving Silver behind. It really sucks, since she was one of the least offensive characters.
Finally, finally, after an ungodly amount of time (and writing), we have reached the final episode. It's a doozy, so buckle down.
Despite Shadow's berserker rage, Mephiles survives, and decides to put the final phase of his plan into action. While Elise and Sonic are nonchalantly taking a stroll back to the city, Mephiles warps in behind them and shoots out a beam of light into Sonic, killing him instantly.
Wait a fucking minute!
Are you telling me, that after all those years of fighting Dr. Robotnik and his creations, after fighting Perfect Chaos, Metal Sonic, Shadow, after surviving countless life-or-death situations, Sonic gets taken out by a fucking crystal hedgehog that never appeared in the series prior to this game? And in the back, too! What a fucking cop-out.
Elise, devastated at the loss of her One True Love, bursts into tears, which releases Iblis from her body. Yes, this is the reason why her father told her to never cry. Are you kidding me? What does crying have to do with it? I can see if she died, but crying? Wouldn't the tears extinguish the flames? Why not anger, since fire is a violent element of nature?
Mephiles uses the Chaos Emeralds to merge with Iblis, thereby forming Solaris, the same sun god that the people of Soleanna worship. Solaris turns out to be a giant dick, as he starts tearing apart time and space immediately. Hey, you'd be pissed too if you had to be in this abortion of a game.
Every character in the game (except Blaze, because she's dead) appears in a rift caused by Solaris; when they see that Sonic is dead, everyone grieves in a vague sort of way (except Amy, who is allowed to show real despair). Robotnik says that Mephiles' goal all along was to fill Elise with despair so she would cry and destroy the seal on Iblis. I have to say, Mephiles went through a lot of trouble just to make her cry; he also relied on a shitload of dumb luck -- how did he know Sonic's death would affect Elise so much? Why not destroy Soleanna; wouldn't that make Elise cry? Why doesn't he just kill Elise, since that seems to release Iblis anyway? Why did he enlist Silver's help when he ended up killing Sonic himself? Why do they have to be tears of despair? Couldn't he have broken Elise's arm or shoved an onion in her face? How would he know how to release Iblis anyway?
This game makes no fucking sense!
Okay, deep breaths . . .
Robotnik points out that Solaris can't be defeated in the present, since it exists in all the timelines at once. What does that mean, and how would he know -- oh forget it. Silver says that if Solaris can't be destroyed in any one timeline, they should take him out all at once. Shadow agrees, but they need Sonic's help, because . . . the script says so. So what should they do? Collect the Chaos Emeralds, of course! I'm starting to think they should be renamed the Deus ex Machina Emeralds, since they can do whatever the plot rquires them to do. Does Sonic need to transform into Super Sonic? No problem! Does Robotnik need to power an enormous weapon of mass destruction? No sweat! Does Elise need to bring Sonic back to life? Piece of cake!
Every playable character sets off to find a Chaos Emerald, but it won't be easy. For one thing, space-time rifts keep forming, making the situation difficult for the player, as it's a one-hit kill if you touch these things. Worse, if you lose all of your lives with one character, you must start over from the very beginning, and collect all of the Chaos Emeralds again.
Once the emeralds have been found, everyone gathers around Sonic's corpse. This isn't creepy at all, by the way. Elise implores Sonic to come back to life, for everyone's sake and for her sake, and then SHE KISSES HIM. OH MY GOD.
I am speechless. This wasn't an affectionate kiss on the forehead, mind you -- I'm talking mouth-to-mouth contact. Who, in their right mind, thought this was a good idea? You know that feeling that "Brrrr!" feeling you get after seeing your grandma and her bridge partners soaping each other up in the shower? Multiply that by a thousand and you'll come close to the feeling you'll experience after seeing this.
Sonic transforms into Super Sonic, because Elise's kisses are that good. He expands his power, which allows Shadow and Silver to transform into their super forms -- why is it always male hedgehogs that have super forms, but no one else? We must break free of the male hedgehog power structure! Anyway, the three of them to open up a large can of whoop-butt on Solaris.
So this all-powerful, interdimensional being, this god that "eats dimensions for breakfast" as Robotnik puts it, is a fucking pushover. All you do is switch between the three characters and pummel Solaris until he dies. Some attacks are ineffective until a certain stage of the battle -- why, I don't know. I ceased giving a damn a long time ago. Since Sonic, Shadow, and Silver are invincible, you can jerk around as much as you want. The only thing you have to worry about is running out of rings, but switching to another character immediately fills them back up, so the final boss fight isn't challenging at all. It's a letdown of epic proportions.
When Solaris is defeated, Elise and Sonic travel to the birth of the Flames of Disaster, which barely give off any light at this point. Are you telling me that this tiny candle flame is the cause of all of this? Piss off. Elise says that if she puts out the flame, Solaris will never exist, but the two of them will never meet. Isn't that tragic? No, no it isn't.
Sonic tells her to "Just smile!" because that line is so awesome. Seriously, it's up there with "I'll be back." Elise blows out the flames, thus erasing the events of the entire game. That's right: everything I accomplished was UTTERLY POINTLESS. It's the rancid cherry on top of this shit sundae. The ending starts out just like the opening, which is odd, since there shouldn't be a festival -- Solaris doesn't exist, right? Sonic watches Elise from a nearby rooftop, with the moon shining brightly behind him -- it's, admittedly, a kickass image, which is ruined by everything that came before it. Roll credits, the end.
This was, hands down, the worst game I have ever played. It's bad enough that the gameplay is buggy, the stages are uninspired, the camera is flawed, and the loading times are awful. It's bad enough that the story centers around a romance between a human princess and an anthropomorphic hedgehog. It's bad enough that the last act hits the reset button on the plot. But the worst thing, the most jaw-dropping thing, has to be the fact that several people looked at this product and said, "Yeah, that's good." What the fuck was Sonic Team smoking?
I didn't know how dire the situation was for the Blue Blur until I played this clusterfuck. Sonic Chronicles and Sonic Unleashed had better make up for this. What the hell does Sega need to do to make a good Sonic game? Replace everyone at Sonic Team with competent people? Hand the franchise over to Nintendo? If Sega keeps pulling this shit, than the series is dead, and I really, really don't want that to happen.
For you non-Sonic fanboys out there who don't understand my anger and sadness, let me put it to you this way: picture Shigeru Miyamoto smashing Mario over the head and masturbating over the twitching corpse. Picture the entire Bungie team stabbing Master Chief to death with rusty nails. Picture Hideo Kojima tying up Solid Snake, setting him on fire, and then tossing the body in a pit of scorpions. That's what it's like concerning Sega and Sonic.
I suppose, in the end, it doesn't matter. Still, it's depressing to see a beloved childhood icon destroyed because his creators don't know what the fuck they're doing.