Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shadow the Hedgehog Review

We've already established that Sonic Heroes wasn't too good, but following it things would only get worse. Even non-fans know how much of an unholy abomination SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2006 was, but the first game considered to have really sucked was Shadow the Hedgehog. It was made to sort out the loose plot threads surrounding Sonic's dark other, named - you guess it - Shadow the Hedgehog, and also because he was a popular character amongst fans at the time. Well, his game not only was one of the three that caused everyone to lose respect for the franchise, but also induced complete and total hatred and resentment toward the character. Time to find out why! LET'S CRACK THIS GAME WIDE OPEN! YEAH, LET'S PARTY!

Shadow the Hedgehog features a storyline with a much darker tone than previous Sonic games. It begins with Shadow, suffering from amnesia after the events of Adventure 2, in a field by a city, angsting about his lost memories and what memories he has left of a little girl named Maria getting shot down by soldiers. Well, that's nice, ain't it? Then, right the heck out of no where, the sky opens up and black-and-red colored aliens literally rain down on the city and start destroying crap. Shadow walks away, as he doesn't "have time for these humans", when he is randomly approached by...a floating eye with tentacles. At this point, you're probably about as confused as I am, but regardless, the eye projects a hologram of an alien overlord who tells him to bring the Chaos Emeralds to him at the "promised time". "Who are you? And how do you know my name is Shadow? And what are you talking about?" Shadow asks, saying what we're all thinking right now. The eye states he will find out soon enough and floats away into the city, explaining nothing. Somehow believing this incredibly stupid-looking alien overlord to have answers to his past, he heads to the city and from there IT'S UP TO YOU.

At first, Shadow the Hedgehog seems like a joke, perhaps even a parody of the darker games whose popularity was eclipsing platformers around the time that this game came out. I mean, really, read the synopsis I gave for the story up there again. Who could take that seriously? The box art shows an angry-looking Shadow holding a gun in front of an explosion, as if making fun of over-the-top shooters, and you'll be thinking the same thing when you watch the CGI opening. It starts off showing Shadow - who is a three-foot tall, cartoony hedgehog by the way - loading a gun and slowly approaching the edge of a cliff, followed by a montage of scenes including such things as Shadow (who can run several times faster than any vehicle) riding a motorcylce while being chased by angry black birds and jumping off of it before it collides with an object (naturally followed by an explosion), as well as a scene where Shadow just fires at the camera and screams. Need I even mention that an angsty nu-metal-ish song is playing in the background the whole time? Each of the menu screens in the game features a gunshot sound effect playing with every selection. One of said menu screens shows Shadow's face with fire burning in his eyes. It's so cliched that there's no way it could be taking itself seriously. And I'd like to reiterate: the main character of this game is a three-foot-tall, cartoonish hedgehog.

This parody feeling doesn't end when you start playing: Shadow shouts PG-rated profanities almost every time he gets hit or dies, and you also get the ability to use firearms against your enemies. The humans you'll be fighting don't bleed - at all - and the green blood effect seen when killing the aliens is very cartoonish. Heck, the humans don't even die. They just lie there begging you not to kill them. The violence and cursing is kept under control just enough to secure an E10+ rating, and this is a franchise that, up to this point, had never shown a drop of blood or featured the usage of a single curse word, mild or otherwise. And it stars a three-foot-tall, cartoonish hedgehog. It's so tame yet so out of place. Oh, Sonic Team, we always knew you had a sense of humor. So, if this is so obviously a parody, why was it poorly received?

Because when you play it, you realize that it takes itself seriously the whole time. That, and it has some of the worst gameplay and level design in the entire series.

Yes, you are, in fact, meant to take this seriously. What.

The main gimmick of Shadow the Hedgehog is that what stages you will end up visiting and the direction of the story will change depending on your actions in the levels. On paper, this sounds like a fantastic idea for the franchise, as it would add a lot of replay value to an otherwise short game. In practise, though, it's one of the worst things ever introduced to the franchise - and when you're up against Big the Cat's fishing stages in Sonic Adventure and the freaking Werehog in Sonic Unleashed, that's saying a lot.

Basically, the path you take is based on your moral decisions - whether you want Shadow to team up with the good guys (Sonic, his friends, and the humans) or the bad guys (the aliens), or if you just want Shadow to be neutral. Let's talk about what's wrong with this from a story perspective first. First of all, no matter what side you're on, both parties will be shooting at you. Joining the aliens? Alien enemies will still try to kill you. Joining the good guys? The good guys will still try to freaking kill you. To its credit, the good guys being after you has an in-story explanation: a military commander - who, as a bit of trivia, is never at any point officially named even though he is a very important character - holds a grudge against Shadow for some reason and is able to order his troops to go after Shadow, completely ignoring the fact that Shadow has ended up as a relatively innocent good guy for the last few games. It's an incredibly stupid explanation, but it's an explanation nonetheless. The aliens, though? Choose the "Dark" mission and they will still shoot at you for no explained reason. For another thing, this leads to many, many plotholes and inconsistencies. Oftentimes, Shadow will go from location to location without any sort of explanation. Sometimes you'll see a teleportation effect, but that only raises the question of HOW he got teleported. You can also switch sides at any time in any level, and previous "betrayals" are never referenced at any point. Doing something that conflicts with the moral path you're taking, such as striking down a human soldier when doing a "Hero" mission, holds no consequences whatsoever other than being told off by the character accompanying you and is sometimes even required to progress through a level. This is, simply put, lazy.

That's not even getting into how horribly this translates into the gameplay. Remember the annoying Team Chaotix levels from Sonic Heroes? The ones that required you to search for items or objects in a level that was linear in design? Now, imagine them stretched over an entire game and made about twenty times more frustrating and annoying with an even worse camera. That's Shadow the Hedgehog in a nutshell. Both the "Hero" and "Dark" missions generally require you to hunt for items or enemies in a linear level, and there is no room for error. One level's "Dark" mission asks you to kill fifty military robots. How many are there? Fifty exactly. This template is used for the "Hero" and "Dark" missions in nineteen of the game's twenty-two levels. The other three are open-ended in design, yet end up being even more torturous. The landscapes are completely repetitive and the camera is the worst the series has seen yet - which is saying a lot - leading to stages that are extremely easy to get lost in. And like I said, to complete a mission, you have to find EVERYTHING. It's almost insulting that, as you perform actions considered good, a blue bar in the upper right corner of the screen starts to fill up (the same goes for a red gauge in the upper left corner as you do things that are considered evil). If it fills all the way up, you can use one of Shadow's Chaos powers. Sounds good, right? It would be if this particular power didn't cause you to boost forward really fast, past things you need to find to complete the mission.

Oh, but doesn't the game still have your typical "point-A-to-point-B" missions? Those should at least be fun, you may be thinking. Indeed, there are missions that simply ask you to run to the goal, (usually a level's neutral mission) and they are, in fact, the most tolerable...but that's not saying much at all. The level design in Shadow the Hedgehog is laughably bland. It's mostly just running in a straight line with a few loops and some enemies. That's it. There's no semblance of a genuine challenge here, and what precious little platforming the game features is so utterly forgettable that it might as well not even be there.

Like the level design, Shadow the Hedgehog's bosses pose no challenge to you whatsoever. All you have to do is find a gun, then just blast away. Can't find a gun? Don't worry, the homing attack will do just fine, too, even if it will take a little longer to beat the boss. What makes this even worse is that the same final bosses are used for more than one of the different story paths. I see that 2005 Sonic Team liked being lazy quite a bit. I would also like to note that this is the first time a true final boss in a Sonic game has ever left me disappointed.

I am not pleased with you, Sonic Team.

And lest we forget how Heroes cheaply extended its length by making you play through the exact same game four times with few changes. Shadow pulls a similar trick. Each final level has a "Hero" and "Dark" mission. The final boss you fight and, by extension, the ending you receive changes depending on which of the two missions you complete. There are five final levels and thus ten endings. You have to get all ten to unlock the last story, and you will receive the true ending to the game if you beat that. Since allowing you to use the level select to make things quick would be too fair, you'll definitely end up going through the levels you already went through several times and probably even completing missions you already completed. There you are being lazy yet again, Sonic Team. Speaking of the endings, they're all so similar and formulaic that I can give a basic rundown of each without technically spoiling anything: Shadow gets all the Chaos Emeralds, says "Finally, I've got ALL the Chaos Emeralds!", states "I am Shadow the Hedgehog," has an epiphany, declares "This is who I am!", credits. You've got to appreciate the effort here.
But how could I go this far into the review without mentioning the numerous, numerous technical flaws? Actually, I did already mention the camera, but I believe it deserves mentioning again. Sonic Adventure was released in 1999, and its camera could get pretty annoying at times. It was at least somewhat justifiable, though, since it was Sonic's first step into 3-D. Even Super Mario 64 had an annoying camera, albeit less so. Sonic Adventure 2's camera was still flawed, but they had at least tried to improve it. Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 were later rereleased for GameCube, and the camera wasn't improved at all, and Heroes featured a camera that was even more annoying. So, Shadow the Hedgehog came out in 2005, after ALL of these games, and it features the worst camera yet. Not only does this mean that Sonic Team couldn't program a competent camera system after developing 3-D Sonic games for six years, but that they only got WORSE at it. Not to mention that in a game where you're going to spend most of your time searching for things, you NEED a camera that's at least somewhat reliable. Even aside from the camera, Shadow's controls are annoyingly slippery, and the vehicles like cars and motorcycles - which are utterly pointless in a game where the main character is supposed to be able to run faster than the speed of sound - tend to control even worse. The auto-aim the guns use is even less reliable, at times being too sensitive and at times not being sensitive enough, and the only thing keeping them from being completely useless is the fact that bullets kill faster than the homing attack. Also, like Sonic Heroes, the game can get kind of glitchy at times. The light dash and homing attack can still backfire just like before, but now some areas won't load completely before you enter them, meaning you can fall into a black void where a solid floor should be and die. An even more frustrating glitch is when enemies - that you often NEED to kill to complete a mission - won't spawn, meaning you'll have to restart the level if you want to complete said mission. I know that at this point I shouldn't expect much from you, but what the heck, Sonic Team?

Finally, the graphics of Shadow the Hedgehog are utter garbage even for its time. Wait, the graphics in Heroes were pretty good, so how could they screw THAT up? Well, part of why Heroes' graphics looked good was because they were bright and colorful, like you would expect from a Sonic game. Shadow is supposed to be DARK AND EDGY, and thus Sonic Team thought the environments should look darker and more subdued. This shouldn't automatically lead to the graphics looking like crap, but apparently Sonic Team thought "darker and more subdued" meant "muddy-looking with blurry textures". Character models don't fare much better; facial animations look like crap and the human characters are blocky. I would expect that from a Dreamcast game released in 1999. I wouldn't expect that from a PS2 game released in 2005. The next problem with the graphics may be exclusive to the PS2 version, but it has the WORST framerate I have ever seen in a video game. There is not a single moment where the game doesn't look slow or choppy, and that is simply unacceptable.

Pretty much the only thing about Shadow I can say legitimately doesn't suck is the music. I absolutely love almost all of the stage BGM's in the game. Shadow also has the distinction of having the most vocal tracks I like out of the entire Sonic series. "I Am (All of Me)", "Almost Dead", and "Waking Up" aren't all that great in my opinion, but I actually really liked "All Hail Shadow", "Never Turn Back" and especially "Chosen One". Sure, it's angstier than anything Linkin Park has ever written (okay, that's probably a HUGE overstatement), but darned if it doesn't sound good.


Shadow the Hedgehog is quite possibly one of the worst games I've ever played. The gameplay sucks, the level design sucks, the graphics are garbage, the story is atrocious, it's rife with technical problems, it tries to cheaply extend its length, and finally, the "dark" tone is incredibly stupid. The only thing saving it from a 1/10 is its soundtrack. What's really sad about the whole thing is that this was a story that just didn't need to be told. We already knew everything we needed to about Shadow; the information that was revealed in this game was not only unnecessary but completely ruined Shadow's back story. I can understand having to resolve loose plot threads from Heroes such as Shadow's amnesia, but did they really need to make an entire game to do that? And did they really need to do it this horribly?

But perhaps the saddest thing about it all is that things only got worse for the Sonic series from here. After Shadow, this happened:

It honestly made me wonder how I've been able to remain a fan for so long. Sonic and the Secret Rings was bad, albeit less so than Shadow and 06, and the same goes for Black Knight. Even Unleashed, though a decent game overall, was a disappointment thanks to the stretchy-armed monstrosity known as the Werehog. Yes, Colors was great and Generations is shaping up to be even better, but how was I able to keep buying the horrible games without losing enthusiasm until Colors happened? The answer is because when Sonic started going downhill, I was young. Young enough to look past the flaws; young enough to squeeze enjoyment out of these awful, awful games. Yes, there was once a time when I enjoyed Shadow the Hedgehog, and I'm darned glad there was. Otherwise, I might not have seen Sonic through until he got good again. I hope many of my fellow fans had a similar experience growing up.

*ahem* Yes, sorry for that little tangent. Anyway, Shadow the Hedgehog is an unholy abomination of a game and an insult to the series that it belongs to. Pick up the OST, but avoid the game itself like the plague. T-Man, out.

Score: 2/10

My Scoring System:

10 - Amazing game. Flaws are minor at best. If you don't own it, you should be ashamed of yourself. (Super Mario Galaxy 2)

9(.5) - Fantastic game. Perhaps a couple of notable annoyances, but still a must-have. (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep)

8(.5) - Very good game. Has a few flaws, but you won't be disappointed with your purchase. (Super Mario Sunshine)

7(.5) - Pretty good game that either has several problems or is just too short for its price. Enjoyable to play, but you may want to wait for the price to drop a bit before picking it up. (Sonic Unleashed)

6(.5) - Passable game. Has its strengths, but unless you're a fan of the series or genre, you're probably better off not bothering. (Mega Man X6)

5(.5) - Mediocre game. Not a bad experience, but it's too flawed to be much fun. A bargain bin purchase at best, and only if you're a fan of the series. (Sonic Heroes)

3 or 4(.5) - Bad game. A mostly negative experience, and whatever it does right fails to save it overall. Even if you're a fan, you're probably better off not playing it. (Sonic and the Secret Rings)

1 or 2(.5) - Utter garbage. An unholy abomination that we should do all in our power to avoid playing. In other words, STAY THE HECK AWAY! (Sonic the Hedgehog 2006)

0 - ...No. Just freaking no. (Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing)

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