It's a bad game.
Sonic Heroes features a handful of enjoyable pop punk tracks from stalwart Sega house band Crush 40, generally good use of color palettes, and provides (on paper) a range of de facto difficulty options and styles of play that could make it a viable game for people of different ages and levels of experience.
So ends anything positive that may be said of Sonic Heroes.
Here's a handy rule of thumb: if the crux of a game is navigating through spaces in real time (as opposed to menu-driven design) it should therefore be design goal number one to make movement feel good to the player. As you would spend the bulk of your time moving your character in a game about exploring levels, everything depends on that movement. Sonic Heroes fails in this regard for a variety of reasons.
- Having three characters with unique abilities is an interesting idea, but in practice you spend too much time just determining which character will become active when you press one of the swap buttons. Rather than have them be deterministic (i.e. I press Y to be Tails), the characters rotate across buttons (i.e. press Y to be the character who is left of your active character on a wheel). Thus, you are forced to mind part of the HUD to do basic tasks.
- Each character feels poorly suited to their role in some way. The "Speed" characters are very slippery and accelerate at an ungodly rate, the "Flying" characters fly slow as molasses and feel like shit on the ground, and the "Fighting" characters suffer the most from minute changes in controls. Speaking of...
- Each character has context-sensitive controls. Pressing A while on the ground causes a different action than pressing A in the air, or double tapping A. Same with pressing B. Add to this that there are three power levels for each character (obtained by in-level drops that are sort of terrible to pick up) and those actions have even more permutations. Add to that problem, that some of the actions are slightly different across teams of characters; I swear to god, each of the "Fighter" characters had a slightly different attack pattern depending on position and power level.
- To really drill down into the shit, "Fighter" each have an attack that uses the other characters as projectiles. To use this, they must first hoover up both of them onto their person. Doing this causes each of the Fighters to lunge forward about a meter, and this will cause about 30% of your deaths. It is THE WORST.
So, movement sucks in a platformer that you are at least theoretically going to play four times. Why four times? Well, there's four campaign things:
- Team Sonic, which is the default difficulty experience for the game (and one which I was only able to play in the last few hours I had with the game).
- Team Shadow, which is a hard mode that adds extra awful bullshit to the levels and increases the amount of damage enemies can take.
- Team Amy, which shortens levels and would be a bit too easy if it weren't for the fundamentally broken controls.
- Team Chaotix, which basically takes the Team Shadow versions of levels and turns them into horrible, HORRIBLE hidden object hunts.
Each one of these is bad, but Chaotix has to take the cake for turning already crappy gameplay into a slog. The worst level in the game, one built around endless uneventful (and slooooooooow) rail grinding, is made infinitely worse in this iteration by adding some precision platforming to throw some switches to make the level let you beat it. Problem is, jumping between rails is not reliable and the switches in question are about nine agonizing minutes into the level. I lost hours trying to hit two buttons in this level.
Add to this boss fights that vary from enemy arena rushes, to Eggman battles (that are among the better parts of the game, to be fair) to the bottom of the barrel: fights against other teams. These devolve into arena battles where it is impossible to track yourself or the opposing team, where your actions seem to have little or no impact, and where death feels like the result of a dice roll. These fights either last 20 seconds with you spamming buttons and hoping for the best, or take several minutes while you watch your team plunge off the side of the arena one by one for no discernible reason, and all the while Sonic characters yell catch phrases and grunts in your direction.
I could go on: bafflingly bad pinball sections, numerous instances of clipping through level geometry for no reason, levels that stretch three or four times longer than necessary, a completely undescriptive internal rewards system that unlocks multiplayer features, the PS2 version running at half the frame rate of the Xbox and GameCube ports and still chugging like butt. But by now I'm hoping you catch my drift. I played nearly 20 hours of Sonic Heroes over a weekend for Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run VIII, and honestly the only reason you should consider playing Sonic Heroes is if money is on the line. There are worse games, but not many.