Published on January 6th, 2014 | by Duke0912
Retro Review: Shadow the Hedgehog
Developer: Sega Studio USA
Platform(s): GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2
Release Date(s): November 15, 2005 (North America), November 18, 2005 (PAL Regions), December 15, 2005 (Japan)
I won’t sugar-coat this, Shadow the Hedgehog is one of the most popular characters in video game history, and only second in the Sonic franchise behind the blue hedgehog himself. His popularity started with Sonic Adventure 2, the game where he was introduced as the ultimate life form bent on getting revenge against humans for disturbing his past. He was originally meant to be killed off at the end, but fans weren’t going to settle with that. In response, Sega brought the hedgehog back in Sonic Heroes, this time though, Shadow suffers from amnesia and doesn’t do much for the game as a whole; nothing really happens with him aside from a cutscence or two.
A year later, Sega released Shadow the Hedgehog, a self titled game created to explain his backstory, as well as conclude the continuing story arc that began in Sonic Adventure 2. The story begins with Shadow pondering about his name (seriously), and the small fragments of memory he has about his past. Suddenly, the sky is filled with crimson clouds and aliens descend from the sky. The Black Arms, the name of these aliens, start causing destruction in a nearby city while their leader, Black Doom, appears before Shadow and hints at knowing something about the hedgehog (stay with me now). Desperate about wanting to remember anything about himself, he “believes” Black Doom’s words and heads into the city…yeah. Lazy, left-field, confusing; just a few words that describe not only the opening, but the story for Shadow the Hedgehog as a whole. There’s literally no build up to the alien invasion, it comes out of nowhere, and it’s just a small sample of what to expect.
Progressing through Shadow the Hedgehog is, admittedly, a neat concept that you won’t find in too many games of its kind. Each level has two or three missions, and depending on what mission you complete, determines the next level you go to. In most cases you have the option to work with either a hero or dark character, or reach the goal ring as Shadow alone to work on his own agenda. Given how many level combinations you can create, there is a surprisingly large amount of replay value with this title. At the same time however, the story can be an absolute mess.
Because there are multiple level paths for you to take, there are many scenarios that make no sense at all. In one instance you can be fighting alongside the Black Arms in order to get vengeance against the Earth’s military forces. All of a sudden, Shadow will suddenly want to chase after Dr. Eggman for no real reason. This has to do with the fact that certain cutscenes play alongside certain levels, regardless of the actions you take to reach your destination. It not only creates haphazard storytelling, but also a disconnect with players. The game was designed with the intent of giving players complete control over Shadow’s alignment, but at the end of the day, it’s only what Shadow wants instead of the players. Wanted Shadow to help Eggman in order to protect the scientist? Well there’s a good chance that Shadow will turn around and try to kill him. It’s almost as if the choices I make never matter when playing the game, and it just feels like a complete waste of time when it’s all said and done.
Shadow the Hedgehog is also the first game to feature the full 4Kids voice cast from the cartoon show, Sonic X. The voice direction feels lifeless, with everyone being monotone with anything they say, and the writing doesn’t help at all. Even when they try to convey emotion it’s way too over the top, and comes off as laughably mediocre, to the point where a lot of dialogue in Shadow the Hedgehog have become infamous memes.
The mechanics are built off of what was used in Sonic Heroes; Shadow can move at high speeds, but controlling him can be a bit of a challenge. Imagine a tank on ice, and you pretty much got the general idea of how he handles. Shadow can move extremely fast, but even after you let go of the analog stick, Shadow still moves forward a couple of feet. Whether or not it was to put emphasis on the fact that Shadow skates everywhere is not known, but it’s a problem when the movement can lead to Shadow careening off the edge of a stage, or straight into an enemy.
Enemies in this game vary in sizes and abilities, but most, if not all of them, can be taken down with a series homing attacks. Defeating an enemy adds energy to either your Hero Gauge or Dark Gauge, and gives you a temporary power. Chaos Control allows you to fly through the stage, but that also means you can easily miss out on key objectives needed to complete your mission. Chaos Blast is given to players once your Dark Gauge is filled, and annihilates everything in range of the attack. This attack however can’t differentiate which mission you’re currently on, so you’ll end up destroying “allies” that you’re trying to help. The only times either of these abilities are ever useful is during a neutral mission, but even then you probably won’t go after enemies since time is a big factor for your ranks. However, the enemies will come after you even when aligned with them…yeah. Imagine teaming up with Sonic in one level, with the GUN soldiers representing the hero side. Even when Sonic is clearly standing next to you, and you’ve done nothing but help the soldiers, they will still attack you for no good reason. You’d think that they would help you instead of try to kill you, but no, they become inconvenient in most cases when trying to make your way through the game, and can lead to some awkward situations.
Another sore thumb with Shadow the Hedgehog are the guns; yes, Shadow can use guns in this game for some odd reason. You can acquire a weapon by breaking open marked crates, defeating an enemy holding a weapon, or even breaking something such as a stop sign and swinging it around wildly. Commandeering vehicles is also possible, but there’s really no point since you can move quicker on foot. Admittedly though, the different weapons you can acquire is the most solid part of the game. There are different categories of guns and melee weapons for you to experiment with, and they make quick work of the enemies and their annoying health bars. Weapon and vehicles is somewhat interesting to me, but if they never brought either of them back I couldn’t care less.
The stage design for Shadow the Hedgehog is designed around the mission structure of the game, and while it’s good that was taken into account, the design itself is blocky. There are a few loops here, some platforms there, and a lot of enemies and crates in between. Also, because the game is going for a darker tone, a lot of levels blend in and just aren’t interesting to look at. Some of the music helps with a catchy tune every now and then, but the overall low quality of the soundtrack won’t keep your attention for long.
One of my biggest issues with the game are the missions themselves. Quite a few of them involve you killing a certain number of enemies, and in most cases there’s only just enough to complete the mission. If you need to kill 50 Black Arms soldiers and only have 49 killed, too bad. You’ll have to backtrack through the level to find him, and since there’s no type of map for you to look at, it can take so much time and is just a chore to complete. Other missions revolve around activating switches, taking down an enemy aircraft, etc. The pacing is all over the place due to how many different mission types to go through, and the reward you get for beating all ten endings is not worth it.
In order to see everything this game has to offer, you’re required to beat the game on ten separate occasions. This goes back to my complaint that none of the choices that a player makes actually matter, because *SPOILER WARNING,* there’s a final story that negates any and all choices you made up to that point. What makes it worse is, for me anyway, the game is just flat out dull to play. More often than not I found myself dozing off while playing the game, and even falling asleep with the controller in my hand. This is no exaggeration; I will sleep for as long as fifteen minutes from playing the game, but because of the uninteresting story and lifeless levels, playing Shadow the Hedgehog just isn’t worth it. At the end of the day a video game is suppose to be entertaining for the player; something enjoyable that allows you to not worry about anything else while you just relax and have fun with it. This game is just the complete opposite, and something I always try to avoid touching.
Shadow the Hedgehog is just a disappointment to play. It was an opportunity to give more development for a character who’s popularity blew up from his introduction, but the story we’re presented with is an absolute mess with it’s sloppy writing and overlooked plot points. In fact, Sega themselves hardly ever reference this game, and for good reason. Combine that with visually dull environments and lackluster gameplay, and you have yourself one of the most underwhelming gaming experiences. Even for curiosity’s sake, I can’t recommend this game to anyone out there. The franchise has gotten better since this time period, but it’s hard to forget something that’s nothing more than a waste of time.
+ Some music tracks are okay
– Visually unappealing
– Bland level design
– Tends to drag with repeated runs
– Story trips over itself
– Sloppy Controls
– Ultimately negates all paths taken
Final score: 1 out of 5