Sonic Heroes


Following the Dreamcast’s discontinuation in 2001, Sega’s future seemed uncertain. Fans were particularly concerned over the fate of their expansive Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Their fears were ultimately assuaged when a port for the latest game, Sonic Adventure 2, was announced for the Nintendo GameCube. It is nearly impossible to overstate how many shockwaves this development sent through the gaming sphere. An entire generation of enthusiasts had grown up knowing of the fierce rivalry between Nintendo and Sega. By the end of the year Sega pulled out of the console race, Sonic Team found themselves porting their latest work to their former rival’s console.

Because of this, for enthusiasts who had grown up with Nintendo consoles, Sonic Adventure 2 wound up being their gateway entry. As if to prove this wasn’t an elaborate joke, an original 2D platforming game by the name of Sonic Advance emerged for Nintendo’s newest Game Boy model. Both games were well received by these new fans. Over the next few years, this was followed up by a GameCube port of the original Sonic Adventure dubbed Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut, a sequel to Sonic Advance, and Sonic Mega Collection – the last of which being a compilation new fans could use to play the series’ generation-defining Genesis installments. Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog then breathed a sigh of relief as the future of the franchise seemed secure.

During all of this, they began to speculate on what the next Sonic console installment would look like. Their answer came in the form of a project dubbed Sonic Heroes. It was being developed by the San Francisco-based Sonic Team USA – a crew consisting of nineteen members – to commemorate the series’ twelfth anniversary. The first few screenshots showed several returning characters from the Sonic franchise – including some such as Big the Cat, who had only appeared in one installment by that point. The project was led by mainstay producer Yuji Naka and director Takashi Iizuka. Mr. Iizuka stated in interviews that he didn’t want Sonic Heroes to be a sequel to Sonic Adventure 2. He was worried only fans of the series would buy the game and he wanted it to draw in a new audience. To this end, he desired to return to a gameplay style similar to that of the Genesis installments.

Furthermore, to reach as many people as possible, Sonic Heroes was to be the series’ first cross-platform installment, slated to see a release on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. In order for this to be possible, Sonic Team opted against using tools built by Sega, instead partnering with Criterion Software. The RenderWare engine would allow the game to be programmed and ported to each platform with ease. They were able to use some textures and models from the two Sonic Adventure installments, but most of the game ended up being built from scratch. The biggest problem that plagued development stemmed from having to work with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, consoles with which they had little experience. Mr. Iizuka and Mr. Naka briefly considered including content exclusive to certain versions, but ultimately decided it would be for the best for everyone to have the same experience.

Twenty months after they started, the game was released domestically in December of 2003 before emerging in North America in January of 2004 and PAL regions the following February. Though fans by and large enjoyed the Sonic Adventure installments, the reception to Sonic Heroes was decidedly mixed. Particularly unimpressed were those who purchased the PlayStation 2 version, as technical difficulties forced Sonic Team to make the game run at thirty frames per second. By contrast, it ran at sixty frames per second in the other two versions. Discounting this particular issue, critics felt that the game, while lacking the issues of the Sonic Adventure titles, were still well below the quality of the universally beloved Genesis installments. However, criticism toward Sonic Heroes lessened over the years, and it is now considered a decent effort. Being the first Sonic the Hedgehog console game to be conceived by Sega as a third-party developer, exactly how well has it held up? Did they manage to put their best foot forward after a tumultuous period?

Continue reading

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass


Though not as acclaimed as The Wind Waker or The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures amassed a following of its own when it was released in 2004. It successfully expanded on Four Swords, allowing the multiplayer gameplay to stand on its own. Satisfied with their work, the team that worked on Four Swords Adventures reassembled for a new project in May of 2004. During this time, much speculation surrounded the release of Nintendo’s newest handheld console: the DS. In stark contrast to the Game Boy product line, this console was to feature two screens. While the top screen boasted a standard design, the bottom one was a touch screen. One month before the DS’s North American launch, Shigeru Miyamoto expressed interest in bringing Four Swords to the new console.

In an interview at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2005, Eiji Aonuma, who had directed the series’ 3D installments, confirmed that a new entry in their The Legend of Zelda franchise was indeed being produced. However, though the team had discovered the potential of cel-shaded graphics on the DS, they opted to create a single-player experience instead. When asked about this shift, Mr. Aonuma remarked that the idea never reached the development phase. Any further speculation was put to rest at the Game Developers Conference of 2006 wherein this project had a name: The Legend of Zelda: Hourglass of Fantasies – or Phantom Hourglass as it was to be called internationally.

Though the comparatively disappointing sales of The Wind Waker affected Mr. Aonuma on a personal level, he wished to continue the game’s style in another form. During the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2007, he claimed that the gameplay of Phantom Hourglass would be exactly what the aging Zelda formula needed to stay relevant in a new generation. It didn’t take long for enthusiasts to learn what he was talking about. Phantom Hourglass was to forego a traditional control scheme in favor of having the players exclusively use the touch screen to control Link. It was around the time of the release of Twilight Princess in 2006 that The Wind Waker received a reevaluation of sorts. Suddenly, the game fans dismissed was being hailed as one of the GameCube’s finest offerings. Having the same art style as The Wind Waker along with boasting a novel control scheme made Phantom Hourglass the new handheld console’s most anticipated game.

Due to Mr. Miyamoto dedicating a lot of his time to developing Twilight Princess, he had not been able to get involved with Phantom Hourglass at all. Twilight Princess was delayed numerous times due to Eiji Aonuma wishing to implement an entirely new control scheme for the game’s Wii version. By the time they released Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass was in a nearly complete beta form. Such was the extent of his enthusiasm that he begged Satoru Iwata to delay the game so he could get involved with the creative process. Mr. Miyamoto apologized to fans, but promised the title would be “much better”.

Phantom Hourglass was released domestically in June of 2007 before debuting internationally the following October. The praise for this game was nearly unanimous with several websites naming it the greatest DS game of 2007. By March of 2008, four million copies had been sold worldwide. Nonetheless, even in the face of its positive reception, certain publications were a bit skeptical, believing Nintendo had been attempting to draw in only causal enthusiasts, offering nothing to longtime players. Was Nintendo’s return to the Zelda franchise’s handheld scene able to stand in the face of its three predecessors?

Continue reading

A Question for the Readers #8: A True Journey of Discovery

Consuming media should be a simple process, right? You hear about the video game/film/music album/television show/ what have you, do what you can to experience it and that’s the end of that. However, things aren’t always that straightforward. Maybe the video game is on a dead platform. Perhaps the film isn’t readily available through legal channels. It could be that the lauded album fell into obscurity and is now out of print. There’s even the possibility that the distribution company never bothered selling box sets of that show you want to watch. Even without considering those factors, sometimes the method of discovering the existence of these works in the first place can get downright bizarre when you begin summing it up on paper. It goes to show how seemingly unrelated actions taken by random people influence other people in ways they couldn’t possibly know.

Continue reading

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies


With its new protagonist, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney proved to be another success for Capcom’s franchise about fierce courtroom battles. Shortly after its release, a planned sequel was announced in May 2007. However, over the next few years, other members of Capcom wound up taking the series in a new direction. Specifically, thanks to the efforts of producer Motohide Eshiro and director Takeshi Yamazaki, two games that cast the fan-favorite Miles Edgeworth in the lead role were produced. Though the localization efforts for both games were drastically limited, they managed to find an audience. Because Capcom’s focus shifted elsewhere, there was no word of a follow-up to Apollo Justice for five years.

This continued silence finally ended in September of 2012 when Capcom revealed a logo for a hypothetical new installment for the Ace Attorney franchise. As if to dash the ambiguity from the beginning, the logo clearly read “Turnabout Trial 5”. In truth, development had begun in 2011. The team responsible for Prosecutor’s Path had disbanded shortly after its release and the members were subsequently reassigned to different projects. As such, Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki found themselves in charge of a skeleton team.

The series historically enjoyed success on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The original trilogy debuted on the Game Boy Advance while Apollo Justice and the two Ace Attorney Investigations installments saw the light of day on the Nintendo DS. By the time this project started, Nintendo had launched their latest handheld model, the 3DS, in 2011. The development team was initially unsure whether to retain the series’ traditional 2D sprite-based graphics or utilize 3D character models. Ultimately, they realized that because this new entry was being developed long after the release of Apollo Justice, they needed to make a big impact. The new hardware presented the perfect opportunity for them to usher in a new era for the series.

Naturally, one of the greatest difficulties the team had to overcome was preserving the look and feel of the 2D sprites employed by the preceding installments. Takuro Fuse found himself serving as the game’s art director, replacing mainstay Tatsuro Iwamoto. Having to utilize the 3DS’s stereoscopic effects, Mr. Fuse understandably had problems getting character designs to fit the series’ distinctive style. This required him to get a lot of feedback from Mr. Eshiro. According to Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki, their goal was so that their product’s graphics were superior to those of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – a spinoff game being developed around the same time by series Shu Takumi himself.

One of Mr. Fuse’s first tasks was to render a 3D model of the series’ former protagonist, Phoenix Wright. He would later call his first attempts “cringe-worthy”, but they were able to use it as a base. From there, other members of the team gave him their feedback, and they collectively refined it until they were satisfied. This process by itself took six months. Their next goal was to translate the series’ trademark lively animation style for this new engine. To this end, they employed various tricks, including using new character models for different angles. They also used the 3DS’s hardware to add dynamic camera movements and fluid character animations.

There was a shared feeling of dread among Western fans after Capcom made this game’s development known. After all, if Prosecutor’s Path never left Japan, this fifth Ace Attorney installment could very well meet the same fate. That Capcom announced the game was to be localized proved to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, Western fans would get to experience more of the series. The downside is that it came at the cost of localizing Prosecutor’s Path, for Capcom decided to skip it in favor of the newer game. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long after its localization was greenlit for it to be given a Western name: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies.

Capcom USA’s senior vice president, Christian Svensson, had previously suggested to make Prosecutor’s Path a downloadable title when the company predicted its sales wouldn’t cover the localization costs. Because the executives still believed this to be the case, the decision to greenlight the game came with the condition that it would be made available in the West in a digital format only. Because all 3DS games would be sold in both a digital and physical format from the beginning, this was deemed by most to be a reasonable compromise. Under the name Turnabout Trial 5, this game was released domestically in July of 2013. Its international debut came to pass in October of 2013. In both regions, the game enjoyed a fairly positive reception. Though Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki had experience with the Ace Attorney franchise in the past, this would be their first attempt at creating an installment in the core series. Did their efforts pay off? Were the students able to surpass the master?

Continue reading