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?

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Sonic R

Sonic R

The year 1991 saw the debut of what would become Sega’s mascot: Sonic the Hedgehog. With his cool, edgy attitude, his series resonated with the zeitgeist of the era and was almost single-handedly responsible for the sale of millions of Genesis/Mega Drive units as well as spawning a fierce rivalry with Nintendo, the other giant in the home console market. Nearing the end of the console’s lifespan, Sega collaborated with an up-and-coming British development team known as Traveller’s Tales to create Sonic 3D Blast in 1996. Although the quality of this game has been heavily debated, it pushed the dying console to its limits with its isometric presentation and pre-rendered graphics, easily becoming a hit just like its 2D, side-scrolling predecessors when it sold over 700,000 copies.

After several failed attempts to squeeze more life out of their dying console, culminating in the ill-fated 32X add-on, Sega had released the Saturn in 1994. Similar to the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, the Sega Saturn was one of the first standalone consoles to make use of optic discs, significantly increasing the amount of storage space developers had to work with. In terms of sales, the Saturn did not reach the same level of popularity as the Genesis/Mega Drive, which is largely attributed to, among other factors, a subpar marketing campaign. Those who did purchase the console doubtlessly wondered why Sonic had such little presence on this new console. Once Sonic 3D Blast was completed, Sega approached Traveller’s Tales about working on a new project. Having coincidentally been working a 3D engine at the time, they accepted the proposal. Their collaboration with Sonic Team resulted in Sonic R, and was released in 1997 for the Sega Saturn, making its way onto PCs a year later.

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