Retro Review: Shadow the Hedgehog

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On January 4th 2006, I submitted to Gamefaqs a review for Shadow the Hedgehog , a game which at the time I boldly declared “the worst SEGA game I’ve ever played.” To date, the 2/10 score I gave it is the lowest I’ve scored a game in any context, on any site I’ve reviewed for, and nothing I’ve played either before or since has inspired a similar score. My outlook on SEGA at the time was incredibly bleak; it was a game that really tore down my confidence in the company and where it was headed, and for those reasons I’ve left this review, for the most part, as is, as a piece of history for how I viewed SEGA at the time, and where I feared the company was headed. Though I’ve edited it a little for form and trimmed it down, the message remains intact. Read on for my thoughts on Shadow the Hedgehog, directly from 2006, as I sat down to review what was (and still is) the worst game I had ever played.

Any SEGA fan was hit hard by the death of the Dreamcast. The system had so much potential and so many amazing games that its surprise cancellation was a huge shock to almost everyone. But as hard as it was for us to take, it must have been even worse for SEGA, and this has shown in their games.

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened here.

Although they jumped into 3rd party support eagerly at first with some great releases, lately it’s been nothing but average game after average game from a company that used to be known for its greatness. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened here.

Shadow the Hedgehog is not only the worst SEGA game I have ever played, but one of the worst games I’ve played in my entire life.

Shadow the Hedgehog is not only the worst SEGA game I have ever played, but one of the worst games I’ve played in my entire life. I’m sorry if this review comes off like a rant, but after playing a game like this I don’t feel like I have much of a choice.

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The first big weakness here is the visuals. Bland textures, very boring backgrounds, and weak character design is one thing, but the entire presentation is further hit hard by an overall last-gen look. This is most apparent when Shadow re-visits Final Rush, a level from Sonic Adventure 2. It looks worse than it did in Sonic Adventure 2, which was released in 2001 on the dead Dreamcast. That’s one of many examples of this game’s poor visual quality. It can’t run smoothly to save its life; the framerate drops so frequently that at times I felt like I was watching a slideshow. There’s lots of pop-up, which I thought the Sonic series left behind on the Dreamcast. Simply put, this looks like a mediocre-looking Dreamcast game.

It can’t run smoothly to save its life; the framerate drops so frequently that at times I felt like I was watching a slideshow.

The fact that Sonic Adventure 2 (and even Sonic Adventure 1, in some areas,) looks better than Shadow the Hedgehog is pretty puzzling, and speaks volumes about this game’s quality almost from the start.

Visuals aside, I started this game with an open mind, (or as open a mind as I could have had when popping in a game that has an animated hedgehog holding a gun on the cover) but this didn’t last long at all. You’re immediately hit with the terrible controls. I have no idea what happened here, but Shadow controls like he’s running across a frozen pond. These unbearably slippery controls, some of the worst I’ve ever used in the genre, would already be the kiss of death for any platformer, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg here.

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There’s also the camera. The camera never bothered me in 3-D Sonic games before, but here it just doesn’t work with the game they created. Shadow the Hedgehog keeps you on big platforms and fighting enemies, (rather than quickly moving forward,) and has a major emphasis on jumping from platform to platform. And this requires good camera control, but this camera just sucks. It has to be adjusted constantly, and often won’t listen to you, snapping stubbornly back to its own angle. Combine this with the awful controls, and you have a game that plays like a total nightmare.

And then there’s the level design, which sets a new low for this series. Oftentimes I found myself stopped dead in my tracks, having no idea whatsoever what to do next.

You have a game that plays like a total nightmare.

I’d assume that I should jump to the next platform, but my character can’t reach it, instead falling to his death. At other times I’d be running full speed down a ramp, only to reach the bottom and fly right off into a bottomless pit; these are levels that practically force you to go through them slowly.

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Oh, and there’s more…. there’s the terrible combat engine. Homing attacking on an enemy, (if it doesn’t send your character right off the edge and to his death, as it frequently does in Shadow the Hedgehog) results in a loss of rings 90% of the time. You seem to lose your rings with alarming frequency in this game. Enemies are constantly shooting bullets everywhere, so whenever you arrive at a group of them, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be hit many times. If you try homing attacking them, their sharp armor (or whatever) will almost always cause you to….yup…lose your rings. The only solution to this is picking up and using a weapon, which adds yet another opportunity for this game to royally screw up, an opportunity which it takes full advantage of.

Weapons are frequently lying around, and grabbing one is difficult; trying to pick up a weapon when running full speed is nearly impossible.

The only solution to this is picking up and using a weapon, which adds yet another opportunity for this game to royally screw up, an opportunity which it takes full advantage of.

Then there’s the fact that the weapons have no targeting system at all. During a boss, I picked up a gun and fired all of its bullets at him…they all flew right past him. The only way to successfully use these weapons is to stop in your tracks, try to point yourself at the enemy while it and its friends are shooting at and attacking you, (causing you to ….lose your rings,) and then to try to fire right at the it, hoping beyond hope that it doesn’t move while you’re doing this.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s no sense of speed in this game. Whenever the levels offer you any chance to go fast, such as a loop or a corkscrew, it lacks any thrill, since you have no control over it. This wouldn’t be a problem normally, but it’s a problem here, since these “automated” loops and corkscrews are the only time the game gets anywhere near a sense of speed.

Wait!!! I know it must sound tempting, but don’t all rush out to buy this game at once, there’s more….there’s also the missions you have to do. Like so many other games nowadays, you get to decide if Shadow is good or bad. During levels, either The Alien or some Sonic Characters will advise you on what to do. (“Shadow, destroy all 60 aliens in this level!” “Shadow, destroy all 60 humans in this level!” ) Either way, these missions end up further slowing down the game, since you have to search everywhere for those discs that Charmy the Bee asked you to collect, or for those humans that the Alien asked you to eliminate. You can also choose to avoid either mission and just go through each level to get the chaos emeralds, which will get you to the end of the game in about 2 hours. Whichever mission you choose to do doesn’t seem to make a difference to the enemies in the level.

If you choose to do the “good” mission, it doesn’t matter, both the aliens and the soldiers will still attack you.

If you choose to do the “good” mission, it doesn’t matter, both the aliens and the soldiers will still attack you, and same with if you decide to do an “evil” mission. It means that despite the fact that these soldiers are constantly shooting at you (causing you to …..lose rings, ) you can not attack them, since you are doing the “good” mission. This, again, slows the game down, since when surrounded by tons of enemies, all shooting at you (causing you to lose rings), you can’t just start blasting them. You can’t because there might be some “good” soldiers in there trying to kill you as well, so you have to be careful not to attack them. Or something like that.

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…I’m sure, by now, you realize how stupid this all sounds. But this is really how the game is. It just doesn’t make any sense. There are over 300 possible ways to progress through Shadow the Hedgehog, and 10 or 11 endings. Just blasting through a level and avoiding the missions gets you to the end of the game quickly and you get the “neutral ending.” Doing a mission will send you to another level afterwards, and another plot point, and then to another ending, depending on which other branches you take on the game’s story grid.

All I can say is that if you’re looking for an explanation as to how this guy’s still alive when he was supposedly killed off at the end of Sonic Adventure 2, then you’re playing the wrong game.

What doesn’t make any sense is that you must see every ending to unlock Last Mode and get the game’s real ending. So you see endings where Shadow’s sort of good, sort of evil, where he saves the world, where he kills people, where he teams with Sonic, etc…..then you get the game’s real ending. …which reverses all of these. I wondered, were all of those other endings dreams, or what? Doesn’t make any sense.

All I can say is that if you’re looking for an explanation as to how this guy’s still alive when he was supposedly killed off at the end of Sonic Adventure 2, then you’re playing the wrong game. If you’re interested at all in the answer to this main, central question that all fans of the character want to know, his own game won’t answer it for you.

So, why play this? The levels lack any sense of speed, you’re constantly losing rings or falling off cliffs, working with the camera’s a nightmare, the controls are among the worst ever devised for a 3-D platformer, the plot’s terrible for a game that’s supposedly “story-driven,” the cutscenes and in-game visuals look awful…..

So, why play this?

I was relieved when I decided to put this game down for good, though the relief was eventually replaced by the complete shock that this was from the same team that brought us the great Dreamcast Sonic Adventure games. Those games were fun experiences with cool stories, great level design, and a real sense of speed, nostalgia, and replay value. Shadow the Hedgehog, on the other hand, is completely headache-inducing, stressful, and tedious.

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Words simply cannot describe how bad Shadow the Hedgehog is. I was hoping that this game would bring the series back to glory after Sonic Heroes basically ruined it, but Shadow the Hedgehog further sinks SEGA’s #1 mascot into this same puddle of crap that he’s been swimming in ever since the Dreamcast died. Even the music sucks, something that even the worst entries in this series usually manage to get right.

The idea behind this game was interesting; a Sonic game for an “older audience” with only one playable character. It gets off to an almost “decent” start, enough to give me a split second to appreciate the fact that, had this game been done right, it wouldn’t have been a true Sonic game, not even close, but it would have been a decent platformer in its own right. This illusion is shattered in mere minutes. Hopefully SEGA steps it up next generation, especially Sonic Team. It’s true that they no longer have their own console to support, but that’s no excuse for rushing out games and releasing crap products. If the next generation Sonic game is not an improvement on this, (and this time I’m confident that it can’t possibly get any worse) then the Sonic franchise will be completely dead, and SEGA will be soon to follow.

Positive:

  • New voice actors sound slightly more professional

Negative:

  • Awful visuals
  • Broken controls
  • Poorly written and presented story
  • Terrible level design, ineptly executed
F“A major negative mark on SEGA’s record and one of several Sonic experiments of that era to go horribly wrong”

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15 responses to “Retro Review: Shadow the Hedgehog

  1. Kolma says:

    Which version of Shadow the Hedgehog was this?
    Does one version suffer from framerate issues less than another?

  2. radrappy says:

    today is an auspicious day for the F score card has finally gotten to strut its stuff. I can’t think of a game that deserves it more. Well, there is one. . .

    Great review. I rented this on a whim back in 2005 and was horrified beyond belief.

  3. RegalSin says:

    I am sorry Ben hurt, but you review hurts so hard. It is easy to bash every other Sonic game in 3d including Sonic 3d blast to even Sonic Boom.

    Shadow the hedgehog was probably the greatest Sonic game on this planet right now. It is more about the original Sonic fans, and the position they are in after 2001. After 2001, and your around 17 years old, your faith would be college, war, or homeless. Then your faith would be. Death, Pregnant, or Carrer.

    Everybody is against you, because they are not sure what side you are on. The good guys wants Shadow to help them, like an ignorant kid who undermines their elders, Robotnik is it for himself. The G-army, are also selfishly does not like Shadow. The Devil army are only attacking Shadow because he is undercover. Speaking of an ignorant child, that exactly what the player is, they are not listening to anybodies orders and their is a bunch of a calamity going on around them as we speak. Shadow is obviously on his own Side, and nobody is listening. Their is no authority. Shadow is only being suggested to help one side more then the other.

    About the stage design, I don’t really think that is the most problematic at all. The most problematic error, is the lack of Robotnik creations, and the lame Alien beings. Sega pretty much makes these beautiful bosses, every once in awhile, but only give us only one really good final boss to deal with. I think this is the biggest problem, with Sonic games, since the original SA.

    About Shadow. Shadow is the original Sonic, and Gerald is the original Robotnik. Seperating Robotnik and Eggman into two characters was the biggest flaw of the sonic series. Then their is Maria, who or what is Maria?? In Shadow story, Maria is his only friend, she is the “Princess Sally”, the “Fake Princess from 2006”, and “What Amy Rose was never” SHE IS MODDANA SONIC, so forth. Original Sonic was dead and gone, and Robotnik in his old age, decided to clone the “Ultimate Lifeform” by which is the original Sonic.

    I am not going to complain about being shot at from all angles, you need to play “Armed and Dangerous” shoot out mode, to really apreciate how little your being shot at in this game. Also the weapons are optional, but some enemies are stronger and weaker various types.

    That is the only way to make any sense of things.

    Personally yes, SA2 was a terrible game, that made no sense at all, whatsoever. It had many good ideas, but it was just another Zelda game, and they decided to dump all the leftovers, from the first game. That is why Shadow was a bad game, because people can never really get over all the gimmicks used in SA2. From the inclusion of Green Hill Zone ( which can only be unlocked, I mean if they could do that, they could have brought back more places ), to all the extra gear and equipment you hold in the game. I mean poor Knuckles, he has so much swag, it gets so silly.

  4. sonic3Dblast says:

    I actually love “Shadow The Hedgehog”. I’ve never beat it yet (no spoilers please), but from what zones I’ve played, it’s a fun game. You don’t need to use the weapons as stated in this review, they’re just an optional game play component. The music what fantastic, the “what ifs” scenarios are fun to watch throw down as well. I love “Sonic Heroes” as well I’ve never seen why people hate it.

    The team mechanic was great as it lets you change characters on the fly and the music and zone tropes are very well created. But all this is, of course, my own personal opinion so take what you will from it.

    • nuckles87 says:

      He didn’t say you HAD to use the weapons. He said the homing attacks was uselessly so you needed to if you wanted to beat the enemies with any amount of ease. I can personally attest to that myself, as someone who beat the game.

  5. InTheSky says:

    I can deal with repetition, as someone who has played Mega Man games repeatedly and doesn’t mind grinding in RPG’s. I could not manage ten playthroughs of Shadow the Hedgehog. Some novel ideas, but it controls awkwardly and the music is surprisingly underwhelming.

  6. Ben says:

    haha I never thought I’d seee Shadow the Hedgehog defenders, but hey, they were interesting reads.

    Like Nuckles said, I never said that you had to use weapons, but the game (and its enemies) were designed for the weapons to be used, so not using them puts you at a significant disadvantage.

    RegalSin, I’m honestly not sure if your post is being sarcastic or not, lol. But my reply to it either way is that, had the game been done well, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. I wouldn’t have minded the shooting if the shooting system was actually fun and worked well. I wouldn’t have minded the slower pace if the gameplay was compelling.

    Hell, honestly, to me the Shadow levels in Sonic ’06 were more fun than this game.

  7. jmaison says:

    okay shadow was a great game sure thier were a few bugs in it. it was an amazing game a compltley thing from sonic sega did that becuas they were tierd of rainbows and sunshine they wanted somthing a lil more dark and a lil more mystery and y not shadow the game had a amzing story amazing music okay many stories to chose from many deffernt ways to win i think this game gets a 8/10 basically becuas of the bugs but it was an old ps2, xbox, and gamecube game the story was very touching the last story the true story was very beutaful okay shadow the hedgehog should deserve another chance in xbox or ps becuas many many sonic fans saw the beutie and hard work they out into it sure it made of had a lot more vilonce then the regular sonic games but THATS HIS CHARICTER he is supposted to be like that i love this game and hope for it to be remade

  8. cube_b3 says:

    Unbelievable off all the things that could have been a positive in the game you took the worst thing about it and made it into a positive.

    The voice acting, seriously?

    I won’t criticize Jason Griffith but the supporting cast was atrocious. While Griffith sounds like Sonic should, he doesn’t sound anything like Shadow.

    • Ben says:

      That’s what I thought at the time.

      I totally disagree with it now, but at the time I thought the new voice actors were “more professional.” I don’t think I praised them, but I said they sounded less amateur.

    • cube_b3 says:

      In all honesty I just looked at the pros and cons. Did not read the entire review after I realized you are just hating on it.

      On topic, I loved the voices (not acting) from the cast in Sonic Adventure 2. I remember the most off setting thing for me in Sonic Heroes was that Tails had a very awkward voice.

      I believe in Sonic Adventure 2 it was Scott Drier whose acting was the worst but his black voice embodied Knuckles.

      I am afraid this post is a tangent. On topic again, my first exposure to the new voice cast was with Sonic Riders and with the exception of Griffith I –hated — everyone especially Mike Pollock, he was terrible in that game. He was magically accepted by the community just because Deem Bristow had passed away. I honestly am not much a fan of RCS, I still think Drummond embodies Sonic better than any other actor and he is profession look at his resume.

    • You didn’t read the review? What’s your deal dude. Read the damn thing before disagreeing with Ben.

    • cube_b3 says:

      I was merely discussing his stance on the voice acting, I had read enough to comment on that.

      At your insistence I have gone ahead and read it, Ben’s review does discuss the flaws in the game, however he also states the game never explained the back story which for better or worse was clearly explained.

      I could criticize the review further but that is not something I was doing. I was just commenting on his opinion of the voice acting.

  9. Ben says:

    “In all honesty I just looked at the pros and cons. Did not read the entire review after I realized you are just hating on it.”

    I didn’t even discuss the voice acting in the review, I edited that paragraph out of this SEGAbits posting of the review because it would have made it too long. I said the 4 Kids voice actors sounded more professional.

    I personally prefer the cast of the Sonic Adventure games as well. They couldn’t act particularly well, but I thought their voices fit the characters better. Acting-wise, though, the 4 Kids Entertainment voice actors were actually professional career voice actors. So they sounded slightly more professional. I didn’t say better.

  10. ScruffyMcBoogerBalls says:

    A miss guided concept to which the risk did not pay off. I however still enjoyed it despite these issues.

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