Thursday, March 21, 2013

Top 10 Most Shocking Games in a Series - #4: Shadow the Hedgehog

Back during the console wars of the early 90s, both Nintendo and SEGA duked it out. While Nintendo had series such as Super Mario Bros, the Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, SEGA had its Sonic the Hedgehog series. Over time a rivalry formed between the blue hedgehog Sonic, and the Italian plumber Mario, and fans began to take sides. Although this rivalry is pretty much behind us all now, the legacy both Sonic and Mario left behind still stands today, and both games are still quite well known! Even so, over the years both game series have evolved, but Sonic seems to be the one that has changed the most.

In 1991 the original Sonic the Hedgehog hit the SEGA Genesis, and fans were hooked. The game was about a blue hedgehog who was "the fastest thing alive." The game was about Sonic speeding through levels, going through loops, running up walls, and fighting the evil scientist Dr. Robotnik (Dr. Eggman in the Japanese version, which is also what he is known as today) to free his animal friends before they are turned into robots. By collecting power rings to protect himself, hitting springs to fly through the air, and picking up other power ups to help him on his way, Sonic not only found himself speeding towards the end of the levels, but he also found himself diving head first into a long running series of sequels.

It wasn't long before Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3 came out, and each one brought something new to the series. While Sonic the Hedgehog 2 brought in Sonic's best friend Tails (who is a fix with two tails that allows him to fly), Sonic the Hedgehog 3 brought in Knuckles the Echidna (who can glide and climb up walls), as well as a series of new power ups such as the flame shield. Each one of these Sonic games built upon the original Sonic the Hedgehog, players saw more of Sonic's story develop in front of their eyes, and it wasn't before long that even Sonic spin offs began to appear. On top of games like Sonic Spinball (a pinball based Sonic game), the series also got its own TV shows, and comics as well. Before fans knew it, Sonic had became a major game series, and in 1998 (1999 for the US) Sonic had finally made his first TRUE step into 3D. Now sure, there was Sonic 3D Blast which was a top view isometric styled game, and there was also the spin off racing game Sonic R, but it wasn't until Sonic Adventure that Sonic made his first full step into the 3D world.

Unlike past games in the Sonic series, Sonic Adventure was a fully 3D game, it had open areas and field maps to explore, it had an actual story (with cutscenes, character development, etc), and it also had a wide verity of characters to play as; all with their own unique play styles. While Sonic's levels were what you would expect from a Sonic game, Tails' raced through his, Knuckles hunted for pieces of the Master Emerald in a hide and go seek like fashion, Amy slowly made her way through platform based levels, Big the Cat went fishing, and Eggman's robot Gamma shot his way through his stages. All of these different play styles helped change up the game, but it also turned many fans off as well.

Over the next few years 3D Sonic games would experiment with different features, and all of them would have their own styles of play. While games like Sonic Adventure 2 introduced the new rail grind system, as well as two new characters named Shadow and Rogue, Sonic Heroes focused on teamwork where you played as three characters at once, and switched between them as needed. Really because of all of these different styles of play the Sonic fan base became split, and many fans found themselves being turned away by the games they once loved. Even so, despite all of these changes, NO one ever saw what would be coming next.

In the early 2000s SEGA held a series of events (which I personally took part in) on their official forums, where they asked fans to vote on what game they would like to see next. In the survey SEGA asked a series of questions revolving around the Sonic series, and its different characters. It asked about who you would like to see as a main character in the next game, it asked what you think the game's title should be, it asked what age group you thought the game should be aimed at, and it even asked what kind of features you wanted to see in the game. Well, what won was in fact what fans wanted, but at the same time I'm sure no one expected it to turn out the way that it did. The options that won in the poll were as followed. The character the game should follow was Shadow the Hedgehog (from Sonic Adventure 2), it should be called "Shadow the Hedgehog," and the age group the game should be aimed at was teens. After the results were in, SEGA began taking fan feed back, and before we knew it the first piece of gameplay was leaked. Although no one wanted to believe it was real at first, we all soon found ourselves facing reality. The game featured guns, blood, and aliens.

After a long wait, Shadow the Hedgehog was finally released in the year 2005, and it soon came under fire by both fans and critics alike. While the game was still a 3D "Sonic" game, it featured a LARGE amount of core gameplay changes, and in a way it felt like a completely different game. Levels were no longer based on speed, each level had three possible ways to complete them (by either reaching the "goal ring" at the end, doing the mission objective for the hero side of things, or doing the mission objective for the evil side of things), aliens and humans filled the levels as they engaged in all out war, and Shadow himself had a wide verity of weapons to use.

Just about everything in the game could be used as a weapon, and that right there is also what made up the game's core gameplay. Most of the game is spent slowing down, picking up guns, shooting the heck out of everything around you, picking up street signs to bash alien's and human's heads in, and listening to your "partner" character as he comments on your actions. Although these partner characters do follow you through the stage, and could be controlled with a second controller, they could only use their basic jump attacks, and overall were not very useful.

Unlike in other games, Shadow is also able to get into vehicles (which allows him to run people over), use Chaos Control to warp through the area, or use "Chaos Blast" to kill/destroy everything around him. These special moves and vehicles helped change up the gameplay even more, and they also really felt out of place for a Sonic game. Even so, the final shock is what put the icing on the cake.

Shadow the Hedgehog was the first game to be rated E10 by the ESRB, but it originally was going to be rated T. Minus the fact that there's guns and blood, the game also features an extremely dark story, it had many different endings for you to see based off of your actions (in one Shadow actually kills Eggman), and Shadow is willing to say or do just about ANYTHING. What, he can't find that Chaos Emerald? He lets you know it with his (now famous) phrase "WHERE'S THAT DAMN FOURTH CHAOS EMERALD!?" Although Sonic has cursed in the Japanese releases, this was completely unheard of in the west, and it shocked fans everywhere.

Even if Shadow the Hedgehog wasn't a well received game, there is still one simple fact that remains. It was a dark, "mature," game, and it shocked Sonic fans across the world. Heck the English version even had to be censored due to some of its content! Although the cursing and in game violence might be okay for the west to see, apparently the GUN soldiers shooting Maria dead in the intro isn't. That alone was quite shocking.... ~ NettoSaito

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