I like Sonic. I like Sonic a lot.

Sonic on the Master System still ranks (in my eyes) as one of the most beautiful and enjoyable games ever created. I played it again last week and wanted to cry. The same goes for Sonic Chaos, Sonic 3 and maybe Sonic 2, on a good day.

The problem is that, since Sonic 3, no Sonic games have really affected me in the same way. I love Sonic Adventure but it doesn’t make me feel loved in return. The original games were games that loved to be played – they were tight, directed games which balanced exploration with high speed but above all gave you perfect control and set pieces which make you grin like this:

A lot of people think that the Sonic games have lost their way since the 2D days – whereas Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine seem to be perfect transitions from two to three dimensions, Sonic hasn’t fared quite so well. I don’t know why. I have my suspicions. Anyway, this is supposed to be about Sonic Heroes.

I want to like it.

I really, really do. If it wasn’t a Sonic game I wouldn’t have given it the time of day, let alone persevered with it as I have. It frustrates and delights in roughly equal measures, but it often leaves a sour taste in my mouth and has me switching it off in frustration. Just as you think you’re getting the hang of it, and you’re enjoying the speed, scenery and level of exploration, the game hits you with an annoying drop, jump or group of enemies and sends you back to repeat the last four minutes.

Some levels are very clever.

Frog Forest uses rainfall to grow leaf platforms, vines to grind on and mushrooms to bounce on. The mushrooms even use the sound effect – “blawk!” – from Mushroom Hill Zone in Sonic and Knuckles – I approve of that.

It’s all going very well until you reach the end, and the camera shows what’s behind you, instead of where you should be going. I blundered into the sea a few times before working out I had to hit the spring, at which point a classic 3D Sonic setpiece takes place – you have to escape from a giant crocodile in much the same way as the killer whale/rolling boulder/GUN truck etc. escape scenes from Sonic Adventures 1 & 2. This time though, instead of running, you have to jump from swinging vine to swinging vine, which basically means getting into a rhythm of tapping A and hoping you don’t fall to your doom. It isn’t much fun.

Some levels are wonderful.

Seaside Hill combines the familiar chequered land pattern from the original Sonic with the Emerald Coast Zone from Sonic Adventure. It’s fast and bright and vibrant and everything a Sonic game should be. I think later levels rely too much on grinding to get you from A to B, and ask you to make jumps without being able to see what’s on the way. That’s not good.

This is all going a bit NGJ, and I apologise. I want to like Sonic Heroes. No, I want to love Sonic Heroes, but I can’t seem to do it. Every time it opens up to me, with fast, smooth level design and ideas that make you smile, it sucker punches me into dying without it being my fault.

Bosses are a perfect example – the last one I did lasted over five minutes without any restart points, and is basically just reams and reams of enemies. If you get killed by the last one you have to defeat them all over again. Not good.

I still haven’t made my mind up.

Normally with my games it’s very black and white whether I like them or not, but I think my love for Sonic is obscuring my (normally very accurate) game-divining-o-vision. Maybe I’ll have to spend more time with it to work it out.

Note: I posted this on my old blog a while ago, but with the new Sonic the Hedgehog game released next week I’m willing to bet this is still relevant, particularly discussion of its faults.

I haven’t fired it up since I wrote that post last year, which pretty much damns Sonic Heroes to Sega Hell.