Not having even played a demo of Shadow The Hedgehog, I wasn't sure what to expect. Now having played it, I sure as hell wasn't expecting this. Unlike last years popular and more importantly, playable, Sonic Heroes, Shadow The Hedgehog is a misstep in almost every direction.

Featuring Shadow, the dark and mysterious character who debuted in Sonic Adventure Battle 2, Sonic Team has placed an emphasis on more mature gameplay; hence Shadow carries a gun and themes of murder and violence are found within. On the one hand I admire Sonic Team attempting to release a slightly darker game (although it's still rated E for everyone) then waht you'd find in the average Sonic franchise, but on the other hand, the game design and mechanics don't mesh into a cohesive gameplay experience. Sonic Team would have been much further ahead had they continued in the direction of Sonic Heroes instead of this amalgam of platforming, shooting and speeding through levels. Sometimes you won't even have to play; you can just watch the action go by - just as you did in Sonic Adventure when Sonic would go through the loops. Remember how much fun that was just watching the game play for you? Yeah, me neither. Unfortunately that's not the only problem you'll have to choke down.

Shadow's loss of memory told through an excellent cutscene at the beginning is the catalyst for the entire adventure. After being contacted by a menacing figure known as Black Doom who commands Shadow to find the...come on....guess what he has to locate.....7 Chaos Emeralds! Upon receipt of the Chaos Emeralds Black Doom will return the hedgehogs memory. So the race is on to locate all of the precious items which have been a staple of the series since day one. Acting of his own volition, Shadow is a free agent and can therefore team up with whomever he feels can be the most benefit to him in any given situation. At least that's how it looks on paper. Execution is another matter entirely. At the tap of the D-Pad, Shadow can team with Black Doom, Eggman or Sonic and his pals. Since sides can be switched instantly, this naturally throws a little monkeywrench into the current objectives and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It actually provides some healthy replay value for those who have the patience to put up with the games less than stellar mechanics. However since your allegiances can be altered willy-nilly, those whom you were once enemies with are now your allies, but guess what? They can still hurt you. Makes sense, doesn't it? No. Not at all.

The worst offender is the spastic camera mixed with the speed (which is pretty intense) which leads to frequent deaths, some of which occur due to falling through the environment or the camera being stuck on something while you're flying on ahead blindly. These are some of the same problems I had with the original Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast and it's absolutely astonishing that nothing has been done in six years to improve the game camera which has caused problems in almost all Sonic games released in recent memory. The other nuisance is lost moments of gameplay where you're forced to watch Shadow go through a scripted event such as a loop de loop. I bought the game to play it, not watch it while the CPU gets to do all of the cool stuff.

As we reported in our preview guns play a large part in distancing Shadow from his spikey blue-haired counterpart. The weapons are helpful and necessary as jumping on enemies is kind of weak by this point in the series but the target lock function isn't very good due to the overly sensitive controls. You might get off on this for awhile if you can handle hours of repetition. You'll run a bit, shoot a bit, run a bit, shoot a bit and eventually you'll make it the end of the game. To up the gameplay ante even more, Shadow will have the ability to drive vehicles such as a mech and a hummer knock off but doing so won't increase your enjoyment level.

Sonic Team can't be faulted for their mastery of a solid graphics engine. At times this game looks amazing which might lull you in a false sense of fun especially if you're a graphics whore. The opening cinema is enough to have Sonic fans kneeling on the floor, spewing "We're not worthy" to an imaginary Yuji Naka. Some of the game environments are equally as impressive.

Taking into consideration Sonic Rush was recently released on the DS with great fanfare, it's extremely hard to recommend this completely unecessary spin-off to anyone. It's not that Shadow isn't an interesting character, he's just not that interesting. Someone needs to tell him "The fans just aren't that in to you, Shadow." With a totally retro-classic Sonic already appearing on a DS near you, I can only suggest that if you own Nintendo's new handheld that you should seek out the real hedgehog and buy that game. If you're insatiably curious as to exploring the Shadow mythos just to see where it goes, by all means rent it for a few days.

Preview by Gooseberry

SEGA of America and SEGA Europe today officially announced Shadow The Hedgehog, an exciting new spin-off from SEGA's best-selling Sonic The Hedgehog series. The SEGA title is currently in development at SEGA Studio USA, under the direction of Takashi Iizuka, lead developer of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2/ Battle, and Sonic Heroes.

Shadow The Hedgehog allows players to collect an arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and objects to rocket through more than 50 unique missions. In his feature debut, Shadow is tormented by a dark past, struggling to discover his true identity. He is caught in a complex battle between aliens, the G.U.N. army, and Dr. Eggman, and discovers that he may be the very element that will tip the scales between good and evil forever.

"Since we first introduced him in Sonic Adventure 2, we have wanted to feature Shadow in his own game," said Takashi Iizuka, Game Director, SEGA Studio USA. "We maintained Shadow as a mysterious character and now fans can control his destiny by engaging in a unique gameplay experience that offers a multitude of possibilities!"

"The Sonic franchise has sold more than 38-million units worldwide and SEGA plans to support this new brand with a complimentary lineup of new Sonic products across all platforms in 2005," said Scott A. Steinberg, Vice President of Marketing, SEGA of America, Inc. "We expect Shadow The Hedgehog to be a cornerstone title in this strategy as well as a new and dynamic brand for SEGA."

Is he an android created by Dr. Eggman? Is he the original Shadow simply suffering from amnesia? Or is there an even more sinister explanation? Now, gamers will decide in a race against time by choosing between any number of routes by which to unveil the secrets of his past. Multiple endings will reflect critical decisions at every stage of the game. Gamers have ultimate control over Shadow's past, with the potential to rewrite his history time and time again.

Since his debut in Sonic Adventure 2 (2001), Shadow The Hedgehog has appeared in Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (2002), Sonic Heroes (2003), and the massively popular Sonic X animated series. SEGA plans to release Shadow The Hedgehog on all current generation console platforms in Winter 2005.

System: Xbox, PS2, GC
Dev: Sonic Team
Pub: Sega
Release: Nov 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn