Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)
When I was a teenager, I’m afraid to say that I was just too boring and practical to get suckered into what we esteemed sociologists like to call “subcultures”. No phases or fads or trends for me. Whether through choice or not, I was destined not to take part and I went my own fruitless way instead.
So when I was approaching those frightful puberty years at an alarming rate, and I suddenly saw a sharp increase in the amount of people dressed all in black and listening to Korn and Slipknot religiously, I couldn’t help but sneer. I’d peer out from my ivory tower for just a moment and smirk. “They’ll regret that one day,” I’d opine, and I’d feel supreme self-satisfaction about it as well.
And then when people started coming into school with these ridiculous bleached-blonde spiky mohawks on top of where their original hair once stood, I once more chortled to myself that they’d end up regretting that in years to come as well. I never really considered the distinct possibility that those who were duped into following such trends would actually never find cause to regret it, because it quickly becomes ancient history which never gets brought up anyway.
Nor did I consider that having great strength in numbers as a result of being part of a wide-reaching fad would ensure that these people could never fall victim to subsequent public humiliation. And nor did it cross my mind that, by choosing to walk my own path separately from anyone else, I’d be the one getting laughed at in the future.
No, when puberty did lock me in its sights before catching me between its vicious teeth with a deathly grip, I just became more introverted and more foul-mouthed than ever before. And that seems to be what’s happened with Shadow the Hedgehog, the don’t-give-a-damn black hedgehog who tosses out the hmphs and the dramatic yet tragically misunderstood loner dialogue that excluded nerds lap up so much.
The character was dreamt up for the fabulous Sonic Adventure 2 as a sort of mysterious antithesis to His Royal Blueness, Sonic. The character inevitably proved a hit with katana-wielding, fedora-clad DeviantARTists, who were delighted to see a continuation of Shadow’s story in the otherwise hit-and-miss Sonic Heroes.
The neckbeards got their wish: finally, Shadow was awarded his own game. And it really is all his own game, with emo-themed menus, plenty of grunge music and a nigh-incomprehensible plot that tries to pass itself off as enlightened and hard-hitting, it really does. It’s a more mature effort this time around, although not so mature that its age rating could preclude the main demographic of the target audience from buying it.
That’s why Shadow’s voice artist seems to have been afflicted with the very worst swearing form of Tourette’s Syndrome. But it’s also the reason you’ll be hearing ‘damn’ an awful lot. And it’s why, when your emo-hog is falling 80,000 feet to his grisly death after the camera lets you down yet again, the harshest words he can get away with uttering in a distinctly bored tone are “Damn! Not here!”
In fact, you’ll probably not be too pleased to hear many of the other voice actors either, probably because this represents the point where the Sonic VAs began to be supplied by 4Kids. Now, the old voice talents of Ryan Drummond and company in previous 3D Sonics may have been unbelievably goofy most of the time (indeed, Tails’s performance in Sonic Heroes has to be heard to be believed). But at least they can never give the player bad memories of the nauseating Sonic X days. It’s a little bit weeaboo, I know, but the changing of the voice guard provides another nice reason not to buy this game.
Just about all of Sonic’s loathsome friends turn up as well, all the way up to Charmy the Bloody Bee, which is just terrific news for Shadow. Not that they stick around very long; most characters only show up for a level or two, run about with you for a while, chip in with a few lines of incidental dialogue and then leave again. While it does mean the player won’t have to worry about the likes of Vector the Crocodile sticking to Shadow like glue, it doesn’t do much for the supposedly crucial story. Yes, it’s Shadow’s gig, but give us more than just Dr. Eggman (née Robotnik) as a recurring character. Not to mention the constant flashbacks to that incessantly annoying Maria character. I mean it, you actually start to find yourself thrilled that the poor wee girl ended up with a bullet in her canister.
Shadow the Hedgehog is a 3D action platforming game where you leg it to the end of the stage, occasionally dashing through loop-the-loops and using zipper plates and springs to get across grand chasms. Most of the game’s levels allow you to actually choose a Hero or Dark path, which provides the game with branching levels, like Starfox 64/Lylat Wars. Now that is always a nice idea, it really is. It’s one I like to see.
But it would work so much better if some of the level requirements weren’t so Draconian. If the Dark path requires me to track down and destroy all 50 enemy buggers in an incredibly vast stage, whereas the Hero path simply wants me to get to the end and maybe beat some chump villain there, what do you think I’ll pick? There are Neutral ways of beating the levels and advancing the plot too, but obviously nobody’s willingly going to play in such a beige manner. Completing every level and branching the story towards each possible alignment is how Shadow’s story is conveyed, which was one of the main selling points of this game at the time. But do you really care?
Shadow himself has two incredible new skills for this title, which the so-called way past cool Sonic never (properly) boasted: the ability to drive cars, and the ability to fire guns at enemies. Yes, you did just read that sentence correctly. Incredibly, these two new features were touted as two more selling points of the game, as just two more reasons why Shadow is the coolest. A notorious image of Shadow in an open-top sports car wielding a sub-machine gun says more about how ill-advised this all is than I could ever express. The car and gun mechanics are actually kind of interesting to mess about with during the game, but no. Just no. Leave it out.
The graphics are about what you’d expect of the PS2 and the like at the time, though with some nice FMVs that Sega are known for. Much of the music is Mountain Dew drinkers in oversized black hoodies stuff, you know, completely unfitting metal, but there are some nice tunes in there as well. There’s also a 2-player mode, probably put in as part of some sort of contractual requirement. Obviously I’ve never played it. In fact, I’m fairly sure nobody’s ever played it, so it might as well simply not be there.
Maybe appreciating this game and how it all fits into the canon “story” of noughties Sonic requires being part of one of those subcultures, the subcultures that I was simply never savvy enough to be included in. I bought this game as a misstep, a mistake, with a blind faith and unconditional love for Sonic Team games that turned out to be most unwise. More fool me, then. I do know one thing though: you see those people who hung on every one of Shadow the Hedgehog’s words in this game and others? The ones who then went on to concoct endless amounts of ill-advised fanart and fanfiction and whatnot of same? They should definitely be starting to regret it all by now. I guarantee it.
29 October 2014