Shadow with guns doesn’t sound great, but it is better than fans would think.
Despite my negative gut reaction at its announcement, I checked out Shadow the Hedgehog. As I expected, it plays somewhere between Sonic, Gamma, and the Power formation in Sonic Heroes. Each of the three levels has fast sections, though they are briefer and more automated than I would like, but they do convey the sense of speed one would expect from Shadow. The dark hedgehog retains his floatier running controls, which I'm not too fond of, but they seem slightly more responsive than in some of the prior 3D games.
Just as prominent, though, is the combat. Shadow can use his homing attack (A) for more traditional combat, which can defeat shielded enemies, or use a variety of weapons with the B button. When unarmed, you can pick up a variety of armaments, such as a machine gun, a bazooka, and a long sword. You can toss or exchange weapons with X, which also doubles as a context sensitive button for the light dash and similar moves. Shadow grinds to a halt when using these weapons, partially so that they may be aimed, which really destroys the speed of the game. Fortunately the battles look to be far less tedious than those in Sonic Heroes' power formation, as most enemies fall after a handful of shots. Shadow can also shoot guns while grinding and riding some sort of aerial animal.
Also new to this game are the light and dark missions. Each level has three goals: a hero goal, a dark goal, and a chaos emerald goal (which is not featured in the demo). The goals seem to focus on defeating the dark or human enemies, respectively, but the Sega representatives demoing the game seem to suggest there will be more variety in the final version. This mechanic seems to conflict with the special attack system, though. There are light and dark gauges that independently fill as Shadow defeats monster and human enemies. Once filled, Shadow can perform a special attack like Chaos Control with the Y button.
Anyone defending the game's concept because it features Shadow and not Sonic can shut their traps. Shadow is often accompanied and instructed by either Sonic or a dark flying octopus, who each help defeat underlings, but are not directly controlled. Shadow also seems to be taking orders from Robotnik...I'm not sure when Shadow became everyone's b*tch, but whatever.
Those hoping for patches to Sonic's dated engine will not be pleased. Shadow now stalls at the edge of a platform so he doesn't run straight off a cliff, but that's about it. I ran into the familiar homing bug where Shadow circles a spring for five seconds, and the wall jump frequently ruined my attempts at a homing attack. The game runs smoothly most of the time, though I noticed one or two significant hiccups. I cannot judge the graphical fidelity on the show floor's LCD televisions. There is one other interesting gameplay tweak, though: Shadow only loses ten rings when hurt.
The only horrible section on display is the boss battle, in which Shadow must shoot a large monster roaming the city in the eye numerous times. Since the aiming system is not very precise, the battle degenerates into jumping, pushing A, and hoping you hit. I stopped playing out of boredom well before he was defeated--hopefully this section of the game will be re-evaluated.
Shadow doesn't impress the way the Sonic Heroes demo fooled me back in 2003, but I suspect what I've seen more accurately depicts the final product than last year's dud. If so, this may be a game worth checking out--even if it rips apart a cherished franchise.