TYP reviews the Japanese game where rooster suits are fashionable and gigantic smiles are all the rage!
After the N64’s debut, many developers saw Super Mario 64 as the 3D platformer and, consequently, borrowed heavily from Nintendo’s instant classic. Sonic Team, however, broke out of the mold and continued the linear tradition in Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. Now, five years later, Sonic Team has traveled down the road it chose not to take and created Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. The result is a diamond in the rough that will entertain gamers willing to overlook its unflattering presentation.
Billy Hatcher’s level design borrows heavily from the Super Mario 64 formula. The single player story mode is divided into seven worlds, each containing eight missions. At the end of each mission is one of the game’s sixty courage emblems, Morning Land’s magical, shining medallions resembling a rooster’s crown. Each mission features altered paths and item placement to keep the shared environments fresh. The setup works well for linear missions, each of which tends to showcase different sections of the world, but gameplay starts to crack in the scavenger hunt missions. Players will dread each world’s “Save 8 Chickens” and “Destroy 100 Crows” missions, both of which rehash old territory in a feast of monotony.
Despite Billy Hatcher’s redundant missions, the gameplay itself is excellent. Eggs are Billy’s lifeline in this game—fortunately; they are fun to play with. Well-mapped controls make rolling around feel natural and approachable. The combat system is intuitive and fun, rewarding players for skillfully-placed combo attacks without disallowing more direct approaches. Since eggs are Billy’s means of transportation, main weapon, and source of power-ups all at once, players must be careful with their fragile friends. Other dilemmas, such as whether or not to abandon a grown (more powerful) but cracked egg for a fresh one, also give more depth to the game.
The game’s essence shines through beautifully in multiplayer. Rampant theft combined with severe vulnerability when egg-less makes the battle mode brilliantly competitive. Few things are more enjoyable than stealing your friend’s egg and beating him with it! Billy Hatcher’s unsophisticated battle mode probably will not entertain for hours on end, but it makes an excellent addition to the GameCube’s constantly growing library of party games.
While BHGE’s gameplay entertains, its audio most certainly does not. The songs are usually appropriate but annoyingly repetitive, and Billy Hatcher & friends’ sung rendition of the main theme is simply embarrassing. A few tunes stand out, however; Yukari Fresh’s vocal rendition of the same theme, “Chant this Charm”, is a high point. The game’s disappointing audio extends past its music. To make up for the gracious lack of horribly acted dialogue (as heard in Sonic Adventure DX), Sonic Team made sure Billy and his friends’ Japanese in-game exclamations are as frequent and irritating as possible. High pitched yelps of joy will torture all nearby as the player jumps, dashes, and bounces his way through each mission.
Clearly running on a tweaked version of the Sonic Adventure DX engine, Billy Hatcher inherits some of Sonic DX’s weaknesses. Most prominent is the inconsistent framerate, which jumps from a smooth 60 frames per second to a jerky 15 or so with the appearance of some larger baddies. Sonic Team’s other chronic problems are more subdued: the camera rarely hides behind walls, collision errors are infrequent, and controls are slippery but manageable.
Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg isn’t the greatest game in its genre, but it is Sonic Team’s best 3D work in years. Those mature enough to overlook the blatantly “kiddie” image will be treated to smooth gameplay worth at least a rental. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg had the potential for excellence. I eagerly await a sequel with more imaginative missions and less annoying audio.