Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Review: Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
Sega's history after the Dreamcast is mostly regarded to be a sad one. Many fans felt abandoned by the company, who once was known for making very creative and fresh games that stood out in quality and had a lot of heart. Unfortunately, games such as these rarely sold well, and eventually forced Sega out of the console market altogether. Sega started to produce more cookie-cutter games to appease the masses, and lost a little bit of its soul in the process. But, every once in a while, even today, the company will release a game that has the brilliant and radically different appeal of what they used to be. In a word, it has the Sega spirit. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg is one of those games.
The gameplay in Billy Hatcher, at its core, is similar to games like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, or Jak and Daxter, all of which fall under the sub-genre of 3D platformers nicknamed "Collect-A-Thons", due to the fact that the way to advance in these games is to collect certain trinkets for achieving goals in the game, eventually giving you access to new levels. In Billy Hatcher, you must collect Emblems of Courage in each world to advance. While that is the main premise of the game, the genius comes in how you play the levels. In the game, Billy Hatcher is given a Rooster Suit by the chicken god, which gives him the power... [pause for dramatic effect] of eggs. Throughout the adventure, Billy and his 3 friends can roll around eggs they find in the world, and use them as weapons, or roll over fruit, to make them grow, and eventually hatch them to use whatever item or power-up is inside. For example, hatching one type of egg summons a creature that you can use to attack large groups of enemies. Another egg type gives you a new rooster comb for the rooster suit, which augments an egg's attack power. There are over a hundred different eggs you can hatch, which gives the game a lot of variety.
The game uses the same game engine as in Sonic Adventure 2, and it shows. You are timed in each level, and scored based on your time, the number of eggs hatched, number of enemies defeated, and how many combos you preformed [by taking out multiple enemies in a single attack], and gives you a grade, accordingly. This kind of system creates an "I can do better" mentality that made the Sonic games fun long after you beat them. Each level gives you a new objective, and you must obviously complete that objective as quickly and efficiently as possible. I should mention that if you are the type that likes to speedrun through games, this is a good one to consider. There are plenty of tricks and secrets in each level that you can exploit to finish faster, and are a joy when you find them. The only major flaw I can say about the game is it has an uncooperative camera, which, especially when your egg is at full size, makes it hard to see around your and where you're going. Overall, Billy Hatcher will give you your fix for a good 3D platformer, if that is what you're after.
Not much to say here, but what do you expect; it's a platformer. Basically, Billy Hatcher is a normal kid who goes to see his friends one day, when they see a wounded chicken, about to be attacked by a crow. Billy saves the chicken, which turns out to be one of the guardians of Morning Land, the game's setting. The chicken god then gives Billy and his friends rooster suits, and gives them the task of saving Morning Land from the Crow Army. Soon after, Billy's friends are kidnapped, and Billy must free them, with one held in each of the first 3 worlds. By freeing his friends, new missions are unlocked in each world, where you play as them instead of Billy. As I said, it isn't much of a story, but a game like this doesn't need a very elaborate plot. It is what it is, and it's good for that purpose.
The soundtrack in Billy Hatcher is lighthearted and upbeat; it suits the game very well. It is very reminiscent of the music in games like Yoshi's Island or the Kirby series. It's just good music that makes you feel good. Even in boss fights, the tunes are distinctively juvenile [in a good way, though], with a clearly exaggerated tone that feels comical, yet dangerous, as if it was ripped right out of an old Batman cartoon. It's hard to explain, but you will understand when you hear it. If I had to describe the game's soundtrack in one word, it would be "Catchy". You'll probably find yourself humming the tunes later, and enjoying it. I must also say that the main theme of the game, while somewhat irritating, still got stuck in my head, and is fun to listen to.
The characters in Billy Hatcher have almost no voiced dialogue, with the only exceptions being for a few words and some exclamations. My only problem is that there are actually a bit too few of said sounds and exclamations, leading to some of them being noticeably recycled at points. But, for the most part, the characters open their mouths about as often as Mario, so don't worry about annoying Sonic-esque voices.
Billy Hatcher is yet another fine-looking Gamecube game, running in 480p progressive scan, and boasting an exceptionally detailed opening FMV. The visuals in the game are colorful and cartoony, with very few sharp edges, making for some very virbant and lively scenery. The character and enemy models are creative and interesting, as are the bosses of each world, which are spectacular to see in motion. The graphics could have been a bit smoother, but that's just me looking for a flaw; there's always room for improvement in any game. While not among the ranks of some of the best graphics on the 'Cube, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg has an endearing art style that Sega has spent years trying to perfect through previous games.
There are certainly a lot of neat extras in Billy Hatcher, enough to warrant the purchase alone! The first is the multiplayer battle mode, in which up to 4 players fight in an arena with eggs, in a standard last-man-standing fight. There are actually some pretty clever strategies you can come up with in this mode. For example, there is one egg exclusive to the multiplayer mode that lets you plant a fake egg that explodes when another player touches it. I like to place it in an empty egg nest [where new eggs spawn from in the game], so opponents can't tell the difference between the fake egg and the real egg. You can imagine how funny it is to watch. The multiplayer mode could have used a couple more arenas and features, but as it stands, it is solid, and well worth a play with your friends. It really reminded me of Donkey Kong 64's multiplayer battles, now that I think about it.
Another cool feature of the game is that it utilizes the Gamecube-to-Game Boy Advance link cable. If you had a GBA and link cable, you could upload minigames onto your GBA that stay there as long as you leave your GBA turned on. Some of the minigames are actually really good, in that except for length, they look and feel like actual GBA releases! The NiGHTS game alone is almost makes up for the lack of a real portable NiGHTS game. In fact, they're so good, I feel bad referring to them as minigames. Most of the games are scaled-down versions of classic Sega games, such as NiGHTS into Dreams, Puyo Puyo, Chu Chu Rocket, and even Billy Hatcher itself. Remember what I said about the Sega Spirit? This is what I mean. This is the Sega that we all know and love; the Sega that never forgets who they are, and who will always look after its fans. Unfortunately, it is also the Sega that rarely shows its face. But this is exactly what happens when it does. Once again, I cannot emphasize enough how well-made these minigames are! Actually, if I remember correctly, a while back, some hackers found a way to extract these games from the disc, and make them into actual GBA roms! Now that's saying something. Speaking of classic Sega, you can also hatch hidden Sega characters in certain stages, by getting all the hidden coins on that stage. You can use these characters to help you fight. Some of the characters you can unlock are NiGHTS, Amigo, Rappy [A common enemy in Phantasy Star Online], and of course, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. There are a few more you can find, but I can't remember them right off-hand. Still, it shows that Sega really gave it their all with this game, down to the very last detail.
I would definitely say that Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg is worth a purchase. It's currently only $5 at Gamestop, so you can buy it with just spare change. Most gamecube games can be had for very cheap prices right now, so if you're looking to beef up your GC library, you might want to start soon, before Gamestop stops carrying Gamecube games. So, get Billy Hatcher while you can, because you might not have the chance later, for the same price.
Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg is, for all purposes, the kind of game that defines who Sega is, was, and will always truly be. The Sega we normally see is not the real Sega; it is just its new parent company, Sammy. They took over, and things haven't been the same since. But, the real Sega is buried deep beneath that huge mass of shovelware and awful sequels. People are always talking about "the last great Sega game", but I have to disagree. There is no end to Sega, they will always be there, but they won't always be the ones in charge. But, Sega will try their hardest to give us the games that its' fans love, as often as they can. This game, along with a few others, are reminders to always let us know that they care. They really still care.
This is lisalover1, off to go give my Sega Saturn the playtime it deserves.