Review: Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
Posted 30 Oct 2003 at 04:10 by Wouter
Imagine this: You live near a place called Morning Land, a nice quiet place inhabited by chickens. Every morning the chicken elders call in the day with their special morning cry, every morning until today. Today an evil king and a bunch of no good crows have captured all the elders in golden eggs, this way the elders can't make the sun come up anymore so the world will be dark forever. The darkness will make people evil and the crows will undoubtedly take over the world or something in that vein. Just imagine the situation, what would you do about it? No you can't use guns, sorry. Out of ideas? If you were Billy Hatcher you'd know what to do, you'd just put on your legendary chicken suit and free all the elders by rolling giant eggs over those nasty crows.
This and a little more is what you get to do in Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, the first egg-based platformer on the Gamecube! That's not the only thing that makes Billy Hatcher special though, it's also Sonic Team's first original game since they did NiGHTS on the Saturn. Is Billy Hatcher the great Sonic Team game everyone's been dreaming of for years? Read and learn...
Most of Sonic Team's Cube games before Billy Hatcher were Dreamcast ports, they looked outdated and had very bad framerates in places. You'd expect those Sega guys to put more effort in the graphics of their first original Cube game, but unfortunately Billy Hatcher still looks a lot like a Dreamcast game. It's sharper than their previous Cube games, but Sonic Team isn't pushing any limits whatsoever. The characters all look really simple and lo-res, they makes you feel like the Cube could've handled a lot more detail. The levels look pretty good compared to the characters, they're very colorful and varied. There's nothing surprising, you've seen fire, ice and sand levels hundreds of times before, but there done pretty good in Billy Hatcher. Another thing the Sonic games on the Cube suffered from was bad framerates. Now Billy doesn't stutter as badly as Sonic's 3D adventures, but the framerate is far from solid. Sonic Team could take a lesson from Sega's Amusement Vision, they managed to make F-Zero GX ultra fast, incredibly beautiful and gave it a solid 60 frames per second.
The first thing you'll notice about Billy Hatcher's sound is the crazy opening tune, it's hilarious and'll stay in your head for quite some time. Not all the songs are as funny and memorable as this tune, but they're all very childish and simple. This makes them very catchy but can make them pretty annoying too. The sound effects are okay, but there are not a lot of them. Billy makes a few noises that you'll hear time after time, and especially the "uhh" sound he'll make as he brings his egg to a halt will get on your nerves. The game supports Pro Logic II, so you'll be able to hear Billy and his chicken friends in surround sound.
Billy Hatcher is structured almost exactly like Mario 64, each level has a few different missions that reward you with an Emblem of Courage, Billy's equivalent of a Mario Star. The missions are pretty simple, it's the usual getting the elder out of the golden egg, destroying 100 crows, collecting 30 coins, stuff like that. The levels are quite complex though, they are full of hard to reach places and hidden rooms, making missions more fun than you'd expect. Thanks to the intricate levels there's a lot of puzzling to do, but fighing is what you'll do most in Billy Hatcher, as the levels are completely full of evil crows. To be able to defeat them, Billy needs an egg most of the time. He can roll, dunk or bounce his egg into enemies, or fill it with fruit and hatch a creature out of it that can help him. These creatures also come in handy when solving puzzles, a penguin for example can put out fires using his water attack. The puzzling and fighting are pretty easy most of the time, but it's often made more difficult by the camera system. You can control the camera with the C-stick, but it will decide to move for itself if you walk near walls, sometimes causing you to roll your egg into lava instead of into an enemy, quite frustrating. Like the graphic quality and the framerate, it's not as bad as in Sonic's Cube games, but it's still a problem.
Rolling an egg around in real life without breaking it is a very frustrating affair, it's not a thing you'd want to do all day. Fortunately it's made a lot simpler in Billy Hatcher. As soon as you touch an egg it sort of sticks to you as long as you don't walk backwards. At first this feels a bit strange, but after a while you'll feel naked without an egg. And so you should feel, because you can do a lot more if you do have one. While pushing an egg it's pretty amazing how much you can do with just a few buttons. A for example makes Billy jump, with an egg you can tap A again in midair to bounce or hold A in midair to slam down. After a bit of practice you'll be able to pull of a lot of moves like that without any effort, it all feels very intuitive.
Billy Hatcher isn't a long game. If you just stick to the important missions you'll be through it in no time, but you'll miss out on a lot. There's a great deal to collect and unlock in Billy Hatcher, so if you enjoy rolling eggs around you can keep doing so for quite some time after you've finished the game. One of the best unlockable features is the GBA connectivity. In some of the levels you'll find special GBA eggs, which contain games you can download to your GBA. You'll be able to play simple versions of NiGHTS, Puyo Pop, Chu Chu Rocket and Billy Hatcher if you search the levels long enough. There's also a gallery where you can look at all the eggs you've hatched while listening to the game's catchy title tune, nifty eh? When you get tired of playing alone, there's always the great multiplayer mode to go to, which is something that should be in more platform games. Put all this together and Billy Hatcher can have a long lifespan, it all depends on how much you like playing it.
Billy Hatcher is a nice platform game, but unfortunately it doesn't live up to it's expectations. Sonic Team should put more effort into their game engines, lots of other games have shown that it is more than possible to have good graphics, solid framerates and good camera systems. If you're not too keen on graphics and all that, and you're aching for a fun platform experience, Billy might just be the game you need. It definitely won't beat Mario Sunshine in any way, but you can't keep playing that game forever.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A nice platform game, not without problems though.
Lots of puzzling
Great GBA connectivity