Developer(s) – Sonic Team
Publisher(s) – Sega
Director – Shun Nakamura
Producer – Yuji Naka
Billy Hatcher was developed by Sonic Team as a possible fresh start, amidst the beginning of the decline of Sonic the Hedgehog’s commercial popularity compared to what it was during the 16-bit era. There are positives I can point out about this game, but I don’t believe that it’s worthy of the success that Sega were possibly banking on it to have had.
Graphics – 6/10
In Billy Hatcher, there is no shortage of vibrant and colourful environments once the main objective of each level is complete and morning is restored to go along with the unusual chicken motif of the game. The manner of which this happens is very reminiscent to a game, which would come out three years later; Okami. But Billy Hatcher is nowhere near on the same artistic level as Okami. Another negative I can point out is that a lot of the enemies are very generic and similar to one another. A lot of seem to simply be palette swapped, like a majority of the characters in Mortal Kombat 3, in fact. The game’s opening FMV was very nicely done, but another thing I dislike about this game is it’s opening theme song, featuring singing children, negatively adding to the notion that Nintendo games are exclusively child-appropriate.
Gameplay – 7/10
Whilst it can be described as mediocre in terms of visuals in my opinion, the game is fairly enjoyable to play, with quite a bit of variety in gameplay, with quite a vast selection of power-ups to collect along the way, multiple characters to play as with their own individual quests and one further standout side quest of hatching every different type of egg in the game. The formula combines elements of 3 distinct styles of play to have been incorporated by Sega in the past; the ball-rolling mechanic from Super Monkey Ball, the ring-travelling mechanic from the NiGHTS series, and the multiple playable character feature of the Sonic Adventure games. Since this is the first game like this, it can be somewhat confusing to start off with, but once players get to grips with it, it can make for something unexpectedly memorable.
Controls – 8/10
The mode of transportation in the game, though unique, can present problems. It can be pretty awkward at times having to use eggs to get around and reach certain areas of levels, and this, in turn, can add unnecessary difficulty and frustration to the game overall, I found. I think Sega took a gamble by trying to cram so many control elements in the one game, and it didn’t entirely pay off, the way I see it.
Lifespan – 6/10
With the side quests taken into account, Billy Hatcher can only be made to last about ten hours maximum, which in my opinion, is particularly disappointing given how much substance there is in gameplay. It was all very well and good adding additional side quests for each character, but even with them implemented, I don’t believe the game lasts anywhere near long enough.
Storyline – 5/10
The Story of the game tells of a young boy called Billy Hatcher on a quest to save the morning world from the evil Dark Raven and his army. It’s all very straightforward; even for standards in video game storytelling at the time, when video games were only starting to be recognized as a valid art form. Aside from that, though, this title is also obviously directed at kids, so by that token, there was never going to be any great amount of substance in story. As I alluded to before, Nintendo, for a while now, have had the problem of misleading people to believe that they’re all about appealing to the youngest demographic possible, and it was game like this that added to that problem.
Originality – 8/10
One thing I mustn’t fault this game for its level of uniqueness. Though it does comprise of a number of gameplay elements from previous Sega titles, all the elements come together fairly well to create something, which is extremely memorable.
To summarize, Billy Hatcher is an OK game, but it seems to me that Sega needed to give it that extra boost, and unfortunately, I don’t think they even tried. That this was the first of what could have potentially become a franchise, it was always going to be a question of trial and error, but I think there’s just a bit too much error attached to it to stand out any more than what I believe it does.