This Sonic Team title is interesting, as it is one of the few major new IP’s they made post-SEGA becoming third party. I say this is interesting due to the fact that this game released around the time Sonic Heroes came out in JP (with its NA/EU release being early 2004).
Another interesting element to this game is that unlike Heroes which runs on the Renderware Engine, Billy Hatcher runs on a modified Sonic Adventure 2 Battle Engine. Lastly, similar to NiGHTS and Ristar, this is an action game using Sonic-like elements but having a unique gimmick. In many respects, this is Sonic Adventure 2.5 as despite it not being a proper Sonic title.
Taking notes from a plumber famous for his platforming adventures, we have SEGA’s take on 3D Mario game. Does this game scramble some crows? Or does it offer a mean omelet? Lets start cracking some Eggs…..man and find out!
Tales of the Chicken Suit
The story of begins with crows taking over a place called Morning Land and one of the chicks runs away into ‘Human’ world (the place Billy and his friends live). They bump into the chick who passed out from being attacked by a crew, which Billy shews away with a stick. This noble act has the hurt chick, instead of thanking Billy and his friends (who look like they are five-eight years old), warps them to a new world and they are very confused.
It is a simple set up and the entire game is really light hearted; the characters do not speak and kinda like Banjo, the characters speak in gibberish. This set up is decent and a fun way to kick start this adventure. Characters you meet are quite colorful and the dialog while simple, is effective at building the game world.
Billy Hatcher is clearly a game focused toward younger players but that is mainly through it’s story and plot. Despite that, it is still enjoyable for older gamers for it’s charm and presentation.
Sonic X Mario – Eggsellent Combination
The core gameplay here is Mario 64 or Banjo…..but with a twist! You have all the moves you would expect a platforming hero to have; attacking foes, ground pounding, a double jump and a ‘run’ button increase your movement speed or preform some version of a long jump.
…….But you need an Egg to preform all of those iconic moves.
Eggs, giant colorful eggs are the name of the game here. You have 72 different types to use and they can be hatched to get new abilities, but will touch on that in a bit. Billy and his friends can interact with these eggs and preform the mentioned abilities…..but only with an Egg.
When they have no egg, it all they can do is jump and trigger the egg hatch (though there are sections where the game pushes you to do basic platforming without an Egg).
What makes the Eggs interesting as despite the simple concept and how they more or less are a different version of Mario’s core moveset, they do a lot to make the gameplay interesting.
You can slam eggs into the ground, you can dash with the things and when you hatch them, it opens the door to different things you can do. For example, you hatch blue eggs and create a Penguin that can preform water attacks with splash damage. This is used to put out fires, with can let you collect hidden goodies or progress through the level. The animals more or less all have the same action but the way they attack is a bit different (an electric Monkey attacks in a zig-zag, a flying Fire creature charges forward to attack, etc). You can use them up to four times before they run away.
This also leads to the items you can get from hatching eggs, such as Chicken Emblems that give elemental properties to your egg (covering it with fire, wind, etc) or items you can use with the Y button (one to turn you invisible, a butterfly that restores one section of your health, etc).
What appears to be a simple game has a lot of deep mechanics hidden inside it and that doesn’t cover the extra eggs that you get the more chicken coins you collect; you can unlock NiGHTS, Sonic, Chao, Tails and Knuckles Eggs that when hatched summons those characters to attack for you!
It takes a while to have an egg respawn and this happens frequent enough to become an annoying issue. The camera is also not the best (something Sonic Team just can’t get right). Its better then Adventure 2 thanks to it being movable with the C-Stick but it can get stuck and it leads to boss fights being more trouble then they should be at points.
Outside of those two issues, the core gameplay is very solid and that could be due to Sonic Team learning a lot from experience with Sonic Adventure, Burning Rangers and Sonic Adventure 2. This is a more polished version of what we got before with 3D Sonic (but with different gameplay), so its nice to see Sonic Team grow through this game.
Game structure and level design heavily is inspired by Mario 64 with a dash of Sonic Adventure sprinkled in; you have five levels for Billy and three levels for his friends in each world (out of seven) and when you complete a mission, you get an Emblem of Courage (ironic considering everyone is in a chicken suit).
The levels themselves are mixed. Some of them are quite open through letting you explore, play around with the different egg abilities and fight some crows. Every single world has the two same opening levels; find a golden egg and hatch it in addition to completing a special goal to unlock a boss gate to fight the crow controlling the land.
The game mixes things up with different tasks for each world and level gimmicks. The water level for example has various slides you can roll down and you have to go down/up them through hopped launchers. Another example is the fire level, where lava is instant death and you have to use a specific animal to destroy fossil heads.
Levels can get quite creative at points as well; the Ice World has a level where you use the game’s egg rolling mechanics to build snowmen for chicks and it removes the ability to double jump. You also have snow on the ground that doesn’t regenerate, so you have to be careful how many times you mess up (as the snowball can break when hitting spikes). You also have races, coin collecting challenges, kill X amount of foes and other such missions. So the game is very varied with level structure and mission type, despite some mission types repeating throughout the game.
You also have MP modes and GBA games you could unlock as you play. The MP modes are battles or hatch X amount of eggs and it really isn’t special. They are mindless fun, but they don’t compared to the GBA mini games you can unlock.
You need a link cable to access them but after you find unique eggs and hatch them, you unlock special mini games for your GBA. Pyuo Pop and a Billy Hatcher game are the ones I remember unlocking in the past but you also have mini games based on Nights you can unlock as well. They are a nice incentive and you can unlock the special eggs to hatch them through collecting Chick Coins across the game world. Once you collect enough, the special eggs will appear and you can then hatch them.
Presentation – SEGA Blue Skys
The presentation is classic SEGA/Sonic Team and you can really see the ‘Sonic’ elements across the entire game. The way the world looks, the character designs and the animations for each character; it screams ‘Sonic’. But its different in tone, its a lot more light hearted and thus the world has a ‘childlike’ look to everything. The only time where the mood is ‘off’ is the first stage in every world and I will talk about this more when I get to the music.
Billy and his friends have nice designs and they look different enough to stand out amongst each other. They aren’t iconic like Sonic or NiGHTS but they still look great. The music is awesome in this game, like most games Sonic Team Produces.
The soundtrack has more moody themes, as al ot of the Night tracks make me think of the Night levels from Sonic Unleashed, and those were some of favorite tracks in Sonic Unleashed. It is great to see heavy musical variety across the game and it adds to the exploration of the many levels.
This entire soundtrack is strong and some of it got remixed in Racing Transformed, so it shows how much SEGA itself enjoy’s this games score.
I had a great time revisiting this Sonic Team gem. It has issues and not perfect, but it is a nice effort to be different from Sonic. From taking notes from Mario, we have what feel is nice 3D platformer that does a lot right with creative ideas masked by time honored mechanics and gameplay. With a unique look, fun gameplay and really clever mechanics; Billy Hatcher it is quite the clever egg and I highly recommend this if you love platformers or SEGA games.