Billy Hatcher & the Giant Egg is a lot like experiencing sugar free candy for the first time. It looks good; it has the same texture and feel of regular candy, and yet manages to be enormously disappointing when eaten. Billy Hatcher certainly looks like a great platformer; it seems to have all the right elements to make a fun game, and yet comes up short in every way possible.
Sega’s newest action title introduces us to a young Billy Hatcher, who is chosen, for what seems like no reason at all, to save the chickens and their eggs from a pack of evil crows. Donning a chicken outfit, similar to one you might see outside of a fast food restaurant, Billy rolls eggs around various worlds solving puzzles, taking out baddies, and the usual platformer stuff.
As the title implies, Billy Hatcher’s main source of power are the eggs he pushes, throws, and jumps around with. As you collect the various fruit scattered around the level, your egg will begin to grow, eventually getting big enough for you to hatch.
The game has a total of 72 different eggs, each with a distinctive design and their own unique contents. Some eggs give you extra guys, others will give you the ability to heal your depleted life, but most eggs contain various types of animals that can be used to solve puzzles and attack enemies.
Like much of Billy Hatcher, the puzzles themselves are rarely difficult, and border on the simplistic far too often. There are countless levels where you have to use your fire creature to do away with an ice door, or use ice to extinguish the fires blocking key areas of the level. If they try a puzzle once, you can rest assured it will be repeated several more times before the game is over.
As I mentioned above, you can use your animal pal to attack your enemies, usually taking them out in one shot. The various animal attacks are nicely animated, and some are even pretty interesting to look at, but you don’t really interact with it. By pushing the button you’ve unleashed your animal, so all you’re left to do is dodge enemy fire or look for eggs.
There are several rare eggs that require a little more work to collect, two of my favorites play homage to a couple of other Sonic Team creations, namely Sonic the Hedgehog and NiGHTS. Like all the other animals, you don’t get to control these characters, but it’s nice to see a familiar face from time to time, and it leaves the door open if they ever need Billy for a cameo in a future Sonic game.
If it feels like I’ve glossed over the story, rest assured I haven’t. Sega treats the concept very similar to how platformers were dealt with 15 years ago, you’re given a hero to root for, kidnapped characters in need of your help, a set of basic attacks, a few goals, and you have yourself a game. Whether you find the game fun, however, is a whole different issue.
A lot of the problem with Billy Hatcher lies in the character himself. While most mascots seem to thrive on attitude, Billy is pretty subdued, and doesn’t really do anything you’ll remember after the game has ended. His whole identity seems to lie in the eggs he rolls around, Billy never seems to blossom into a character you want to devote much time to.
Instead of reminding me of the next Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s newest mascot is more along the lines of the next Alex Kidd. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to have next door to mow your lawn, the kind of honest guy that really doesn’t make for an interesting super hero. Instead of trying to make us laugh with one-liners, Sega hopes you’ll be humored by the whole absurdity of the concept.
The problem is, this concept isn’t all that original. Outside of the stupid costume and the pushing eggs around, there’s not a whole lot here that is new or unique. Even though there are quite a few missions, most of them involve either getting to the end of the course of collecting a lot of items.
Even the world Billy is stuck in is pretty dull. A lot of the locales tend to look like they’ve been recycled from other platformers, and the game never seems to develops its own sense of style. It’s not that the game looks bad, after all the colors are bright and the backgrounds are vibrant, it’s just that we’ve seen it all before, and it would have been nice to witness something truly new and original.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is how little the whole chicken aspect is used. It seemed like a title like this was ripe with potential when it came to chicken and farm related references, but Billy Hatcher is nothing more than a straightforward mascot game. Think of all the creative levels Sega could have come up with, but instead we get the basic snowy levels, lava-filled fire levels, carnival level, and so on. These are well-designed stages, no doubt about it, but they really could have been used for any character, not just one stuffed into a chicken costume.
Since you pick a mission before entering each level, you never really get to wander around and get a sense for the world. By putting the emphasis on the various goals, it really takes a lot of the wonder out just exploring, and makes the game far more linear than it was likely intended.
Another troubling issue that pops up from time to time is how the game can go from simple to frustrating in only a few levels. A lot of the problems can be chocked up to the poor handling of the eggs, but towards the end of the game you start to notice that the programmers have been extremely cheap in their designs and some of the challenges require more luck than skill to complete.
For gamers patient enough to play through the adventure there are a number of goodies Sega has packaged with to make the purchase worthwhile. There’s a highly addictive four-player mode, which reminds me a lot of the type of mini-games you saw in the Super Monkey Ball series.
There are also a few mini-games you can download to your GameBoy Advance, if you have the right hook up. None of these games are especially huge, but in the case of the addictive puzzler Puyo Pop, that hardly matters. You can also play a scaled down version of NiGHTS, as well as Chu Chu Rocket. These games offer a much-needed diversion from the tedious game play in Billy Hatcher. I found myself enjoying these games, as well as the multi-player mode, far more than the “story” mode.
As fun as these extras were, though, they just weren’t enough to keep me interested in Billy Hatcher. I had a lot of fun early on seeing what I could do with the eggs, but within only a few levels even that started get old. Outside of a few handling problems associated with pushing eggs, the game is structurally sound, and for the most part fun to play. But it’s a step backwards from Super Mario Sunshine, a game released more than a year ago.
Billy Hatcher isn’t the worst game of the year, but it certainly attempts to be a lot weirder than it actually is. It’s not that I can’t recommend it; it’s just that you probably own a game that is exactly like this already. Give it a rental; it’s worth a look at least.
Billy Hatcher might look new, innovative, and wacky ... but you've been here and seen this all before. But that doesn't make Billy a bad game, just a disappointing one