Sonic Rush

Review

posted 4/17/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
Back at E3 ’04, Sega showed a demo for their upcoming Sonic DS title. It confused the hell out of most fans, because it consisted entirely of stroking a ball on the touch screen to make Sonic run. It’s become evident that recently, Sega’s legendary Sonic Team is better at being weird than good, but common sense must have intervened because they scrapped that early concept. Sonic DS, in its final form, is one of the best things to come out of Sega in years.

It is painfully clear that Sonic Team, while legends of the 16-bit era, can’t make a 3D Sonic game to save their lives. Sonic Adventure was passable on the Dreamcast, but today it doesn’t hold up so well. The big problem is that Sonic Team hasn’t gotten their 3D legs yet (the abysmal Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Riders are strong, recent evidence of this). But while their current-gen skills falter, their old-school talent still shines. Sonic Rush proves that Sega’s speedy blue mascot still has a lot of life in him.

First of all, imagine everything you loved about Sonic on the Genesis. All the great moments from Sonic 1, 2, 3, Sonic and Knuckles, and Sonic CD. Then roll them into one game, and you have Sonic Rush. Sonic Team has taken the best-loved elements of those classics and given them a serious adrenaline injection, thanks to the innovative DS hardware. The action is traditional 2D side-scrolling, but now it spans both screens for an even more dizzying experience. Sonic will blast across a straightaway and plummet to the bottom screen in a split-second, and training your eyes to keep up with him is more important than ever.

With this new dual-screen format comes an upgrade to many other parts of the Sonic formula. First and foremost is the sense of speed. I can safely say that Sonic Rush is far and away the fastest game in the series. Seriously, none of the other games come close to the sheer blistering, heart stopping velocity of Rush. I fired up Sonic 1 the other day for comparison’s sake, and I felt slower than a frozen Metroid. To accommodate Sonic’s new warp-factor-9 capacity, the levels have been scaled to nearly six times the size of Sonic CD’s stages. There’s still platforming to do, but loops, bungee cords, drops and ramps dominate the incredibly expansive levels. There are only two real levels per act and a level boss stage, but the size of the maps themselves make up for this.

Many old-school Sonic players will recall an oft-used developer strategy—place a bad guy in a deviously evil spot, namely right at the end of a super-speedy loop or straightaway. The collision with the enemy not only broke the euphoric sense of speed but also scattered collected rings in all directions, evoking a stream of colorful metaphors from the player’s mouth as he/she scrambled to collect the bouncing rings and dispatch the enemy. This problem has finally been remedied, in the form of the boost meter. By doing grind tricks Tony Hawk style, collecting powerups or killing enemies, Sonic builds up a trick gage that lets him blast forward in decimating burst, destroying all baddies lurking just off-screen.

There’s a limited amount of boost, keeping players from cheaply jamming the thing all the time, but it’s a helpful addition that removes most of the frustration from the experience.

The boss fights differ quite a bit from the traditional levels, as they are played in full 3D. The 2D mechanics are retained to avoid control confusion (Sonic can only move right, left and jump) but Dr. Eggman’s nefarious machines lunge toward the screen and fire depth-sensitive attacks, making Sonic Rush’s boss fights some of the more memorable and challenging of the series.

In addition to the boss battles, the special half-pipe stages from Sonic 2 make a return, now rendered realtime in full 3D. Fans know what I’m talking about—the third-person, scrolling tube filled with rings and obstacles. These stages are the only time the DS touch capability is used, to move Sonic left and right to grab rings. Novices beware; these are also some of the most challenging parts of the game. The 3D aspect smoothes out the control, but the developers cranked up the difficulty to compensate. Beating these stages will reward Sonic with a coveted chaos emerald, but it took me several tries a level to get the patterns right. At least Tails isn’t tagging along, smashing into bombs while you try to scoop up every last ring.

Some 3D techniques are used in the 2D levels a well; the player character is a fully rendered polygon model, allowing for very fluid animations and actions not possible with a sprite. Parts of the levels themselves are polygonal too and take advantage of the third dimension, creating breathtaking effects that will surprise even the most seasoned Sonic veteran. Don’t be surprised to find Sonic parachuting or hang-gliding, and in one level gravity reverses itself. Put simply, Sonic Rush is the epitome of the side-scrolling Sonic games, with enough tricks up its sleeve to challenge old and new players alike.

In terms of actual story, I was pleased that Sonic Team kept things simple and focused this time. There’s a plot about parallel dimensions, but it never interferes with the gameplay and also allows for the introduction of a new player character: Blaze the Cat. She doesn’t control all that differently from Sonic which is a good thing in my opinion, and she adds a new dynamic to the Sonic universe. Aside from Sonic, she is the only other playable character. This may disappoint hardcore Sonic fans who read the comic and watch the TV show, but I think it’s a blessing. Previous games got overwhelming with the multiple character paths and it was hard to follow the story at all. Mainstays like Tails, Amy Rose and fan-favorite Knuckles make only cameo appearances, but at least we aren’t forced to play as throwaway characters like Big the Cat to finish the game.

My only complaint is that the Sonic-Blaze duality isn’t more fleshed out. Both characters play through the exact same levels, just in a different order, whereas I would have liked separate mission paths for each character. As I said the levels are massive as it is, and it might have been prohibitive for Sonic Team to make two full campaigns, but it’s still repetitive to finish one level with Sonic and then instantly revisit it with Blaze.

Even with two characters, finishing the solo story doesn’t take more than a few hours, but you’ll have an absolute blast while it lasts. To extend play time a bit, a multiplayer mode was included. This option harkens back to the multi races from the older Sonic games, but with more variety and of course, speed. The object of the game is to reach the end of the stage before your opponent, using whatever means necessary to slow them down and get ahead. As before there isn’t much of a character selection, but once the fight for who gets to be Sonic is over, you’ll find a satisfying, invigorating competition.

All of the single player levels are included (minus the boss stages), so the shortcuts and stunts can be used for the purpose of getting a leg up on the race. Leaving bad guys intact may seem ludicrous, but remember that you’re not the only one playing; dodging that badnik leaves the chance that your friend will go careening into it and lose precious seconds. The multiplayer mode can be played between two game cards or in download play, but I found a serious problem with the download—the game bogged down into heavy framerate chop. My opponent didn’t seem to have this problem, so I can only hypothesize that download play is hard on the person hosting the game. It makes sense, for such an incredibly fast-running game, but it’s one bug that should’ve been ironed out.

It’s unfortunate that fans will have to wait a little longer for next-gen, groundbreaking 3D Sonic the Hedgehog, but until then we have Sonic Rush. An almost perfect balance of speed, gameplay and graphical flair make this the best 2D game to feature the blue blur, and it proves that Sonic Team still has it where it counts. There are a few dings in the glossy sheen of this game, but they are small blemishes on a game that’s gripping, just hard enough, and faster than a bat out of hell.




B
Sonic Team reclaims their reputation, with a lot of help from the Sonic Advance dev team. Aside from some repetition and a few minor technical flaws, Sonic Rush delivers a wholly satisfying old-school experience, kicked into extreme overdrive. This game leaves scorch marks on the pavement and blisters on your fingers. Sonic fans, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.