One of the best Sonic games in years is hitting the Nintendo DS later this month, and we have the early hands-on...
Yuji Naka and I have never seen eye to eye on the Sonic the Hedgehog legacy. Not that we should, seeing as how he's in the driver's seat of the popular game series, but I've never understood why a character that was built for speed runs into so many potholes during play. Unfortunately, these same road blocks plague Sega's upcoming DS title, Sonic Rush, but even with what in my opinion are horrible design flaws, this game is still one hell of a ride and a must buy.
The problems that I speak of are bottomless pits and Sonic's inability to hold his breath under water for lengthy periods of time. You see, Sonic Rush is all about speed. In fact, I can safely say with confidence that this is the fastest 2D Sonic ever created. Utilizing both screens, loops stretch across the entire DS system, slides spin from top to bottom, and Sonic swings on vines that launch him from the bottom window all the way to the top one. This game is digital crack in its most purest form, a speed demon that is so lightning quick that most times I don't even know where the hell I'm going and that's perfectly all right because I don't care, except for when Sonic falls off a ledge and plummets to his doom.
Where the hell do these pits come from, anyway, and how does Naka expect players to actually care about them when the whole point of this game is to lose control of your senses and fly all over the place? That's always been a criticism that I've had of him and Sonic Team as a whole. They built this character that can travel faster than the Millennium Falcon but they expect us to watch out for dangerous holes. It's a horrible contrast that makes Sonic Rush, and the rest of the games, for that matter, less fun than they should be.
The underwater issue is more of a personal matter and not as big a problem as the aforementioned. Again, the levels are designed in such a way that Sonic's supposed to go really fast, yet Naka expects me to occasionally stop and look for air bubbles that are few and too far between. And to be especially devious he's thrown in some pits for good measure.
Stripping away Sonic's right to breathe may seem a bit awkward but I also feel that Sonic Rush's underwater levels aren't designed well enough to make finding air a moderately easy feat. The result is a lot of pointless deaths, moments where I'm not continuing because I was hit by an enemy but because I was trapped within the underwater labyrinth. In short, that's not cool, yo! But enough bitching! I've made fantastic points, but the bottom line is Sonic Rush is my latest addiction, a game so good that I'm already pondering what future sequels could be like.
When I first saw this game at E3 I thought it was going to be an extension of the Sonic Advance series, so as I approached the kiosk I prepared myself to anticipate decent looking 2D graphics and the same old Sonic gameplay, but I couldn't have been more wrong. While it's your typical Sonic adventure (the story, at least what I've seen of it, is rather boring), Sonic Team's taken advantage of the DS hardware and thrown in some delightful surprises.
Because of the added processing power, Sonic Rush occurs in both the second and third dimension. Sonic and Blaze the Cat (a brand new character) are always in 3D. Rather, it's the world that changes perspective. The majority of the levels that I've played are 2D similar to most Sonic games. Featuring loops that stretch across both screens, vines, jump pads, hidden areas, and other assorted goodies, these environments represent typical Sonic locales but they've been pumped full of performance enhancing drugs to make them look more beautiful than anything seem on the Genesis and Game Boy Advance. Sonic and friends have also been given quite a speed boost, so more than ever, you won't have any idea what the hell's going on but you'll love every second of it.
To make things even faster, Sonic and Blaze now have increased dash abilities. While sailing through the air, you can press B to make them perform a very simple trick, and doing this fills up a meter on the left side of the touch screen. With this "energy" you can perform boosts by pressing either Y or X, and the result is a 0-60 in .2 seconds kind of effect that is magnified whenever they hit something that propels them in any direction. It can also be used to beat up enemies, which eliminates having to stop and then hit them in the face. However, this boost energy depletes every time that you use it, so you'll want to conserve it in the tougher areas, particularly the ones that take place underwater, where Sonic needs to reach the surface ASAP.
Aside from the standard levels, there are also boss fights which take place in full 3D. None of the robots that I've faced are especially challenging (it's all simple patterns, really), but these skirmishes serve as a reminder that Sega has the smarts to develop a Sonic Adventure type game.
Unlike previous Sonic titles, Rush takes place on a world map and you can freely navigate to whichever Act you choose, the reason being so that you can earn more points and achieve a higher grade.
There's also a multiplayer mode. My brother and I were able to race each other using a single cart which was quite fun, but that was DS Download Battle. The other option, DS Wireless Battle wasn't working, so I'm going to assume that you need multiple copies of the game in order to play it.
If there's anything to really complain about (since my previous rants are more a matter of taste) it's the blind spot between the two screens. Much like in Metroid Prime Pinball, you lose the character when he or she travels into it. It's not a big deal because the game's so fast, but it is a bit disorientating. It's something I got used to, though.
My issues notwithstanding, Sonic Rush is a great game and a shining jewel in Sega's holiday portfolio. It's classic Sonic but with a powerful twist, making it a must buy if you love this series, its characters, and/or a quality platform adventure. Expect my review when the game is released on November 15.