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Sonic and the Secret Rings Review

Developer: Sonic Team Publisher: Sega
Release Date: February 20, 2007 Also On: None

Sonic hasn’t aged very well. His fast, hyperactive youth has long since been replaced by mediocrity and disappointment. Once an A student, this hedgehog was sent to the counselor and in need of serious changes, lest he be shunned further away from his gaming peers. SEGA and Sonic Team seem to have done just right with their little blue guy; Sonic and the Secret Rings marks his first appearance on Wii and he shows a lot of promise and improvement.

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Our hedgehog friend is awakened one day by a genie named Shahra. Her dilemma is that the Erazor Djinn is erasing pages right out of the book Arabian Nights, and without Sonic’s immediate help, Erazor will destroy the story in the book and begin dominating Sonic’s world. The story is a departure from the typical Dr. Robotnik schemes of the past, but familiar characters make an appearance in the Arabian-themed world. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t take advantage of Wii hardware as much as it could. Similar to Elebits, Red Steel, and Trauma Center: Second Opinion, the majority of the story is told in artistic frames rather than real-time scenes.

Sonic’s disappointing line of recent games have shared similar problems; bad camera angles, terrible controls, and uninspired level design have since been thorns in his shoes. Sonic and the Secret Rings fixes this problem by being much more like the hedgehog’s two-dimensional adventures. In fact, it is accurate to say that the game plays like the 2D games, only turned forward so that Sonic is running into the screen rather than to its side. Using Wii’s motion-sensing controller, all of the gameplay is done by turning the remote to its side and tilting it, pressing buttons to jump, brake, and activate special moves. Moving Sonic around the screen as he constantly runs forward is a breeze, and feels similar to but better than games like Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam and Excite Truck. Not all control mechanics work so well, but I’ll get to that in a second.

The gameplay is fleshed out in Adventure Mode, which features seven different worlds and more than 100 missions to play. Missions range in difficulty and ask different things of Sonic. Some simply ask that he reach a certain point, others have him collecting rings, defeating enemies, or racing against the clock. As Sonic completes missions and earns experience points, he can earn and equip different skills that let him become an even more agile character. These skills vary in utility: some expand Sonic’s homing attack range or increase the smoothness of his running and sliding, others aren’t as useful and allow him to do things like hop backward and harm enemies. Adventure Mode is quite deep and offers, at the very least, 15-20 hours of gameplay. Earning gold medals on all of the missions would take much, much longer.

Sonic’s only gameplay flaws come from some of the inconsistent mechanics. Sonic’s homing attack is sometimes wild and uncontrollable and often sends him flying past enemies or objects that he’s locked onto. Jumping is done differently here than in any other Sonic game: rather than pressing the 2 button to send Sonic into the air, Sonic has to “charge” his jump with the press of the 2 button. This makes jumping a heinous task that it shouldn’t be. Moving backward at any time during the game is particularly annoying, since the camera doesn’t reverse or even pan out to allow for an improved view of what’s behind Sonic. Stoppage in the fast-paced action is abrupt and sometimes forced; for example, the camera mechanics and level design go hand-in-hand. Some obstructions were intentionally placed in the levels to slow the game down and allow the camera to catch up; this certainly detracts from the fast sense of speed and seems like a cheap way to put in difficult jumps and platform sequences. These gripes actually don’t harm the overall experience much, but they come along and are definitely worth mentioning.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the only Wii title to date that looks better than Sonic and the Secret Rings. Sonic’s Arabian surroundings vary in design and detail. The levels are all quite different in theme, and therefore look nothing like each other. The floating sky levels, sandy deserts, the pirate ships–they’re all fun to look at and run through. Special effects are done very well for the most part. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is among the worst in video games. I’m not sure why Sonic Team and SEGA are adamant about featuring such crummy music for their spunky character, and Sonic and the Secret Rings has quite possibly the most annoying background menu music I’ve ever heard. Fortunately the voice acting isn’t as miserable as it has been in the past and the sound effects are appropriate.

Sonic’s Adventure mode isn’t the only noteworthy feature: there’s a four-player party mode that has around 40 mini-games to play. It’s a very nice addition to the game that would almost make a fine game on its own; in fact, the only multi-player games on Wii that offer more are Rayman Raving Rabbids! and Wii Sports. The multi-player offering doesn’t ever feel shallow, either–in my experience, the game lasted for quite a lot of time and never ceased to be entertaining.

Sonic still isn’t quite up to grade with his peers, but at least he’s managed to get around the harsh reprimands of his critics (mostly). Sonic and the Secret Rings is a great addition to one’s Wii library. I’d hope that in the future, SEGA and Sonic Team work on improving this formula rather than that used in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 Sonic the Hedgehog title. Sonic on Wii is much more entertaining, accessible, and most of all, fun.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7
Written by Cliff Review Guide