Monday, October 01, 2007

Sonic Rush Adventure review

Well, talk about a miracle, but here I am with another post barely a week after my last! I hope I can keep this up for a while, I have a few games I would like to write about. This time it's the turn of Sonic Rush Adventure, the brand new hedgehog based platformer from Sega for the Nintendo DS. The original took Sonic back to his high speed 2D roots and was very well received, so does the sequel make any improvements? Let's see...

Format: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Sega
Developer: DIMPS
Genre: 2D Platformer
Region: Europe
Price: £29.99

When Sonic Rush was released shortly before Christmas a few years ago, it was a welcome return to form for the ageing mammal. It fused the high speed retro flavoured gameplay we all knew and loved from the Megadrive games, with a funked up soundtrack and some nifty graphical tricks. Rather than trying to force Sonic into 3D like Sega had done on the home consoles (to mediocre effect), they decided to stick with what they do best and it paid off. Now, with the follow up, the word Adventure has crept into the title - but don't let that concern you do much. There is a bit of light exploration to do but at it's heart this is still the classic style platforming action that fans want.

Graphics: 9 out of 10
On the ultra bright screen of my DS Lite, the graphics of Sonic Rush Adventure look absolutely fantastic. The game like it's predecessor makes use of the "2.5D" technique where 3D polygons are viewed side on for classic 2D gameplay with modern 3D presentation, and because Sonic is so small you can hardly tell the difference between the polygonal model and the old 2D sprites of yesteryear. Highlights include the Coral Canyon levels, with it's nice blue/purple colour scheme and shimmery undersea lighting effects, and the bosses. These bosses, while not particularly challenging to beat (at least not on the default setting) are very impressive to look at, and include a robotic T-Rex, a robotic whale, and a robotic pirate. Noticing a theme here? The boss battles take place over both screens of the DS and you will often need to jump from the bottom screen to the top and vice versa. There are also some 3D vehicular mini games and these look OK, but not as good as the rest of the game in my opinion.

Of course good looks would be nothing in a Sonic game without the most important factor - speed. I'm happy to say that SRA moves along at a tremendous pace. This can be irritating in later stages when there are sudden drops into oblivion but when you know the stages you will know when to take care and avoid this.

The loops and spirals which the series is famous for stretch over both screens on the DS to impressive effect.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
The first Sonic Rush featured a very funky soundtrack that has been compared to that of Jet Set Radio, and SRA continues this new tradition with aplomb. The beat box style lyrics may irk some players but I didn't mind it too much. The boss music in particular is very exciting and when you have depleted half of the bosses energy bar the music goes into overdrive and can cause you to panic if you don't have any rings left. Otherwise, you can expect the famous chime as Sonic collects rings, and all the other noises, like the "wub-wub" sound when Sonic is drowning and he pops a much needed air bubble.

Plot and Character: 3 out of 10
SRA tries to be deeper than the average Sonic game by having lots of cut scenes and story interludes in between the stages, but it fails pretty miserably by all accounts. There isn't really much of a plot apart from "stop evil cat pirate thing" and "collect Chaos Emeralds and Sol Crystals" but Sega felt the need to try and shoe-horn one in anyway. To exacerbate things further, they also continued the trend of adding one annoying extra character per game which started with Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. This time it's a Racoon named Marine, who is cursed with the most god-awful cliched faux Australian accent you'll have ever read. At times she is amusing but for the most part she is incredibly irritating. Thank god you can skip the story scenes. Ironically, if SRA had no plot at all it would have gained a better score in this category, because a Sonic game doesn't really need one.

This is the island base that Sonic and chums use to build new vehicles and plan their next move. A bit like Thunderbirds - but with anthropomorphic animals.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
When SRA sticks to what Sonic games do really well (i.e. really fast, exciting platform stages) then it's great fun. When it goes off on it's various tangents it gets into trouble. These include the afore-mentioned excruciating story sequences, but also to a lesser degree include the vehicular mini games and the amount of repetition involved. You see, Tails being the qualified mechanic that he is, can build a range of new vehicles each with their own corresponding mini game and each able to go slightly farther than the last. The downside of this is that he need a certain number of materials before he can build a new vehicle, which you gain from completing the stages. The better your Rank for a given stage the more materials you will obtain, with a C earning 1 material and an A earning 3. So chances are you will have to replay many of the stages at least once before you can build the next vehicle and journey to the next island, which can get rather boring after a while.

The vehicle mini games are OK... just OK. The touch screen controls work well enough, and the games are mercifully brief, but personally I just wanted to get on with the next platform stage as they are by far the best thing about this game.

Innovation & Cleverness: 6 out of 10
One thing that SRA does do well is the introduction of new worlds to explore. For all too long the Sonic games have been stuck in a loop of the same old Casino worlds, underwater stages, etc. but at least this time DIMPS have shaken things up a bit with a Ghost Ship for example. The other "innovations" like the touch screen mini games I've already mentioned really add very little to your enjoyment of the game and I'd rather they were left out personally.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10

The main story mode of the game is quite easy and fairly brief, but it's really only the beginning of the game. Once it's done, you still have to find and earn all of the Chaos Emeralds and Sol Crystals, plus there are 100 Missions to try and clear if you so wish. As well as the main levels there are also quite a few hidden islands to seek out so to do everything in the game will take a fair old while and it lasts a considerable time longer than the original Sonic Rush. You can also play as Blaze the Cat who has a slightly different move set and has to face tougher versions of the bosses.

Overall: 7 out of 10
When you take every aspect into consideration, Sonic Rush Adventure actually feels like a step back compared to the last game, which is a shame because the heart of the game - the platforming and the bosses, is actually an improvement. By cramming in a needless plot, a stupid and annoying Racoon and pointless vehicular mini games, Sega have managed to spoil what would've been one of the best DS games of the year. Well done!

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