Review: I prefer my girlfriend's secret ring.
Unlike the Mario series, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has never reached its full potential in 3-D. Sure the Sonic Adventure games for the Dreamcast were kind of fun. Ultimately though they paled in comparison to Sonic's 16-bit Genesis outings. Sega hopes to reverse this trend with Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Nintendo Wii. Their strategy: bring Sonic back to his roots by focusing solely on his speed and ignoring the issues that plagued earlier efforts (excessive item hunts, an annoying entourage of characters).
One night Sonic is awoken by a genie named Shahra. She informs him that the classic book, Arabian Nights, is being rewritten by the evil Erazor Djinn. Sonic, apparently a fan of Middle Eastern literature, agrees to help and is transported into the vast world of Arabian Nights. The story is appropriately simple compared to other Sonic titles. This will be good news to those who felt the Sonic Adventure games were needlessly story-heavy (like most adult films). Many fans will also be glad to hear that Sonic and the Secret Rings focuses solely on the blue hedgehog. Sonic's usual cast make appearances in which they are euthanized one by one. Okay, maybe that would be too much of a coup. Never fear though, for they only make sparse cameos as familiar characters from the Arabian Nights legend (Knuckles is Sinbad, Tales is Ali Baba, etc.).
Sonic and the Secret Rings (SSR) takes a decidedly different approach from recent series installments. Instead of being a free-roaming platformer, SSR can best be described as an on the rails ?runner.? Think Star Fox without the space battles and debatably less freaky anthropomorphic animals. Sonic runs along a predetermined track where he encounters enemies and avoids obstacles. The general idea is to approximate the straightforward gameplay of the 16-bit titles in 3-D.
The basics are all still here. The rings that Sonic collects act as his energy. There are also a number of energy pearls that Sonic can grab. These pearls charge up a meter that the player can active for a huge burst of speed. After completing each mission the player earns a certain number of new abilities. These can be used to customize Sonic's ring. These new abilities are mostly enhancements and bonuses such as smoother movement and starting the mission with a number of rings.
A huge change of pace comes from SSR's control scheme. The player holds the Wii remote in the horizontal ?NES? fashion. The player controls Sonic through use of the remote's tilt function. Leaning the controller forward causes Sonic to run, backwards causes him, you guessed it, to backpedal. Tilting the controller left or right makes the blue fur ball move in that direction to avoid obstacles. The ?1? button causes Sonic to slam on the brakes while the ?2? button is used to jump.
The game is divided into eight worlds. These range from a dinosaur themed area to pirate ships engulfed in a turbulent storm. The objective of the main quest in each is to simply get to the end of the level. Again this is similar to the 16-bit titles. In addition each world has a number of sub quests. The player must complete at least some of these sub quests to earn enough points to advance to the next world. These objectives range from collecting a certain number of rings to racing to complete the stage under a time limit. Some of these missions are fairly fun, but most are overly simple and feel like Sega's method of artificially inflating the replay value. Many times I wanted to get to the next world, but was frustratingly forced to endure some sort of half-assed stealth mission. Sonic Adventure 2 had a similar problem in which the player was forced to go emerald fetching with Knuckles in between each of the more exciting Sonic areas.
As Sega hoped, when Sonic is running in overdrive the game is very fun. Grinding down rails and bopping enemies in chained combos, the action is non-stop and exhilarating. The controls work great in these areas. Unfortunately when the running stops, so does the fun. Simply put, the controls are awkward and clumsy.
Let it be said here that backpedaling in this game plain sucks. If you miss an item it seems next to impossible to back up. This is because Sonic has the propensity to run forward no matter what. To add insult to injury many of the side quests involve item hunting.
The platforming itself can be a chore since the camera angles make it hard to determine how long you should charge your jumps. To compound this problem, you miss a jump you often have to run through the level again to give it another try. The camera also makes it hard to avoid obstacles. Many times you cannot see a jump until it is too late. In other cases the view switches to the disorienting so that Sonic is running at the player rather than away from him or her.
One of the game's strongest highlights is the graphics. From the lush detailed worlds to the character models, they are some of the best yet on the Wii. An exception is the cut-scenes, which are mostly static pictures. Couldn't Sega have pre-rendered some actual animation?
On the other hand the characters' voices are somewhat annoying. Sonic has the clich?d irreverent attitude that has become a staple of video game heroes. The in-game dialogue is irritating, not only for its existence, but because the player is forced to live through it every time they die. The music is appropriately atmospheric. The few instance of vocal songs are somewhat cheesy but never distracting.
SSR also features a multiplayer mode in the same vein as Mario Party. Up to four players choose from various characters in the Sonic canon to compete in a series of mini-games. As the player progresses in the main story mode, he or she can collect Fire Souls hidden in each level to unlock more mini-games. As one would expect these games involve using the Wii controller's features to complete certain tasks. Overall the multiplayer experience is sort very vanilla. This is mostly because the games don't feel very innovative and the formula itself has been done more than Paris Hilton by the Mario Party series and other Wii mini-game titles like WarioWare and Rayman Raving Rabbids.