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With a few rare exceptions, stock in the Sonic franchise is at an all-time low. After weakening and diluting the brand with the good but flawed Sonic Adventure games and weak, formulaic attempts to ape Mario’s success in other areas (a crappy Mario Kart clone, a crappy Mario Party clone), Sega unwisely disrespected their star franchise with the horrendously bad Shadow the Hedgehog. Things got so bad that the first next-gen entry in the series, dubbed simply Sonic the Hedgehog, was heralded as a comeback. And yet, that game was so sloppy and seemingly rushed to release that I don’t doubt that many Sonic fans chose never to trust Sega again where their blue hedgehog was concerned. So sad is the state of the Sonic franchise at this point that even the halfway-decent Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Wii was seen as a success – Sega actually managed to make a Sonic game that didn’t totally suck!
However, while Sonic’s story on the consoles seems to keep getting worse and worse, his handheld titles are still as good as ever. On the GBA, Sonic Advance and its sequels remained faithful to the successful formula of the 2D games, and their successor on the DS, Sonic Rush, continued their legacy and did a fairly good job of making Sonic’s usually horizontal brand of action fit the vertically-aligned screens of Nintendo’s handheld. It is this legacy, and not the one bemoaned in the paragraph above, that Sonic Rush Adventure continues.
One couldn’t be blamed for being skeptical. The word “adventure” in the title seems to call back to the Sonic Adventure games, and particularly the worst part of them – the mind-achingly boring "adventure" elements. What’s more, the game does seem to have these elements, albeit to a much lesser extent. And to top it all off, unlike previous handheld Sonics (save for last year’s PSP title Sonic Rivals), Sonic Rush Adventure is rendered in 3D.
However, while Sonic Rush Adventure has a name that may conjure up some distasteful comparisons, some attempt at a story and 3D graphics, the game itself seems to be taking most of its gameplay cues from the original Sonic Rush. The game still has Sonic’s good old-fashioned lightning speed, mostly 2D gameplay, and even the same two-screen layout as Sonic’s first DS title, as well as that game’s second playable protagonist Blaze the Cat (don’t worry, you can just ignore her like you did in the first game). And, surprisingly enough, what changes were made to the formula seem to be more to its benefit than its detriment.
Sonic now has, and I think this is a first for the franchise, an overworld map. Getting from point A to point B involves drawing lines to make a route, and then Sonic travels by jetski to get there, with the player playing a minigame not unlike one of those from Sonic’s earlier games, with Sonic moving his jetski left and right (via touchscreen) to collect rings and hit jumps while avoiding obstacles. It’s nothing that’ll set the world on fire, but it’s a fun distraction nonetheless.
Upon getting to a level, Sonic rushes into the stage and the screen changes from 3D to 2D view, and from there on it’s just like old times with loops, springboards and the works. Like Sonic Rush, the game makes use of both screens to display the gameplay, and the gameplay is cleverly-designed to make use of the vertical alignment, with a healthy amount of up-and-down movement in the stages.
Oddly, this Sonic game begins with a tutorial explaining old basics like loops, dashing and air dashes (as well as a nifty new vertical dash move that acts like a kind of double-jump), I suppose to be more friendly to players new to Sonic games.
The game’s graphics look pretty good, and because of the changing elements it’s sometimes difficult to tell the 3D elements from the 2D elements (although this doesn’t seem to negatively affect the gameplay). Sonic himself looks pretty good in 3D, and animates very well.
Fans of the series have something to look forward to here. This may look like new Sonic (bad!), but it still plays just like old Sonic (good!), and looks to make another good case that the Sonic we know and love is still alive and well on handhelds.
We didn’t get too much time with this game, but all signs point to this game being a worthy successor to Sonic Rush and the Sonic Advance games.
Screenshots for Sonic Rush Adventure