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Sonic and the Secret Rings March 20, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks to develop an opinion on Sonic and the Secret Rings. For the life of me, I can’t quite decide whether the Wii title is some kind of awful or deviously mad fun.

The fact of the matter is that the Sonic franchise has seen better days since its first installment on the Sega Genesis. With the bar having been set so low in recent years, Secret Rings has a lot to live down, which it actually does with yet another contrived storyline that involves the mythos of the Arabian Nights. To overcome this, however, the game makes full use of the Wii’s functionality by allowing players to “drive” Sonic as he rockets through the various stages. For Secret Rings, players hold the Wiimote horizontally, akin to the NES and Famicom controllers of old, and “steer” a perpetually forward-moving Sonic by tilting the controller left and right. The controller’s buttons are used for braking, sliding and jumping, while a quick shake of the controller while Sonic is in mid-air unleashes a homing attack to lay down a beating on the various enemies that are encountered along the way.

For all the promise that Secret Rings embodies, it comes with a learning curve that tends to make gameplay frustrating and tedious, not to mention rather repetitive. At the heart of the issue is how the game is designed: Sonic acquires new skills the more “experience” players obtain, and new stages and unlockables are revealed as more skills are obtained and old stages are completed. As a consequence, getting started with the game can be a very painful experience as Sonic is extremely unwieldy to control without the appropriate set of skills at his disposal, which naturally makes certain stage obstacles nigh insurmountable. Of course, it is possible to overcome this difficulty by clocking in the requisite hours to obtain the necessary experience and acclimatize oneself to the initially available stages. The problem with doing so is that certain stage elements, such as sudden perspective changes, can make this a chore, and gameplay quickly regresses to a matter of doing the exact same thing in the exact same stage in the exact same way in order to make some progress. And don’t get me started on the game’s patently faux-rock theme song.

Despite all this, I have found it extremely difficult of late to keep from taking the game for a whirl.

Given its shortcomings, Sonic and the Secret Rings becomes an altogether different game as more and more of Sonic’s skills are unlocked, typically after the fourth set of stages become available to play through. Along with skills that make the hedgehog’s lateral and airborne movements easier to control, obtaining the twin abilities of performing a “speed break” to accelerate at dizzying speeds on the one hand and a “time break” to slow down time on the other breathes new life to the task of playing through stages. It is almost as if the developers really intended the game to be enjoyed with this “superpowered” version of Sonic instead of the “plain vanilla” one players are initially introduced to, with the latter being incorporated into the game more as an afterthought given that it would take some time to get used to the character’s various abilities.

Overall, there is no question that Sonic and the Secret Rings could have been a much better game. If one can momentarily overlook the things that the game gets wrong — and there are several — it becomes easy to surrender to the one thing that the game does get right: the overwhelming sense of speed that makes Sonic the Hedgehog such an irresistible character. On balance, it is not a game that will endear itself to novices, nor is it of the type one can (or should) play for hours on end. Rather, it is best enjoyed in small doses and over short bursts. Thankfully, with a character than can zip through stages at supersonic speed, very little is lost in the process.

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1. Sonic Rush « BRAIN DRAIN - June 23, 2007

[…] redundant characters, and ill-designed gamplay cast the series into a funk from which even its newer installments have never quite emerged. Yet what fans of the series know all too well is that the best Sonic game […]


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