Developer: Dimps Corporation
Release Date: September 18, 2007
There was a time that the name Sonic the Hedgehog brought with it a certain expectation of quality. Back in the day, the blue speedster was Mario's primary rival in gaming, and for good reason. While Mario's 16-bit adventures focused more on finding secrets and skillfully jumping about nearly nonexistent platforms, the early Sonic games were more about speed, speed and more speed. Granted, there were pitfalls to watch out for, but the whole point of the game was getting from the start to the boss, and then beating it. There was the occasional secret goodie to snag or special stage to find, but all in all, beginners could have as much fun with the game as experts.
Then, around the days of the Sega Saturn, things started to creep downhill. While Mario was still going strong with the critically lauded Super Mario 64, Sonic's first foray into the third dimension was a psuedo-3D isometric title by the name of Sonic 3D Blast, which, while not terrific, was still marginally playable. After that came the Sonic Adventure series on the Dreamcast, which was riddled with bugs, poor camera control and the beginning of Sega's furry-mascot-a-day mindset. Many of the new characters introduced would last a game at most, and if Sega were lucky, would last for an entire game series. In addition, the flaws of the adventure games were only magnified in future games, and the three later games — Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, and the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Sonic the Hedgehog — were all viciously panned by critics and fans alike, who felt that new additions did not make up for the loss in gameplay.
The Game Boy Advance did not fare much better, as while the Sonic Advance titles did return to the 2D, sprite-based gameplay, they were seen as sub-par due to the uncharacteristic lack of speed and emphasis on not falling into ever-increasing amounts of bottomless pits. In addition, Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis is seen as one of the buggiest and most inaccurate ports of an old game to date. There was hope on the horizon, however, as six months before the franchise's 15th anniversary, a DS game appeared by the name of Sonic Rush. While not perfect — it introduced yet another new face in Blaze the Cat, and the overabundant bottomless pit problem had not been fully remedied — it announced the return of speedier gameplay, including a speed boost move powered by easily performed tricks.
All of this is relevant, of course, because Sonic Rush Adventure is a direct sequel to 2005's Sonic Rush, and it shows. Set an unknown time after Sonic Rush, SRA follows plucky protagonists Sonic and Tails as their plane crashes during an ocean storm, leaving them stranded on a distant island. They aren't alone, either, as they are quickly greeted by Marine, a raccoon girl who dreams of one day captaining her own ship and who speaks more like Steve Irwin than anyone rightly should. It turns out they're stranded on Southern Island, a small island in the middle of the ocean. She takes them to Windmill Village, which consists entirely of her house and a few koalas, to give them the rundown.
See, the islands around Southern Island are rich in Materials, odd metallic and gem-like objects usable to create all sorts of machines and the like. In fact, the first Materials Sonic finds are used to make him a water-speeder bike, a small little craft which allows him to travel from island to island. All is not well, however, as the evil robotic pirate (who, sadly, is not a ninja or a zombie) Captain Whisker is afoot, plotting to steal a treasure known as the Jeweled Scepter.
Play is split into two segments. First, you spend time exploring the sea in your water crafts (first your speeder bike, but later you get a hovercraft, submarine and sailboat) in a stylus-based mini-game that varies with the water vessel. The water bike is almost like a racing game, focusing on speed and performing tricks, while the hovercraft and sailboat are more like shoot-'em-up games and the submarine plays almost like a bastardized form of Elite Beat Agents, albeit without a separate musical score. The stylus is fairly responsive in these, though the hovercraft in particular seems to be rather touchy at times.
When you come across an island, however, you're thrust into the Sonic style we've come to know by now. Each island represents one or more stages, each one playing almost identically to those in Sonic Rush. The Y button is used for a speed boost powered by the gauge on the left of the screen, which is refilled by performing tricks. When launched up in the air by a spring or while grinding down a rail, you can press the B button repeatedly to chain together tricks for bonus points and boost gauge power. Naturally, along the way, you pick up magical rings which are basically your protection and obligatory trinkets all in one. If you get hit, though, all of your rings spill out like so many beans out of a burrito, but if you can hold on to them long enough to amass 100, you gain an extra life.
Unlike other games in the series, though, there is no limit to continues. If you lose your last life, you're simply offered the option to drop back at the beginning of the last stage you started. This, along with even further toned-down stage difficulty (the game flows much more like the original Sonic 2 than anything recent) makes the main game relatively easy. However, the various side-quests you're given — mostly in the form of missions ranging from beating harder versions of prior bosses to fiendishly strict time trials — add a fair bit of optional challenge to the title for a more seasoned gamer. In addition, one of the recent standbys of the series has returned, and upon collecting all of the game's Chaos and Sol Emeralds (much like in the prior game), the player is whisked away to the true ending of the story, a race against time as Super Sonic, collecting the rings which are now vital to his very existence.
The soundtrack seems to have a vibe far more similar to its 16-bit forefathers than the more recent techno-laden entries into the series. Whether that's better or worse is a matter of dispute, but the few voice clips (mostly Sonic or Blaze speaking at the beginning of a stage) are thankfully easier on the ears than the fare we were given in the recent Sonic the Hedgehog. Likewise, graphics haven't improved too terribly from the days of Sonic Rush, if at all; however, this is a case of not fixing what isn't broken, as enemies are easily distinguishable from the background, and it's easy to see things even at high speeds.
No, Sonic Rush Adventure doesn't do very much that's new. What it does do, however, is keep all of the things that were good about Sonic Rush — pacing, a sense of speed and pleasant graphics and sound — without any of the frustration. It's far from a perfect package, but whether you're a veteran who remembers the series' heyday back on the Sega Genesis or a newbie looking to dip your feet into the series, you won't be disappointed with Sonic Rush Adventure.
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