Surely it canít be that hard to kill a hedgehog? All it takes is a motorway and a Honda SUV. But nobody mentioned that to Dr. Eggman, and certainly not to Sonic. After an impressive stint on the Gameboy Advance, Sonic is born again on the Nintendo DS - on two screens. But is it a miracleÖ or a mere miscarriage?
Iíll start by introducing you to the storyline, as it may be unfamiliar and tough to predict: Dr. Eggman has nabbed the chaos emeralds and is trying to conquer the world! Ok, maybe thatís slightly unfair but this forms the basis of a storyline that is actually much superior to those told in previous Sonic outings. It benefits from the Ďmysteriousí new character, Blaze the cat, who has entered Sonicís world in desperation to get the Sol Emeralds back from Dr.Eggman. Her encounters with Sonic and co and her apparent dislike for socializing of any sort form her part of the tale, while playing as Sonic sees you going after Eggman Nega Ė the opposite number to Eggman in Blazesí world. Due to Eggman Negaís fetish for stealing emeralds, these two separate worlds are combining together and itís up to you as both Sonic and Blaze to save the day. Better put your sneakers onÖ
As the name suggests, Sonic Rush is no stroll in the park. It is without doubt the fastest Sonic game ever made Ė with every effort made to prevent you from standing still. No, Sonic isnít wearing absorbent pants, but by tapping the shoulder buttons while in midair will shoot you off in the direction you need to be. You no longer need to be curled up in a ball to bash enemies, simply falling on them will do. Item boxes? Just run through them. In the off-chance you are standing still, a simple super boost will set you off at a blistering speed that will see you over loops and drops no problem. You have to time it well though as the badniks are carefully placed to give you a rough time.
The new super boost move is crucial to your progression within Sonic Rush. It allows you to run at maximum speed, and run through any enemy in your path, blowing them to bits in the process. Itís great, but serves as a reminder to what you are actually doing in this game Ė holding the D-pad down and occasionally pushing A. Itís never really been any different in Sonic platformers, but without the need for exploration itís easy to sometimes get the feeling that the game is playing itself, and you are wasting your eyesight trying to keep up with a blue blur that leaps and bounds between two screens. The level layout is displayed on both screens with Sonic and Blaze rushing from one to the other. It doesnít really add much to the experience, and sometimes youíll be staring at a passive scene because you havenít realized that the action has switched to the bottom screen. The extra screen can be useful for spotting an enemy or admiring the scenery, but itís nothing too beneficial.
So, how would the new gizmos on the DS affect Sonic Rush? Well, the mic is dormant and the second screen is only put to real use between levels. The stylus however, is effectively used in the special stages that are accessible by accumulating enough charge on your super boost bar by doing tricks in mid-air. The special stages relate directly to those found in Sonic 2 on the Sega Megadrive, where you direct Sonic through a half-pipe collecting rings and avoiding nasty spiked things. The concept here is similar, although the stylus is used to control Sonic rather than the D-pad. Itís tricky at first, and some stages need practice and clinical movements in order to succeed.
Overall though, itís probably the best Special stage experience to date. Not nearly as stressful as the stages in Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles, which often left you screaming words your mum told you never to say. Sonic boss battles. The ancient art of jump and avoid. Iíll make this clear Ė these are the best boss battles ever created in any Sonic game. They take place on a 3D platform with Eggman/Nega in the middle who shouts abuse and attacks you. If you run, the camera revolves around you to keep up with your movement. Itís brilliant. At times, it will change angle completely, allowing you to deal with a different danger. Remember Eggmanís predictable one dimensional attacks that get faster when heís nearly defeated? Theyíre still there. But his attacks are now 3-dimensional. Literally of course, and because each mecha has a range of attacks at its disposal. It keeps the idea of routine firmly in place, with a greater need to adapt on the fly when he surprises you with a different move. Make no mistake Ė itís pure brilliance and at times breathlessly exhilarating Ė without a chao in sight!
There is perhaps, one little niggle, and I donít like to say it. Whenever you take on a boss, your companion (Tails for Sonic, Cream for Blaze) makes irritating remarks depending on whether youíve dealt or taken a hit. Believe me, when you know youíve screwed up, it doesnít help the situation in any way by having a stupid fox shouting ĎNo Sonic!í The Voiceover team are out in force in Sonic Rush, with Blaze and Sonic each enjoying a fair amount of speech during the game. But donít expect lengthy conversations - just be glad theyíre not in there as Blaze sounds distressingly like Mary Poppins. The other characters are unplayable Ė even Knuckles. Believe me, if it were Knuckles Rush, Iíd be a lot happier. Everyone loves Knuckles. Despite his absence as a playable character, it adds more credibility to the strong storyline as it chiefly concerns Sonic and Blaze. Upon completion, the story reaches a satisfying climax that wasnít really there in previous Sonic games. The 3D cut scenes just take the Sonic experience a tad further.
Ouch. As a long term fan of Sonic platformers, Iím accustomed to catchy, jingly tunes that blend beautifully with the surroundings Ė e.g Aquatic Ruin Zone, Mystic Cave Zone, Hydro City ZoneÖdonít expect that here. Instead, expect trashy fast-paced techno beats with voiceovers repeatedly saying Ďgoí. I canít describe how much the music took away from my experience of Sonic Rush. I donít think that techno compliments beautiful zone such as Water Palace in any way. But that really comes down to personal taste, so itís up to you. But donít pin any hopes on nostalgia where the tunes are concerned.
The best ever seen in a Sonic platformer; A balanced blend of 2D and 3D action - even the Sonic and Blaze sprites are partially 3D! Expect Sonic to shoot close up and then propel back into zone on certain aspects, such as water slides and corkscrew twists.
Unlike Mario Kart Ds for example, Sonic Rush is not a game you are going to want to buy for its multiplayer possibilities. Itís rather flat. You can race vs another player. But if you wanted to race then by all means, you should buy Mario Kart. Itís hard to see just how Sonic Team can reinvent its multiplayer options, but with the new DS capabilities itís a bit disappointing for the race option to be regurgitated again. Lets hope for something better next time.
Sonic has made a very strong first impression upon the Nintendo DS, and still carries the flag for the best side scrolling platformer. Sonic Rush is both challenging and exhilarating experience, with the best elements of 2D and 3D fused together in a solid gameplay package. Blaze the cat doesnít add much to the experience, and the sound (both music and voices) can really be a pain in the Eggman at times. But Apart from this, youíd be hard-pressed not to enjoy Sonic Rush. That is, if you have time.
Review by Matthew Long 2006 ©