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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Dimps / Sonic Team
Genre: Action
Release Date: November 15, 2005
Written by: Daniel Sims

Back in the 90s the Sonic the Hedgehog games were known as some of fastest and coolest 2D platformers around. However in more recent years on the newer consoles, the franchise hasn’t quite made the transition to 3D that many fans had hoped for. When you transport the games into 3D you have to worry about things like cameras, and dynamic level design in the new dimension. Since the release of Nintendo’s new handheld the DS, Sonic Team has decided to take a step back and bring us an oldschool style Sonic platformer on two screens.

All of the Sonic games have been known for their cartoonish yet just slightly cool visual style that has permeated throughout the characters, levels, and storylines. Sonic Rush is no different. But where the more recent console games have tried to give us somewhat complex (and sometimes ridiculous) storylines with dialogue and many cutscenes with many characters involved, Sonic Rush brings us a plotline that is actually a little bit simpler and doesn’t really try to play a huge part in the game.

Once again you are chasing Eggman but you must also fight his mysterious look-alike called Eggman Nega as well as collect the Chaos Emeralds and the new Sol Emeralds. The rest of the plot has something to do with the tearing of the space time continuum, but the details mostly end there. The whole story is told pretty much completely through text-based dialogue that, while not necessarily too long, I should be able to skip through faster.

Like all Sonic games, Sonic Rush takes you through different environments, each one based on a separate theme, usually starting out with the green forest-like stage, which is followed by water-themed, sand-themed, carnival-themed, and mechanical-themed stages as well as some others that should be familiar to anyone who’s played Sonic games before. These stages have all pretty much been drawn and designed the same way since 1991 and there’s no complaint here for keeping it up in Rush.

This game also includes some very simple voicework, probably from the same actors as the console games but either way it’s really not that spectacular, and I could really do without Tails/Cream trying to cheer me on during every boss battle.

The music presentation in Sonic Rush actually takes a turn from what we heard in the recent Sonic Adventure and Sonic Advance games. The soundtrack in this game was composed by Hideki Naganuma, who is largely known for his music in Jet Grind Radio for the Dreamcast, which should appease some Dreamcast fans (such as myself) as well as fans of Naganuma’s music. While I don’t think this game’s music is really as good as the tracks from the old Genesis games, it still fits the Sonic brand excellently.

As far as visuals go, Sonic Rush looks largely the same as the old Genesis games and even more like the recent Advance games with backdrops and objects rendered the same. Though they might have been given a little extra detail due to the DS’s hardware capabilities which in my opinion puts the game’s 2D visuals on the same level as maybe Castlevaia, which is not a bad thing to say at all.

What’s really nice about Sonic’s first DS entry is the 3D effects added in. Back on the Genesis, games like Sonic 3 were known for their use of Mode 7 technology and pseudo 3D effects, which kinda helped push the envelope for what people would see in sidescrollers of the time. Sonic Rush sort of brings that back as it takes it’s 2D backgrounds and sprites and puts them together with the 3D character models and effects. Sonic and Blaze’s character models, as well as certain special obstacles and all of the boss battles are in full 3D. While not quite up to the standards of the 3D models in the console games, Sonic Rush’s 3D graphics are effective and actually look impressive for the DS platform.

This is especially true for the boss battles which are presented in full 3D. Part of this is due to the game’s use of cel-shading in it’s 3D graphics engine, which, coupled together with clever rendering of some of the backgrounds during boss battles, actually suits the DS platform and this game quite well. One of the best parts is that it all runs on a silky-smooth framerate. After playing through this game I can already see that cel-shading will probably be used on the DS very often, as it can give some of the games a significant graphical boost.

In the past, Sonic the Hedgehog games were always associated with pure speed mixed with some clever platforming to create rollercoaster-like levels. In some of the more recent console games however, this started to get bogged down with the inclusion of many new playable characters and with them, different gameplay styles that many did not see as being as inspired and well developed as the pure speed of the original Sonic Style. In this respect, Dimps has decided to take a bit of a step back and put players through stages that, while feel very much like Dimps’s own Sonic Advance games, have a bit more of a Genesis feel with only two playable characters instead of six or twelve.

The two playable characters in the game are Sonic the Hedgehog and a new character called Blaze the Cat. Overall each character is almost completely the same when it comes to controls and maneuvers. But each of them does have different animations for their moves and some of Balze’s moves play out a little differently than Sonic’s. While this new character doesn’t do anything to crowd Sonic Rush like some of the other games had been with past new characters, it would have been great to play through the game in two styles that were a little more different.

Many of the moves that the characters do have however are pretty neat and a lot of them are brand new to this game. In addition to the familiar spin dash and grind maneuvers, there is also the sort of mid-air dash attack from the Sonic Adventure games, which in Sonic’s case has been transformed into a kick. Also new to Sonic Rush is a rudimentary trick system. While you are grinding on a rail or in the middle of the air, you can press a few simple button combinations in order to make your character do tricks to receive points. When tricks are pulled off, they also help push up what’s called the “Tension Gague”, which is a sort of trick meter that works very much like the uber trick gague in SSX. When you perform tricks, it goes up, when you dash with the X or Y button it depletes the gague. If you get it up to the top and keep performing tricks you can dash as much as you want without having it go down as much. Although the trick system in this game is quite simple and can get a bit repetitive, it actually shows a bit of potential for the franchise. Trying to take high-speed platforming and merging it with trick-based gameplay could end up a promising endeavor…

Another thing that Sonic Team has gone back on a bit on Sonic Rush is progression through stages. In many of the recent Sonic Releases players have had to explore adventure-type areas to find the passages to stages. In Sonic Rush you simply select where you wanna go on a Super Mario Bros. 3-style world map. This makes things quicker and even allows for alternate paths when you play through Blaze’s game.

Items in the stages are actually at sort of a minimum, at least compared to the Genesis games anyway. You have a ring bonus, normal shield, a magnetic shield, tension gauge bonus, extra life, and an invincibility powerup. I never really noticed them too much in Rush but ever since they made the newer Sonic Adventure games I’ve missed old powerups like the water shield, fire shield, and others from the Genesis games.

The biggest improvement over the Advance games and even the recent console games here is the level design.

Sonic Advance was on the right track when it brought back the 2D speed platforming and crazy objects like springs, rails, and loops (all of which this game calls “gimmicks”), but some complained that because of the game’s rather close up camera, it was difficult to see what was coming at you which required a lot of memorization. Sonic Rush’s pulled back camera as well as Sega’s putting the action on both screens at the same time fixes this to an extent. The use of both screens allows some things in levels, like big loops and chase sequences with boulders to be bigger than they ever could have been on one screen. Transitioning between the two screens while playing is seamless almost all the time too.

From the very start the levels are excellently designed to take you through loops, over springs, out of cannons, up platforms, and down rails which all comes together to give the levels a very fast-paced rollercoaster feeling that honestly reminded me of the old Genesis games than anything else.

The only real flaw with the level design is that there are very many parts where you’ll be going so fast that you won’t be able to see or avoid the enemy that’s right ahead of you, loosing you all your rings. You might also be ran straight into a death trap or a blind jump – several times if you’re not careful enough, which has on more than one occasion lost me many of my hard-earned lives. This can force players to memorize certain sections of levels which you really aren’t supposed to have to do in a Sonic game. However, this is not a big price to pay when you consider that the stages overall have generally been designed better than the ones in the Advance games and how they only get better as the game goes on. While playing through the last few levels in the game things got so fast and so fluid for me with new “gimmicks” like rockets, parachutes, rocket platforms, and hangliders, that I honestly started having flashbacks, which was truly an exceptional moment for me and probably would be for any oldschool Sonic fan.

Another great throwback feature in Sonic Rush is the return of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 special stages. Like in the original Genesis game, you constantly run down a halfpipe that is filled with rings you must collect in order to get the chaos emerald at the end. However the pipe is also filled with obstacles like spikes and new additions like enemies, speed dashes, switches, and bonuses. During these special stages you control Sonic with the stylus alone, sliding it from one end of the pipe across to the other to move Sonic and touching specific areas at certain times to perform tricks. Using a touchscreen instead of a control pad to do this feels more natural and more direct than ever, as you are able to (and will need to) slide Sonic from side to side faster than ever before. This plus the inclusion of the extra objects in the course and you really can’t go wrong here.

Lastly there are the boss battles. Although acts 1 and 2 of a level are in the 2D sidescrolling format, the boss battles are more 3D. While you still run mostly from side to side or on a circular track, you’ll have to fight a fully 3D rendered boss in a fully 3D environment. This of course adds a bit of an extra dimension to the battles that probably wasn’t possible on the GBA and helps give the boss battles some variety. Although easy to figure out, these boss battles become quite challenging from the get go, requiring quick reflexes and perseverance on the behalf of the player. The way these battles play out looks and feels new, at least for the 2D Sonic titles, and show us a little more of what is possible on the DS platform.

As for game length, there are a little over half-a-dozen zones in all and you’ll play through them in a different order for each character. But after that there isn’t much more than the sound test mode and the wireless multiplayer races.

Closing Comments
From the first time I heard about 2D sidescrolling Sonic game coming to the Nintendo DS I had my hopes and it has not let me down. Some of the game’s visuals are a significant upgrade from the Advance games and are somewhat of a testament to what the DS can do visually with this style of graphics. While not perfect, the level design here takes what Dimps had done in the Advance games and makes it feel much more like the classic Genesis games, effectively putting Sonic the Hedgehog back on the right track. If you already down a DS, this is yet another great title to pick up. If you ever played and enjoyed any of the Genesis Sonic games and have been pining for that oldschool feeling, Sonic Team has pretty much now given you an obligation to buy a DS along with this game.


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