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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: SEGA
Developed By: Sonic Team
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1-4
Rated: E (Everyone)
Release Dated: February 20, 2007
Written By: Daniel Sims
Screenshots: Link
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Ever since the culmination of the downward spiral in the quality of Sonic's console games in Shadow the Hedgehog and the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog, fans of SEGA's mascot franchise have looked towards Sonic's exclusive Wii title with its promise of a different approach to 3D Sonic.

With its new on-rails level design, Sonic and the Secret Rings actually does succeed in eliminating almost all the problems that have plagued every 3D entry in the franchise since 1999, leaving behind what at its core is a solid Sonic experience that, at least in part, captures the rollercoaster-like platforming feel of the genesis games, but longtime Sonic fans may find getting to that core difficult when faced with some seriously questionable design choices that present new issues to get frustrated about.

First the good though: Most people might think that restricting Sonic to a rail would make for gameplay that felt too rigid. This is not true at all in Secret Rings. With the help of some good level design, putting Sonic on a rail has actually gotten rid of all of the worst problems that have appeared repeatedly in console Sonic games for years.

The game rarely -- if ever, glitches out on you, the camera is no longer trying to kill you, and best of all -- for the first time possibly since the original 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog, you play only as Sonic himself. No sidekicks. Other characters might appear in the game, but you never have to put up with entirely new design schemes cramming themselves into it.

When playing through the main levels, you'll run, you'll jump, you'll grind, and you'll dodge, weave, and dash through and around obstacles at blazing speeds that make Secret Rings into exactly what a Sonic game is supposed to feel like a platforming rollercoaster. Furthermore, Sonic Team has also proved that the Sonic formula of running through levels with gimmicks like springs, catapults, and other devices has the potential to be enhanced by Wii Remote control.

During the entire game players will hold the Wii Remote sideways as if playing a Virtual Console game. Forward movement is automatic while turning from side to side is controlled by tilting. Jumping is controlled with the 2 button and dashing into enemies is done by pushing the remote forward. When flowing at top speeds Secret Rings requires a surprising amount of delicacy and precision with the tilt control and can give things a very arcade-like feel.

Doing things like flapping with the remote to operate a flying pot or pulling the remote back and pushing it forward to launch Sonic off of a catapult make this game's gimmicks feel more involving than before. I'll admit that there were times when I was that idiot you see in all the Wii commercials waving around the Remote at full arms length in front of him like a jackass.

With all of this at its heart, Sonic and the Secret Rings is definitely a better game than any previous 3D entry in the franchise, but the game is kept from being what could've truly reinvigorated SEGA's mascot by a new system that oldschool Sonic fans may not take kindly to as well as possibly one of the stupidest design decisions I have ever seen in a game.

One point where opinions on Secret Rings may diverge is the new stat building system that's been added. The first time I beat a level and saw the game add up experience points and show me a list of abilities I could use, my knee-jerk reaction was "Stat-building!? In MY Sonic game!?" But eventually I came to see how this system actually helps the game pick up in its later stages and how some could find enjoyment in its versatility.

When players first start Secret Rings, Sonic actually takes a while to speed up to the blazing fast speeds that we know him to be capable of. Whenever Sonic takes damage or slows down for whatever reason he must also start back at jogging pace and regain speed. On top of this the jumping and enemy lock-on system in this game at first seems almost broken in how slow it is.

Oldschool Sonic fans will probably look at this and say "where the hell is my spin dash?" But people who stick with the game will find that Sonic Team has tried to add in a flexible new RPG-like system that allows them to attach abilities to Sonic that eventually bring him to the familiar super speed status that feels much smoother.

Every time Sonic completes a mission, new abilities might become available for him to equip. Every time he levels up, Sonic is able to have more abilities equipped at one time. These include abilities that may increase Sonic's top speed or acceleration, his jumping ability, his cornering, or provide certain bonuses.

Through this, players can theoretically gear Sonic towards whatever advantages they see fit depending on the level and those who have the patience to play past those slow first couple hours of the game may come to appreciate the system's flexibility. Oldschool players on the other hand who were probably taught from playing the Sonic games of old to be impatient by nature, will most likely not stand for the system's lack of immediacy.

The one aspect of this game that severely hurt my overall enjoyment of it however, is SEGA's decision to literally force players to engage in side missions while playing thorough the main game.

After completing a main level, instead of just going straight on to the next level like in most games, players will actually have to go back and engage in several (sometimes over an hours worth) of side missions in order to unlock the next main level. These missions may involve tasks like getting 50 rings, beating an opponent to the goal, not dying, or completing some special objective that relates to the story.

For the most part these side missions are fun and feature some good extra level design like extra content in any game should, but watching a cutscene that gets me ready to move on to the next level and then having to go back and dick around in previous areas for another hour instead of doing that after finishing the main story feels like a sorry attempt at artificially extending the length of the game and instead simply ruins the pace of it overall, making for lots of unneeded frustration.

Outside of single player though, Secret Rings also features a multiplayer mode that features a bunch of unlockable mini-games laid under the format of something like Sonic Shuffle or Mario Party. The board game format is adequate enough as an extra feature to the game and some of the mini-games themselves actually make pretty good use of the Wii remote.

The presentation style featured in this game makes Secret Rings seem like somewhat of an oddity among Sonic games. The entire game is put in a sort of Arabian Nights setting, but instead of making every level into Sandopolis, Sonic Team actually tried to depict several variations of the desert theme like a palace, a tomb, a jungle, and other similar locales. If you ask me I'd just prefer to have my usual forest level to water level to fire level to ice level to robot level progression that's in virtually every other Sonic game but some who may tire of those themes will probably find this to be a welcome change.

The plot line itself is a weird take on the Arabian Nights stories, with Sonic characters appearing as sort of adaptations of characters from the 1001 tales like Sinbad and Ali Baba. The whole thing revolves around seven "World Rings" that must be tracked down in order to see the game's real ending. For the most part this story does its job in providing a scenario for the variety of missions that players will go through, but when it starts talking about the "rage, hate, and swirling emotions" represented by the rings, the story does start to feel like it's getting too big for its britches.

What I find nice is that instead of going all out with fully animated or CG cutscenes, SEGA has actually opted to give Secret Rings moving comic book-style cutscenes similar to those in Konami's Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops with panels and hand drawn images sliding around onscreen to convey action in a minimalist manner that still manages to look cool, although the voice acting is still just as annoying as it ever was. Oh, and the music is still nothing but crappy but rock. I'll admit though that it wouldn't be so bad if every song didn't have to have its own lyrics.

Visually speaking, Secret Rings is actually one of the better looking games on Wii so far, with environments lying firmly in the same league as high-end Gamecube titles like Twilight Princess, and a Sonic character model that looks closer to that of the Xbox360/PS3 game than to that of the previous Gamecube games.

Bottom Line
The fact that Sonic and the Secret Rings has once and for all alleviated most of the gameplay issues that have hurt Sonic games since the Dreamcast alone solidifies it as Sonic Team's best attempt yet at a 3D Sonic title. It takes a while to pick up, but the Wii Remote controls and level design prove to be pretty slick. However, forcing secondary objectives that should be presented as extra content into the main sequence of levels is not the way to lengthen a game and in this case cuts it down to a pace that many players simply may not stand for. Overall though I'd still say that this game is at a least big step in the right direction, even if Sonic still has a ways to go on the comeback road.



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