Sonic and the Secret Rings

If you’re a Sonic fan, you know the dire situation everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog has been in for the last few years. Nearly every attempt at a 3D Sonic game has been flawed at best, and a total disaster at worst (I’m looking in your direction, Sonic for 360 and PS3). So when Sonic and the Secret Rings was announced, many people wrote it off immediately.

Well, those people might want to change their minds, as Sonic’s debut on the Wii isn’t nearly so much of a disaster as its next-gen cousin. On the other hand, it’s certainly not perfect, and won’t appeal to those who are easily put off. But if you think you can take a bit of punishment, you’ll find things to like here.

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In a nutshell, Sonic and the Secret Rings gets rid of several key problems that have plagued the 3D Sonic games, while at the same time introducing some all-new quirks. The storyline is a step removed from the traditional Sonic plot, although quality-wise it’s still nothing great. Through a series of events, Sonic is now stuck inside the world of Arabian Nights, and must race to save both his own life and the actual stories themselves.

Relatively silly plot aside, Sonic and the Secret Rings is a welcome return to the days when you didn’t have to spend a lot of your time fishing. The blue blur is the only playable character here, and the game is all the better for it.

So how does the game work? It’s actually pretty simple, as it should be. Sonic will zip through levels along a fixed path, and it’s your job to steer him left and right by tilting the Wii remote. You’ll also find yourself jumping over obstacles with the ‘2’ button, and homing in on enemies by thrusting the remote forward. Each level is divided into a fairly impressive number of discrete areas, each with their own objective, which range from ‘get to the end’ to ‘defeat 10 enemies’.

All of this would have been great if things had been executed a little better. The controls feel just a little bit too loose, especially when you first start playing. They get tightened up when you unlock new abilities, but it doesn’t totally banish the feeling that you’re not all that in control of Sonic. This is exacerbated by two things: the fact that you’re always running forward (except when you hit ‘1’ to brake), and the way jumping works. Instead of tapping ‘2’ for a small jump and holding it down for a bigger jump, you need to hold down and then release the button before you’ll jump. It might just be me, but this really impacted on my enjoyment of levels, making the controls feel far less responsive than they otherwise would have been.

These problems are played out on levels that can be both amazingly fun and extremely frustrating. Once you’re somewhat familiar with a stage that encourages speed, it’s very satisfying zipping through, and brings back memories of the classic 2D Sonic games. On the other hand, you’re occasionally presented with stages that require you to traverse the same loop over and over again in an attempt to match up certain items with their equivalent home. These stages feel completely pointless, and tend to highlight the control scheme’s flaws rather than its good features.

At least there’s something good to look at while this is happening. Sonic and the Secret Rings features some of the best graphics seen on the Wii to date, and while it’d be hard to mistake them for something from a 360 or PS3 game, they’re still quite impressive, with a huge draw distance, pretty water, and a pleasantly stable frame rate.

Overall, there is fun to be had with this game, but it takes quite a lot of work before you’re rewarded. This will put off a lot of people, but if you don’t mind putting in a bit of effort, or if you’re a determined Sonic fan, you’ll come away with an experience that is, in the end, much more fun than the last few entries in this troubled series.

Still sitting on the fence? Then take a look at Liam’s take on Sonic and the Secret Rings:

When people ask me who my hero is, I say Sonic the Hedgehog. They often give me funny looks, but it’s true. You’d have a hard time finding a bigger Sonic the Hedgehog fan than me. When I was in Form 2, I made Sonic the Hedgehog scones in cooking class, of all things.

However, I’m not blind to the shortcomings of the series. The 3D Sonic games have been particularly bad, with the recent Sonic the Hedgehog for the 360 representing the ultimate slump in the series. The 2D Sonic games have always been great – Sonic Rush is one of the finest games known to man – but the 3D Sonic games have been sloppy and poor, completely failing to capture what made the 2D games fun.

The magic of the 2D Sonic games was not only the speed, but also their emphasis on the perfect run. A good Sonic player knows that every jump must be timed perfectly, that every element in a level is there for a reason. Sonic the Hedgehog wasn’t about fishing, or throwing fake ring bombs at enemies; it was about launching Sonic into the air at high speed at just the right moment so he would land on that mid-air platform, or bounce off that enemy so that he’d once again find himself rocketing through the skies.

It is with great satisfaction, then, that I can safely say that Sonic and the Secret Rings attempts to recapture this magic. It’s not perfect – having a standard two-act, one-boss layout would have been preferable to the multiple goal-based levels – but it’s certainly closer to the 2D Sonic games than any other 3D Sonic game has ever been.

Those that do not concern themselves with perfect runs will not find as much to like in Sonic and the Secret Rings as those that do. It’s not about simply finishing the level; it’s about doing it without room for improvement. Given that even my best efforts – and I consider myself a pretty good Sonic player – have only resulted in silver medals, Sonic and the Secret Rings is a game that is going to keep me occupied for a long time.

If you’re more inclined to appreciate a good story and complex gameplay, you’ll probably want to steer away from Sonic and the Secret Rings; it plays more like a Sonic arcade game than anything else. However, if you’re an arcade junkie like me who believes games are something that should demand practice, you’ll find a lot to like in Sonic and the Secret Rings.

"Flawed, but it's a step in the right direction."
- Sonic and The Secret Rings
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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