Okay, letâ€™s get all the incredulity out of the way before we start: yes, itâ€™s a Sonic the hedgehog RPG, and yes, it sounds like a firmly terrible idea. But itâ€™s made by Bioware, who donâ€™t really make crap games. Conundrum, no?
With this in mind, I stuck Sonic Chronicles into my DS and fired it up. And what awaited me was a game thatâ€¦well, was actually pretty enjoyable. Itâ€™s not perfect, and there are parts of the gameplay that will turn off a lot of people, but if you a) like Sonic enough to appreciate the fan service; b) are in the need for a lightweight, easygoing RPG experience; and c) want to wash the horrible taste of recent 3D Sonic titles out of your mouth, then this is worth checking out.
The game starts in good old Green Hill Zone, and proceeds to move through a number of locations that old-school fans will really appreciate. Iâ€™m glad that Bioware mined the Sonic games that were actually good, rather than sticking to whatever awful settings from the last few years. Of course, the plot is pretty silly, but thatâ€™s never going to be avoided â€“ this is a game quite deliberately targeted at a slightly younger age group. The key thing is that, as long as you arenâ€™t expecting a portable Mass Effect starring blue rodents, youâ€™ll enjoy yourself.
The presentation of the game is probably its strongest point â€“ it simply looks really good. I had recently been playing Lunar Knights on my DS, but it looks pretty bad compared to Sonic Chronicles. Iâ€™d say this game is one of the better-looking games on the system, at least from an artistic standpoint, and sports a level of polish you donâ€™t normally find on either of Nintendoâ€™s two screens. The levels themselves are hand-painted backdrops populated with 3D characters, and the effect works quite well for the most part.
Battles move to full 3D, and these are pretty good, too. For the most part, the system is a traditional turn-based one, but special moves break things up. These require you to perform various actions with the stylus to successfully pull off, forcing you to always be on your toes. Itâ€™s a good idea for the most part, although it can be annoying when you start off, and keep forgetting that the move youâ€™ve just initiated will fail unless you drag your stylus around.
The whole game is actually controlled with the stylus, ala Zelda DS. Itâ€™s an alright control scheme, but things can get a little fiddly on the main travelling sections. It also further removes the feeling of speed you look for in a good Sonic game. This is actually probably my biggest criticism of the title â€“ while itâ€™s enjoyable on its own terms, sometimes you just want to hold â€˜rightâ€™ on the d-pad and zoom through some of the levels. Having random loop-de-loops placed on the level that you can automatically zoom through at the touch of a button is really not the same thing.
So while this game doesnâ€™t quite capture the polished simplicity of Sonicâ€™s best titles, itâ€™s arguable how much an RPG could ever do that. What you are presented with is a solid portable title that will keep many gamers entertained. Hell, Iâ€™m just impressed they managed to make Amy and all the rest less annoying than they have been in the past â€“ although maybe thatâ€™s just because there isnâ€™t any spoken dialogue. Sega, please continue to hire Bioware for all your Sonic dialogue in the future.