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  • TSS REVIEW: Sonic and the Secret Rings

    It wouldn't be unkind to say that Secret Rings didn't exactly get the biggest buzz in the Sonic fanbase. After getting stung with Sonic 06, which was claimed to be a glorious return to the franchise, it's only understandable that everyone was taking an extra step back with this one. But as time went on, curiosity rose and now many people are betting their lives on Sonic and the Secret Rings being the ultimate Sonic game that everyone should own. So, is it?

    The story isn't your typical Sonic-goes-after-Robotnik gig. After falling asleep reading the 'Arabian Nights' tale, Sonic is beckoned by a genie spirit called Shahra. She explains to Sonic that some purple git called Erazor Djinn is wrecking the pages of the Arabian Nights book and re-writing the story to his own design. So ol' bluey gets warped into the classic book, equipped with a ring to call on Shahra's power whenever he has a wish he needs granting.


    The graphics certainly show off Sonic's character and style, even in a different world.

    From then on you're hurtled into the game. There are seven worlds to complete, each containing 12 missions that unlock themselves as you progress from one stage to another. You will need to clear certain missions to continue the story, and Secret Rings holds a refreshingly non-linear method of play - even though you work through the seven worlds in order, you may jump back from one to another and back again as part of the storyline.

    The graphics certainly look the part for a Wii game. Sonic's looking the best he's probably been for years - the long stilt-like legs are no more. He's been shortened a little bit, and his model is altogether much better, despite lacking the polygons of the "ultra 1-million polygon look-at-me" stoat that featured on the Xbox 360. The colours aren't quite your primary fare usually associated with Sonic games; to complement the theme of fire, everything seems to be given a warmer tone. Perfect for Summer. It might not be to everyone's tastes, but it certainly suits the mood the game is trying to create.


    The cut scenes we've mentioned before are 2D still-frame animations, which are better characterised and command more atmosphere than the in-game cutscenes seen in Sonic Heroes and Sonic 06. On top of this the music, despite being full of cheesy butt-rock, feels very 'Arabian Nights' in style. It'll annoy those who don't like nonsensical lyrics in their Sonic games though... but if you ignore that then stages like Evil Foundry will certainly keep you pumping and on your toes. Just don't get trapped into talking about 'Rocking the Place'. You know 'no-one can touch this'.

    Graphics and Sound aside, we come to the crux of the matter - the gameplay. More specifically, the controls. The Wii was built to play games nobody had ever experienced before, and Sonic and the Secret Rings certainly didn't want to feel left out. There is a transition process you must allow for before you start to appreciate the system in any way.


    Despite the fact that there is an extensive tutorial process before you even begin the story, at first you will feel a bit clumsy and think it's all a little bit too weird for your liking. Sonic runs on rails, you see, and your level of control is limited to moving left and right (by tilting the Wii remote) and moving backwards (tilting back). You grind on rails by simply jumping onto them, and to do THAT you have to press (or hold down) the [2] button and then release. The longer you hold, the higher you'll go, but if you're running, you'll slide while you charge and forfeit speed (and some level of control).

    While it's a system that works well, it does have its bugbears. If you shoot past something important, you'll need to backtrack. And moving backwards is where things get slow. The camera is just about perfect for every other purpose in this game, but it doesn't accommodate for your moving backwards, meaning you can often walk into something without knowing.


    Grinding is a particular pain in the arse, particularly when you're faced with obstacles.

    Another grudge is the apparent inability to take pinpoint steps, which can be a pisser if you're trying to explore a level for collectables like Fire Souls. Additionally, grinding isn't all it's cracked up to be - you can jump off a grind rail by tilting the Remote left or right (depending on which direction you want to jump off), which is handy if there's a hazard on your grind rail. Unfortunately, if you tilt to the right the game will sometimes make Sonic leap left and vice versa, in some inexplicable bug that will only irritate if it's a matter of life and a bottomless pit.

    These control issues are usually irritating if you're quite far into the game and really want to take care while playing to get certain items. Most of the time you can avoid the grinding debacle by holding [2] and jumping off to another rail or avoiding the grind altogether. One way or another, you can find a workaround for these issues (although really you shouldn't have to).


    In terms of actual missions to play, it's quite a selection. Many missions will be much shorter than the general Story Mission (which is actually the main stage itself with the missions whacked on for longevity), but because of this they aren't too tedious to play. Add to that the fact that Sonic Team decided you should take alternate routes through the stage for various missions and you have a happy Sonic gamer.

    The missions range from Time Attacks and defeating a certain number of enemies, to completing the stage with 0 Rings and ploughing through a section without even getting damaged. Some of these are hardcore challenges - one particular irritant being Evil Foundry's Boss Battle - that can really tear your hair out, so be very warned.

    Sonic starts off with bugger all abilities, but can earn more as he levels up via a system not unlike an RPG experience points board. Higher levels will allow for more custom abilities to be equipped to a ring that Sonic wears while dashing through the stage. It's not too much of a chore to play the game from the start, contrary to some opinion - but mere retrospect will make you wonder why Sonic needed to earn these abilities after you've obtained them. But that point's nothing major.

    Each stage has three Fire Souls to collect, along with a special medal to earn depending on how fast you've completed a mission. Gold medals (the equivalent of Ranks) will unlock pages in the Special Book, an option full of hidden extras. As mentioned, background music and movies as well as a timeline of Sonic history will be unlockable, along with concept artwork and a special section which includes-- we'd better not spoil the surprise, actually. The number of secrets on board certainly add to the long-lasting nature of the game, even if you can blast through the story itself within a day or two.


    There are many unlockables to be found, including abilities and franchise information.

    But needless to say, the straightforward nature of earning medals instead of taking every single stat into account for a Rank is refreshing and the addictive gameplay will entice you to keep playing until you've earned that medal. This is the first Sonic game I've played since Sonic Adventure 2 where I've wanted - desired, in fact - utter completion on my part.

    And let's not forget Party Mode, the four player multiplayer option that is filled with minigames and board modes to play. There are 40 games to play (some unlockable via single player) and using several scenarios you can play minigames to win rounds. You can enter a one-on-one tournament game for bragging rights, a pirate ship race or board game for treasure (both using minigame placement as a dice roll) or a treasure chest opening game where game winners get to open boxes to earn coins. The games are for the most part fun, but some are unfortunately hit by control bugs - some examples being a net game where you have to catch Kri Ma Djinn having erratic sensor control and a light-shining game where it is difficult to move your mirror about the screen.


    In Closing

    So is Sonic and the Secret Rings the saviour of the franchise some were hoping it to be? Nope. It remains a very enjoyable, very playable game full of lasting possibility, and the Wii Remote is used to some interesting effect in some stages. But all the same it remains a spinoff game, highlighted by the fact that neither feels like a true Sonic game nor contains a flawless experience due to the sometimes aggravating controls.

    Despite this though, the general design and attitude of the game is a step in the right direction. Sonic has a lot more character here and the game is prioritises gameplay over story. OK, so some people hated the story. But I liked it. For once, there wasn't all this 'serious apocalyptic' rubbish spouting out of someone's mouth for once. Buy it if you have a Wii - you will most likely enjoy it to the same degree as I did. Although one word of warning - one of the cutscenes includes use of the word "Iblis". We almost had a relapse.

    NOTE: This was given a score of 8/10 at time of original publication. We have converted its score to the below 5-star rating based on this score, and adjusted to best represent the original intent and sentiment of the overall article. This is not a re-scoring of this review.

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