Sonic was a smash hit for Sega back in the 2D days, but ever since games delved into the third dimension, this series has been a shadow of its former self. The recent Sonic the Hedgehog titles released on Xbox 360 and PS3 proved to be another dagger in the heart, so my expectations for the Wii title obviously werenâ€™t too high. However, Sonic Team decided to create a game from the ground up, specifically for the Wii, so that the release wouldnâ€™t be a horrible flop. Sonic and the Secret Rings doesnâ€™t restore this series to its former glory, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
To start off, Secret Rings is one of the better looking Wii titles out now due to its colorful and vibrant visual scheme. The bulk of the game takes place in one of seven distinctly themed worlds, ranging from the lush forests of Dinosaur Jungle to the arid deserts of Sand Oasis and even a Levitated Ruin. Supporting 480p and 16:9 Widescreen, each level carries its own charm that will have a lasting effect on you. The rushing waters simmer beneath a burning sun, and itâ€™s easy to get caught up admiring the architectural beauty of the inner fortresses. The character designs are also pretty sharp, although none of the models will blow you away. Above all, the sense of speed is amazing at its peaks, and itâ€™s easy to get wrapped up in the game as youâ€™re trying to maneuver at breakneck speeds. The fixed camera is one major hit to the graphics department, though, because it often cuts out parts of the level in front of you, making it nearly impossible to react in time. Furthermore, there are a handful of instances when you need to back up, and you have no choice but to maneuver blindly.
The sound department doesnâ€™t offer anything over the top by any means, but it isnâ€™t exactly horrible either. When running through levels, the reminiscent sound of rings being collected will certainly bring you back. The background music consists of cheesy tunes fitting to each level, but they wonâ€™t leave any lasting impressions. Worst of all, the same 80's pseudo-rock track will play during every menu, and the lame guitar riffs and horrible singing, combined with the sheer amount of repetition, get annoying right from the start. The voice acting is nothing to marvel at either, but on the plus side you do have the option to hear authentic Japanese acting. As a whole, thereâ€™s nothing noticeable with regard to sound, and aside from some poor music choices you wonâ€™t be disappointed with the audio.
The storyline revolves around the Arabian Nights tale that is being erased by the evil villain Erazor Djinn. Sonic needs to travel into the story to restore the missing pieces in order to save the story, and he must do this by collecting seven Secret Rings, one in each chapter. The tale is told through comic-book like sequences, and these relatively boring scenes would've been much better off had they been created as CG animations instead. Nonetheless, Sonic is off on probably his best adventure in the last decade or so.
There are seven chapters in the game, plus one tutorial world, each of which is comprised of a series of paragraphs. Paragraphs are essentially missions, and the first paragraph of each chapter takes you through an entire run-through of the world. From then on, new paragraphs with specific objectives will be unlocked for you to conquer. Once you satisfy enough requirements, you can compete against a boss in hopes of obtaining the coveted Secret Ring.
The controls are fairly simple; Sonic always runs forward at full speed so you tilt the Wii remote left and right to steer him. Pressing the â€˜1â€™ button will act as his brakes, while pressing and holding â€˜2â€™ will perform jumps. It wouldâ€™ve been nice for the braking and jumping to be a little more intuitive as it does feel out of place to be pressing buttons amidst all the action. Sonic will automatically lock-on to target enemies when airborne, and by quickly flicking the remote forward he will speed straight at his foes. Lastly, he is capable of grinding on straight edges, which will allow you to fly through some of the hairier sections in a level.
In addition to all of his basic moves, there is an RPG element added to this platformer. Based on how well you complete a level, factors such as time, coins collected and enemies defeated, will gain you experience. When Sonic levels up, he is granted a new ability and Skill points. Abilities can be assigned to one of four customizable rings, and each ability costs a certain number of Skill points. As such, you can create up to four customized loadouts as long as your abilities donâ€™t exceed your Skill points for any ring. While it seems like there will be some strategy involved here, not much skill is required. As the game progresses youâ€™ll gain the ability to better control Sonic as he runs faster, jumps higher, and attacks from longer ranges. Some new abilities such as walking backwards more quickly just arenâ€™t very enticing.
In addition to the basic objective of making it to the finish, youâ€™ll have a variety of other goals to complete in order to make the boss battles available. Such challenges, including collecting 99 rings, defeating a set number of enemies, or beating the fairy Uhl in a head-to-head race all carry their own perks. While you might expect that the majority of the game is spent speeding through tight passageways while narrowly avoiding death, some sections in a given level require a little more finesse. For instance, in Dinosaur Jungle you need to slowly creep around a hill to avoid falling boulders, and in the Levitated Ruin you can strategically hang from a ledge to avoid being nailed with spikes. While these touches are nice, it seems drastic at times to go from running full speed to hardly moving at all.
Aside from these dull moments, the highlight of this game is raw speed. The Secret Rings is incredibly enjoyable when youâ€™re rushing through levels and the road ahead is clearly visible. At these times youâ€™ll be looking ahead and trying to dodge whatever comes your way. Quick reactions and split-second decisions are vital here. The only problem, though, is situations like this are few and far between. Often times you will find yourself running along at blazing speeds, but the camera will prohibit you from seeing ahead, so it wonâ€™t be long before you stop dead in your tracks due to an unforeseen obstacle resting in your path. It takes a considerable amount of time to get all the way up to speed, and itâ€™s disappointing to lose that rush because of something out of your control.
In addition to the story book mode, there is also a party mode available for up to four players, some of which can be computer AI opponents if desired. Players can compete in a series of minigames, none of which have anything to do with functions from the single player mode. This mode can be compared to other Wii titles, like Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and WarioWare, except that none of the minigames really stand out. Sure, you can initially have fun playing through this mode, but after playing through a minigame a few times youâ€™ll likely feel no desire to go back.
Overall Sonic and the Secret Rings is a step in the right direction for this series, but itâ€™s still far from perfect. The control scheme could be improved upon, but as it stands, the motions are fairly intuitive and you wonâ€™t have a major problem with steering sensitivity. The story mode wonâ€™t last you for more than ten hours, and it can be especially frustrating to fail a level due to a camera bug. The several instances of fast paced rushing through the world will get the adrenaline pumping, and had there been more of these moments, this would be a great game. Unfortunately, there are a few too many hurdles in the way that prevent the Secret Rings from being a highly recommendable title.