Sonic Rush review
Rush Onto the DS
Sonic's had a bit of a rough ride since the days of the Mega Drive. His attempted transition into the 3D realm never really went over as well as his former rival Mario's jump, with the hedgehog's games typically receiving a lukewarm reception at best and some being derided as some of the worst seen by current generations. On the handhelds though Sonic has been able to stick more closely to his roots, and on the DS this continues with Sonic Rush, which continues the idea of 2D side scrolling platforming and fares better than the home console games.
The very core of Rush is similar to earlier games, but for those not in the loop here's a recap of Sonic gameplay. The titular hedgehog is sent through a series of levels leaping across platforms and smashing enemies to reach the goal at the end. So far so normal, but the key factor here is that Sonic runs at very high speeds, forcing players to react much more quickly than they normally would.
This game brings about some tweaks to this gameplay to make it unique to the DS. First is the addition of a second playable character Blaze (yes, let's add yet another character to the huge cast list). Blaze has a few differences to Sonic, such as being slightly slower but better in the air, but ultimately she plays very similar so it takes little time to adjust. So little that you have to wonder what the point was. Blaze starts in a different zone and plays the others in a different order but ultimately she still plays the same levels as Sonic in the same manner so the whole idea just comes across as a little pointless.
The various basic abilities from the old games are still here and for both characters, although Blaze uses her own variations that still have the same effect. You can run at full speed, spin attack to crush enemies from on high and perform a spin dash on the spot to get up to speed quickly at the cost of not hitting the max speed possible. The tension system is new to this game and is a most welcome addition. When you have energy in your tension gauge then you can hold a button to boost, which not only throws you into max speed instantly (higher than normal running speed) but also acts as a ram, knocking out enemies that threaten to smash you, but this boost drains the tension gauge so it comes down to using it when needed. Being able to hit a button to react to threats or to get that extra speed you need really helps to keep things moving quickly. Building the tension gauge up involves performing tricks either on grind rails or in the air. The idea is a little weird but it does help the challenge as you try to trick in the middle of staying alive.
The team has been making full use of the dual screens by making the action span both screens. Sonic might be hurtling along at full speed on the lower screen, only to be catapulted upwards and change to the upper screen. Zone design always accounts for this and creates many opportunities to transition between the two. While there is a risk of inducing disorientation I think this works very well in giving levels a sense of depth and extending the amount of viewing space afforded to the player.
Speaking of zone design, you can certainly expect them to be tailored specifically to deal with high speeds. Each area is filled with springs, bouncers, rails, slides, loops and all sorts of other terrain that each character can and will be launched into and will fly from one into the next. However, this is where I must have something of a split opinion. On the one hand, I like the variation and a lot of the structure is good. You will go through a variation of different areas and some feature are specific to those areas, like grabbing onto rockets to fly to other parts of the level. Each area also has a myriad of paths to take and so it's possible to play a level several times and take different routes each time.
This is where we run into one of the biggest problems in the game. This game's difficulty is brutal. The issue is that the game will just suddenly throw hazards at you in the most awkward of places and then seriously punish you for it. Enemies tend to be placed in areas like landing points after you've gone airborne at high speeds or in the middle of a fast moving section. These can be done in such a way that the boost won't help all that much and it can be frustrating to lose all the rings because of it. Worse though are the various instant death parts. Sometimes you'll be running full speed only to suddenly find nothing but air beneath your feet because the game decided to throw a delicate platforming section over a bottomless pit and not warn you ahead of time. No, that's not challenging. It's a cheap way to knock lives off as the only way to not automatically die on those parts is to have memorised the layout beforehand.
Boss fights at the end of every zone pull out a twist too as you fight in a 3D style arena but still with 2D controls. Basically, Sonic/Blaze are still limited to moving left and right along a square or ring platform while the camera and boss move around in 3D motions. I feel that these boss fights can drag on for quite a while which drains some of the fun out of it but generally I think these are fairly good as they are challenging and require good tactics on the part of the player. The developers did fail to resist the temptation to throw instant death in here though, as while it's impossible to fall off the platforms here the bosses do possess some instant kill attacks, which can be irritating when you've just whittled them down to 1HP and then got smashed in one hit.
Aside from the main game you can also try the time trials or race a friend for the best time in multiplayer, but these modes are hardly worth mentioning. There's not a lot here to make them worth shooting for after the single player content is over and there are far better multiplayer options out there even if Rush does allow for download play.
Storyline wise it's pretty much usual Sonic fare, as in its not worth much and we don't play Sonic for the story. It kicks off with Sonic and Eggman having yet another spat but then an Eggman doppelganger turns up and both cause havoc, tailed by the mysterious Blaze. Basic stuff coupled with the silly idea of Eggman "just" escaping at the end of each zone. Don't expect much.
Audiowise we've got some excellent music tracks pumping out the tiny DS speaker. There is quite a wide selection of music numbers crammed into this package and the high octane frantic music really compliments the high speed tense action of the game as Sonic/Blaze blitz through the zones. The various sound effects pound out at needed times too, although you might find the little bits of voicework to be a little on the bad side - especially your little "cheerleader" in boss battles.
Graphically Rush is a treat. The main levels seamlessly blend in 3D objects with 2D environments to craft the stages, and the variety in locations spanning things like casino, water and air ships are familiar to long time fans but very nice all the same. The various background touches like neon signs also helps to breath life into them and make them very interesting to dash through. The characters are wonderfully modelled as well, with characters being rather distinctive in their designs and well made. Animation is naturally excellent, as it would need to be in a game like this.
I'm a bit disappointed though that the "cutscenes" are done mostly through still images. For a game like this I was really expecting a bit more even if the story was never going to be the strongest point.
Overall though I think Sonic Rush is a good game let down by the developer's intent of autokilling anyone who doesn't instictively know the layout of the levels. Get past that nagging problem and you'll have a varied challenging title on your hands that does the Sonic brand some justice.
About the author
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