Sonic Rush - Sonic Team for Nintendo DS - 3/10
April 9, 2006
Here's one question I've yet to find an answer to: what's the deal with Sonic the Hedgehog? Now here's one of the great videogame characters, arguably the most iconic character of the '90s, and star of four of the best platformers of the 16-bit era. Then he disappeared for a number of years, only to make a major comeback in 1999 with Sonic Adventure. Since then, Sega's mascot has appeared in a pile of console and handheld games, but the same nagging problem remains: the newer games just aren't very good. They're certainly nowhere near the level of Sonic CD and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and even the quality of the first SA has never been matched. What's the deal?
I've had Sonic Rush on my DS for a while now, and I've been willing to get my hopes up, since this is the first traditional Sonic game made by Sonic Team since the Genesis. They've stubbornly stuck to the 3D realm, while pawning the 2D Gameboy Advance titles to outside developers. So this is something of a homecoming of sorts, not unlike Nintendo's upcoming New Super Mario Brothers.
And, yet, I've found myself largely unimpressed with Rush, and I'm trying to understand just why that is. It's a game I want to enjoy, because I still have a lot of affection for the spikey blue spud, and like Sega, I want to see him somehow recapture that youthful glory. Instead, Sonic (and Sega, especially since the Dreamcast died) has just been going through the motions, lost in some primordial midlife crisis. Sonic is now just another middle ager wallowing in self-pity and tired stories about "the good old days."
Perhaps I should get down to specifics. Here's what I'm tired of. I'm tired of seeing the same layouts over and over. Every Sonic game, it seems, must have the following levels: the forest zone, the ancient ruins zone, the casino zone, the mechanized city zone, and the giant death-egg-that-looks-like-the-death-star zone. Also, don't forget the underwater zone, the winter zone, and all the other standard climates you've seen in ever other platformer.
Remember the crazy environments in Sonic CD? Remember how varied the different zones in S3K were? Why is it so difficult now to come up with any new ideas? What's the deal? Would it kill anyone to come up with a better plot for a Sonic game than the tired Eggman Conquest Scheme? If we're being asked to sit through another round of dull cut-scenes that have no business being there in the first place, the least the designers could do is come up with a decent story. Something different. It couldn't be that hard.
It's the paradox of today's videogame industry. Publishers want franchises, recognizable brand-name products that will continue to lure in the same suckers, year after year. In order to maintain that audience, you need consistency, predictibility. You need to condition the lemmings into shelling out for the same product again and again.
And then this same industry wonders why their market never expands anymore. They're just taking more money from the same small clique of game nerds and uneducated peasants.
Back to Sonic Rush. My biggest beef, it turns out, is the same as Matt Paprocki's from his Digital Press review: the bottomless pits. The whole game feels like it takes place in mid-air; there's hardly ever any ground floor, only three stories of bottomless pits. It's as if you're being punished every time you stray off the intended course; not that there's anything to be discovered by exploring. You're just set along the standard rollercoaster ride, and if you miss a jump or fail to notice that important platform switch...poof! Down you go.
Sonic has always been dedicated to the highs of speed, but much of the variety from, say, S3K, is missing. Now it's equal parts rushing and crashing. Sonic has an aging speed addict. The bottomless falling is pretty much the only danger in the game, which is pretty wierd.
I should probably mention a few things I like about Sonic Rush, including the vertical twin-screen layout, the new character Blaze (still too many cartoon characters in the series), and the number of stunt moves you can perform while flying through the air or grinding on pipes.
Now back to the beefs. See if you can spot your favorites:
- The boss fights are way, way, waaaaayy toooo loooong. Clearly meant as an attempt to put 2D Sonic into a 3D realm, but keeping it confined to a single gimmicky screen. Doesn't Sonic Team remember that they already created the perfect 2/3D Sonic? It's called NiGHTS, and it's probably the best game Yuji Naka and company have ever done. Just when are they going to realize that, and create the definitive 21st Century Sonic that we've all been asking for? From the flailing of the franchise, my guess is "not bloody likely."
What I will not tolerate is spending three minutes, four minutes on a boss fight. All I'm being asked to do is spot the simple pattern and hit Ivan or Eggman or whatever eight times. There's no excuse for dragging out something so elementary, so basic.
- I hate those stupid voices. Can I please use the stylus to stab Tails every time he speaks? Yuck.
- I'm not enamored with Sonic's polygon model. Doesn't he seem a bit too...lanky? He even looks like a strung-out addict, even down to the unkempt mass of hair. He used to have his act together during the Genesis days. He even had that attitude, which was the best thing about him. Now, he can't even bother to act impatient. Too busy scrambling for that next rush. You got a quarter, buddy? I need to catch the bus.
- Alright, this is just being mean, but it deserves to be said: Sonic can't dance. Please make him stop. Sonic's bad dancing make my feet sad.
You know, if this is all that's left of the blue hedgehog, then I don't see why Sega just doesn't follow Nintendo's lead, and reissue all the classic Sonic games on the handheld. Those are the ones we all loved, anyway. Seriously, tell me a DS port of Sonic CD (with the original Japanese soundtrack!) wouldn't be a hit. If they're only interested in sucking the gas fumes of nostalgia, then at least be honest with us and do it right.