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Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii) artwork

Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii) review

"It's an exclusively motion-controlled Sanic. Help."


It was a dark day when Sega realized that quality control didn't apply to their flagship series. Sonic had a somewhat rough start to 3D from the top, yet things got worse over time, with the eternally infamous 2006 reboot representing a nadir in game design due to its horrible optimization, slippery controls, level design that was tedious at best, and oddly prevalent fanfic story. Sonic '06 is revered as the worst game in a series filled with horrible games, but Sega, in another instance of treating their developers like the trash they put out the door in 2006, made an even worse aberration as a result of a scrapped project to port Sonic '06 to the inferior hardware of the Wii. That mutant devolved into Sonic & the Secret Rings, a primarily motion-controlled Sonic game. Yeeeeep.

Still images accompanied by text and voiceovers start off a story of Sonic being brought by a genie into the Arabian Nights book, where he gets a Jojo Part 2 countdown-death/heartburn spell courtesy of evil Majin Groose. Not to take this seriously, but I just wanna point out this makes this one of like half a dozen Sonic games in which he "dies." Before realizing they could have a bunch of underwhelming cameos from various characters in the series be a selling point, Sega just did anything that came to mind, from medieval Sanic to werewolf Sanic. Seeing Sultan Robotnik or Sinbad Knuckles is about the most fun to be had here, for Secret Rings has some of the worst gameplay in any commercial platformer to date.

The design of this game cannot be understood without first acknowledging the camera. The camera manages to be utterly uncommunicative of your surroundings despite the game being largely on-rails, a system that intends to place perfect camera positions above movement control. Secret Rings is the worst of both worlds, for the camera conveys nothing and shifts wildly as you suddenly make 90-degree turns and get hit by off-screen obstacles. I hazard that the camera -- maybe even the hands-off, running-hands-off 3D Sonic games as a whole -- is a failed attempt at cinematic game design; the camera tilts and twists and turns as stays four inches away from Sanic's ugly low-res quills in a fashion that implies intent to convey speed, but this style is not appropriate for the medium since it fails to communicate information a participant, not a spectator, needs to know -- such as obstacles, enemies, upcoming turns, et cetera. This alone would ruin the game, but the controls! Argh, the infernal controls!

So, um. There's no analog movement, no d-pad or stick. You gotta hold the remote like a steering wheel with the buttons facing you, turning the remote about in order to move horizontally as Sonic auto-runs forward at light speed or a snail's pace, one. Sanic's unrelenting advance into obstacles ahead of him can be reversed by performing carpal tunnel-inducing twists of the remote, which activates a sluggish moonwalk into the threats you can't see behind you. Jumps are performed by a Tony Hawk button press and hold during which Sanic's movement grinds to a halting slide. No running into a jump; you know, the thing you do in every platformer? Oh, and homing attacks, those extremely context-sensitive moves that require precision else you fall and die, are activated by waggling the remote. This was made before Wiimotion Plus, by the way. Hope you like dying from the game not registering your inputs! Again and again and again and MOTION CONTROLS!

Every design choice is terrible on a surface level, yet things get even worse upon inspection. Abysmal level design wants you to jump quickly upon having threats thrown at you, but those Tony Hawk jump controls force you to slide slowly forward before you jump, so you'll die by foes on your tail or pits in front of you. With no respect for the intelligence of the player, characters blurt out things like "I should use a homing attack on that object," begging the question of why controlling Sanic is more challenging that using logic. Homing attacks can be activated by accidental shakes of the remote, but even worse is how the game fakes you out by having part of the homing attack icon and sound activate before you can do the move, giving you a false start in a game reliant on twitch reactions. And of course the hit detection is broken!

Extra trimmings help none. A customization system boasts such features as literally giving Sanic a sliver more movement control; why would you relegate that to an optional unlock? Later on you can use two spells: Speed Boost and Time Break. Speed Boost sends you flying uncontrollably into hazards, yet the time slowing ability is equally useless because it makes you as slow as everything else while it's on. Instead of augmenting your reactions in relation to obstacles, Time Break drags the framerate down to single digits, adds excessive motion blur and bloom, and monochromatically desaturates all the colors to oblivion. It's like a modern triple-A gaming mode! Without the budget.

Even more appalling is the lack of content for Sonic to run around in. There are only seven levels, and Secret Rings' running time is padded by arbitrary missions, such as racing a rubber-band AI or avoiding rings. No indicator informs you which trials are mandatory and which are pure time-wasters. Levels themselves are bloated monstrosities that last too long, providing simultaneously tedious and arduous challenges. Fortunately, you get infinite lives to grind through, but that's good balancing in the same way that breaking your legs on a snowboarding jump and waiting until they heal up is a successful jump; it isn't. I can't imagine how even more unplayable this would be without this crutch.

On a technical front, Secret Rings is... well, just guess if it's good or not. The levels look like shovelware mini-golf courses, and you shouldn't expect anything better-looking aside from the early PS2-era textures. I've seen plenty of indie games with more appealing UIs; no, make that "more polish in every area." Sanic occasionally clips through textures or glitches out on the edges of surfaces, but my favorite part of the game was a sharp turn on which an invisible line triggers a nasty crossfade regardless of whether Sunek is running as intended or moonwalking all the way back. Less fun is the bad hit detection that pervades the whole game, but the last two of the awful boss fights are so bad that one can expect to waste an hour on each of them. Fuuuuuun!

You may have inferred by now that I wasn't endeared by this game. The willpower of one who plays Sonic & The Secret Rings is tested upon hearing each cheesy song, upon missing each jump, upon making every misread input. The camera prioritizes style over communication, and the controls are just as gimmicky and impractical. Even Sonic '06 had better maneuverability, and the utter absence of control over Sanic here is even more insulting when taking into account that even the mini-games here are compatible with gamepads! That's all Sonic & the Secret Rings is; an insult to artistic interactivity.

In conclusion, I'll let Sonic himself summarize my thoughts about this game. Guess that's the least I can do for purposefully misspelling his name just for cathartic kicks throughout this review. Sorry 'bout that.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (May 01, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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