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Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii) artwork

Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii) review

"There’s definitely room for refinement, but if you can tolerate the occasional moments where Sonic and the Secret Rings stumbles and stalls, you’ll find one of Sonic’s greatest adventures to date."

The rumors are true: Sonic and the Secret Rings is truer to its two-dimensional roots than any Sonic game in recent memory and is the best in the series since Sonic Adventure. Though the worlds are three-dimensional, speed prevails. Playing it means rushing forward almost constantly, under crumbling architecture and around spike traps, along the side of sinking pirate ships, down the back of monstrous dinosaurs and through snow-covered ruins. You’ll springboard off enemies, fly from catapults, surf down rapids on logs and even race along an ethereal trail through the sky. Sonic is back.

Speed and chaos are so integral to the experience that you actually have to press a ‘brake’ button if you want to stop and catch your breath. Some might suppose that means Sonic and the Secret Rings is just a glorified racing game, but that’s simply not true. Though the perspective remains perpetually behind Sonic’s back (a fact that removes most camera issues), you can’t merely dodge and weave your way to the finish.

Suppose you’re racing along a patch of dry land while around you, wind-tossed ocean waves pummel the shoreline. At sea, pirate ships fire cannons. Molten geysers erupt from the soil ahead of you as shrapnel finds its mark. You dodge explosive blasts then leap into the air to avoid a spike-covered ball. An enemy materializes in the air ahead of you. He flashes green, then red. You launch forward, a whirling blue ball. The enemy shudders as you strike it and you rebound upward before landing on a new ledge and rushing forward again to the ocean’s shore. Ahead, a rickety boardwalk extends toward a ship’s wreckage. You leap into the air, exhilarated by the preceding rush. Too late, you realize you’ve leapt too far. You sink into the sea and everything crashes to a halt.

Sonic and the Secret Rings typically feels like writing in cursive without going back to cross the ‘T’s and dot the ‘I’s. Since the whole game is designed with speed in mind, exceptions jar. Even the control scheme doesn’t accommodate them. Unless you’re pressing the ‘1’ button, Sonic runs in whatever direction you have the Wii Remote tilted. Even when you press and hold the ‘2’ button to leap over a wide gap, he keeps running until you release it. Speed is king and you suffer whenever you have occasion to halt.

One of the game’s later boss battles highlights that point. As you face off against Ifrit, you must run circles around him while explosive barrels careen toward you and he fires beams from his eyes. To defeat him, you must strike his fingers with airborne homing attacks, only staying in one place long enough to hit all three proves difficult when slowing to a stop takes so much effort. What could have been exhilarating is tedious instead. You’ll be cursing Sonic and his blazing speed the whole time.

Thankfully, there are ways to tone things down. Every time you finish a stage, you earn points for your performance. The game factors in how quickly you finished and how many spirit points you collected. As the points build, you gain levels. These earn you new skills that can be attached to one of four rings you carry. When you begin a stage, you get to pick which ring you want to equip. If you’re going into a boss battle like the one with Ifrit, you would choose one that allows you to stop more effectively. If you’re looking to try your hand at a race against the clock, you’d want to accentuate your top speed while running and sliding. This customization alleviates some of the game’s issues, but it can’t entirely erase the fact that the game punishes you for slowing down when some areas actually require it.

Some may also dislike the game’s “Challenge” system, which replaces the unwieldy level hub you might remember from games like Sonic Adventure with something more efficient. The new structure works like this: when you first begin playing, there’s one world available. It contains a single challenge. Once you complete that one, new ones become available. The game progresses as you satisfy the requirements that make new worlds available. Less than half of the challenges are required, and completing them gains you a new scrap of the story. Optional areas only reward you with more points toward skills and unlockable content in the “Special Book.” There’s not really any way to be sure which areas will advance the story and which ones are there simply to test your skill, so those playing strictly for the narrative are frequently frustrated.

The plot is somewhat unexpected. Sonic finds a genie who tells him that he is the prophesied hero who must save her world. She is from a mysterious book. A powerful being called the Erazor Djinn lurks within, burning precious pages. Once he has turned everything crispy, he’ll gain the power he needs to break free from his prison and terrorize Sonic’s world. As a prophesied hero, Sonic does what any good hedgehog would; he wishes to be taken inside so that he can defeat the villain. Along the way, he’ll need to collect seven secret rings with help from familiar faces in new roles. If you ever wanted to see Tails in a turban, now’s your chance.

Naturally, plot isn’t the real reason to play the game. The sense of speed is what brings you back, long after you’ve read and forgotten the typically uninspired narrative. There’s also a lot to unlock during and after the main adventure, including artwork and videos and chunks of the plot. Sega even threw in mini-games for you to play with your friends, but they’re really just a distraction from the satisfying main course. There’s definitely room for refinement, but if you can tolerate the occasional moments where Sonic and the Secret Rings stumbles and stalls, you’ll find one of Sonic’s greatest adventures to date. Sonic is back, and it’s about time!


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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 05, 2007)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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