IGN Review of Sonic Rush Adventure
In 2005 SEGA and its Sonic Team showed us that the only Nintendo DS innovation they could come up with for their Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was to use two screens as a single, vertical display in a 2D scroller. Not an overwhelmingly creative use of the system, but that's perfectly okay because Sonic Rush ended up being one of the top 2D Sonic games for any platform. The publisher let that game simmer on shelves for a good while, waiting nearly two years to give the blue hedgehog an encore on the Nintendo DS. That follow-up is Sonic Rush Adventure; the lack of a number pretty much tells the direction of how far this goes as a sequel. Sure, there's a new story, new level designs, new characters, and new touch screen mini-games
but you know what? Even with all that new stuff, the sequel does have that overall feeling that it's just a recycling of the original Sonic Rush.
Dimps, the Japanese development team who's been handling the Sonic brand on Nintendo systems since the original Sonic Advance on the Game Boy Advance, is once again in charge of this solidly developed Nintendo DS product. The studio took its original Sonic Rush engine - a really excellent blending of 2D and 3D elements that enabled two-screen tall platforming designs - and pumped it up with a bit more energy and snazzy in-your-face level structures that take advantage of the hybrid visuals. Sonic animates with incredible fluidity, and the designers waste no opportunity to have the little leap in and out of the foreground for no other reason than to make the player go "ooh, neat!".
It's pretty much the standard Sonic 2D platform affair: you're encouraged to run really, really fast all over the place, and many of the level designs are laid out so that Sonic can rush around as uninhibited as possible. Bumpers will send a high-speed Sonic ricocheting in the other direction and launch pads will launch him up in the air, and as long as the players keeping an eye on what's going on they can keep the guy moving at top speed all the way to the end. There are instances of traditional platforming too, but let's be honest - it's mostly a "run really really fast" affair because that's Sonic's hook. And the level designers push that hook as far as they can go in Sonic Rush.
Technique does come into play because if you simply have Sonic run through the levels you're going to end up pretty much empty handed at the end of the world. There's a trick system in Sonic Rush where flipping around airborne or shifting the feet while rail sliding (a simple matter of rapidly tapping the A and B buttons) will beef up a power bar on the side of the screen. This power bar gives Sonic quick energy blasts while running, making him invincible for that split-second. Enemies are taken out with well-timed bursts, so players are definitely encouraged to keep Sonic flipping while he's arching through the air. And the double-jump mechanic is definitely utilized in the level designs as well - you won't be able to reach certain power-ups or rings if you don't use that Up + R move while in the air, and the designers make sure to keep you on your toes with some nice goodies that can only be obtained if you're using it at the right moments.
The "adventure" attached to the Sonic Rush brand simply means that the development team worked more dialogue into the production and extended the experience with exploration elements. The design is still primarily "run really fast" platforming, but now between the standard "two side-scrolling levels and a boss battle" structure are these touch-screen focused boating mini-games where you'll have to actually find the next course on the map. It's similar to what you do in the upcoming DS version of Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass where you plot your course and then go on a voyage to get there. There are four different types of these mini-games and while they do a nice job of throwing a bit of variety into the mix, they're not very challenging. It's hard to shake that they're simply there as busy work, something to add a couple more hours to the game clock. Or maybe SEGA forced the issue with the development team to get more touch-screen elements in there since the original Sonic Rush didn't have much.
Similarly, the way the game's laid out, you actually have to play through levels multiple times throughout the adventure in order to progress. See, at the end of a round you're rewarded with metals that are converted into "stuff" that progresses the story. A boat, hovercraft, radio tower
you "buy" those with the earned items - many times multiples of the same metal. Which means sometimes you'll need to revisit and replay a level just to earn the proper quota of metals. It's one thing to encourage players to do so - maybe a level's so good that you'd actually want to play it again and again. But to structure a game's progression that requires gamers to play them at least twice with literally no change in goal? That's just forcing the issue and artificially extending the length of play. Oh, if you're good enough you can probably earn the necessary metals on the first shot by scoring those A rankings every time, but let's be honest: your first time through will be hard to break C ranks for most of the levels.
Luckily, many of the levels are good enough to be revisited, so it's not really that big of a deal that you're forced to play a level again and again to move on. The game even gives players an additional character to use (Blaze from the first Sonic Rush) as well an optional Mission system to unlock little extras like a statue or a dinosaur on the in-game island. But come on, this isn't Mario 64, and the level objectives really don't change when you revisit the level for a second or third time.
The heavy-handed structure's really the only knock against Sonic Rush Adventure because, let's face it, Dimps did a fantastic job on the first Nintendo DS game a year and a half ago, and that's what's being used as the foundation for the sequel. Some control and gameplay elements have been tweaked and tightened up, but they're not overwhelming changes so it's hard to immediately see a lot of the unique elements in the platforming. The designers also bumped up the multiplayer aspect with support for single and multiple cartridges for the two player races, but you can also take those online using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service.
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