Let’s not mince words here. As near as I can tell, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has been circling the drain for years now, with only a few bright points, like the expertly-designed Sonic Rush for the DS, keeping it afloat. It’s probably fitting, then, that the next Sonic game that appears to be on the right track is also a handheld game. That would be Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, coming this fall for the Nintendo DS.
With a name like Dark Brotherhood, I was hoping for some sort of assassin’s tale, where you eventually have to slit the throats of all of Sonic’s posse (yes, even Big the Cat) due to their constant disloyalty. After playing the game, though, it seems to be a bit brighter than that. That said, it also struck me as much deeper than you might expect, thanks to some signature touches from BioWare, who is handling development.
While we might not see Sonic get it on with an alien lady, the game does have its own form of BioWare’s branching dialogue trees, as seen most recently in Mass Effect. Text bubbles feature a series of icons on the left side when you have multiple choices for what to say next. The default responses are designed to get you back into the game as quickly as possible, but it looks like there’ll be plenty of information available for players who want to dig around and ask questions.
The hand-painted backgrounds look pretty snazzy, and they’ll also offer some different ways to navigate, depending on who you have in your party. Characters like Tails and Knuckles, for example, have flight capabilities, so when you end up near a gap that requires you to go airborne, a symbol appears on-screen, which you can then tap to activate. You’ll also need speed to tap dash icons, and so on.
Combat is turn-based with some real-time screen-scribbling action to mix things up. When you’re attacked, a timing minigame sometimes appears, letting you dodge attacks if you succeed. Your special attacks also make use of the touch-screen, letting you tap or scribble with some attacks for extra damage. Different party members combine differently to let you perform unique group attacks, as well. If Amy and Sonic are together, you can have Amy slam Sonic with her hammer, sending the blue ball directly at your foes. Speed also figures into the order of battle, with faster characters like Sonic being able to do more actions per turn.
Along the way, you’ll hear a lot of stuff about chaos emeralds, Dr. Eggman, and all of the sorts of things you’d expect to hear about in a Sonic game, though BioWare and Sega representatives were quick to tell us that the story would have a dark side to it. While we’re holding out hope for hand-painted shots of Sonic silencing Tails once and for all with a quick twist of the neck, it’ll probably bit a bit less harsh than that, as they’re seeking an E rating for the final product.