This just might be the best Sonic game in over 13 years.
Let me lay it on the line: I’m a Sonic fan. I have been since the birth of the franchise. To me, Sonic games are serious business. And yes, I’ve made a few bad purchase decisions because there was a blue hedgehog on the box.
Let’s face it: The Sonic franchise is in the dumps. More often than not, each Sonic game to come out of Sega is more bad than it is good. Quite simply put, Sonic’s glory days were on the Sega Genesis. Anything since then has been of varying quality from “decent” to “absolute garbage”. If you disagree with me - well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re also probably too young to understand what the Genesis games were like to those of us who experienced them back when they were relevant.
When Sonic Rush Adventure was first unveiled, I was indifferent. Nothing about it really wowed me - the graphic design seemed to be rather bland, and the theme of pirates as the main enemy sort of made me think of how Sonic & The Secret Rings did the Arabian Nights thing. What was worst of all, however, was the fact that long-time Sonic handheld developer Dimps was reportedly out of the picture after licensing issues with Sega over their arcade fighter, The Rumblefish. Dimps was responsible for the entire Sonic Advance line of games, as well as the original Sonic Rush. With Sonic Team themselves personally helming this installment, the cynic in me casually brushed the game off, convinced they’d manage to mess it up somehow (as they often have a habit of doing, recently).
Color me shocked, then, to find out that Sonic Rush Adventure is actually one of the tightest, most cohesive and above all the most fun Sonic games the franchise has seen in nearly 13 years.
On it’s surface, Sonic Rush Adventure looks, more or less, like the original Sonic Rush. The gameplay from the original remains largely intact: run from the left side of the screen to the right side, collecting as many rings, destroying as many enemies, and boosting through everything as much as possible. Your boost meter is filled up by executing mid-air trick combos using the A, B, and R buttons - or by tricking while grinding a rail. Finish the level, get your score tallied up, and receive a rank based on your overall performance. At the end of the second “act”, you face off against a boss, which generally are much, much, much bigger than Sonic is.
And while minor tweaks to this formula are no doubt visible to Sonic fans like me, the biggest and most immediate change is the implementation of the “Adventure” elements. What this boils down to is another stab at the “RPG Lite” concept folks over at Sonic Team seem to be so obsessed with. In between levels Sonic is dumped back to “Windmill Island” where you’re given an opportunity to roam around in an overhead 3D environment in order to talk to NPCs and advance the storyline (and be thankful: every single cutscene in the entire game can be skipped by pressing the start button). Windmill Island has docks, where you can launch various watercraft in order to search for new “islands” (levels) in small minigames that blend concepts from Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Star Fox: Command Mission, and the original Sonic Rush’s special stages. Basically, you are provided with a sea chart and must draw the path (with your stylus) that you want to sail. Each of the four available craft are suited best to a specific type of situation and each have their own unique sailing minigames. Though you start with nothing but a jet ski, Tails will eventually build the rest of the watercraft throughout the course of the game using “Materials” you acquire as a bonus for completing a level. Each level has their own unique material, and the higher rank you get, the more of that type of material you earn.
And while the sailing minigames are fun, as the game progresses Tails starts to ask for more and more varied types of materials - which basically means you often have to re-visit a level you’ve already beaten in order to gain the materials you need. This is far from a deal breaker for me; never once did I really feel that annoyed I had to go back and re-visit levels in order to advance the game forward, but for some people this may be a small source of frustration. And besides, around the time the game asks you to re-visit previous levels, you can play as Blaze the Cat, and she controls differently enough to make re-visiting old levels as her a fresh experience. Even better, Sonic Rush Adventure’s level design is a cut above most of the level design we’ve seen in past Sonic games.
The major complaint I had with the original Sonic Rush (and the Sonic Advance games) was that they often featured unforgiving level design that liked to test the player’s twitch reflex. You’d frequently be in a situation where suddenly you’d find yourself getting hit by an enemy because you were going too fast to avoid it - or falling in to a bottomless pit because the game gave you no indication of when to jump.
I am happy to report that Sonic Rush Adventure does its best to fix this issue. Though things like bottomless pits exist, the number of cheap hits and cheap deaths have been dramatically scaled down. Enemies and obstacles are more often than not placed logically within a level and the game never really sends you to your doom without giving you ample time to react. The only place cheap deaths still exists in Sonic Rush Adventure are the 16 optional (and often very short) “Hidden Islands” that are stashed in secret locations around the world map. But those are forgivable: one gets the impression that those levels are supposed to be hard, and because most of them are optional, you can simply choose to avoid them. Even the process of acquiring Chaos Emeralds has been made considerably more comfortable and accessible than the frustration-inducing methods seen in the previous portable Sonic titles.
And once you’ve completed the storyline, 100 bonus missions open up for play. These mainly involve revisiting previous levels to complete a special task (beat the level under a strict time limit, collect a certain number of rings, face off against a harder version of an old boss, etc.), and they can be pretty difficult, at times. Though shallow, they’re still better than nothing and provide extended replay value for those of you out there who like to squeeze every last droplet of playtime out of a game. As an added bonus, the game features online multiplayer via the Nintendo Wifi Connection and Time Trial leaderboards. Though multiplayer is limited strictly to racing through levels for the fastest times or the highest ring counts, the simple fact that it’s even there should be enough for a lot of people - and the Leaderboards should provide hardcore Sonic fans with more than enough challenge as they compete for the best time with other Sonic Rush Adventure owners from all over the world.
It’s a very complete package with a lot to do, and it’s honestly a very good game. It was somewhere near the end of the storyline that I had sort of an epiphany in regards to the game; I realized just how much fun I was having sailing around the world map looking for new Hidden Islands to conquer. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in regards to a Sonic game in many, many years.
This is the real deal, folks. If you used to be a Sonic fan and have fallen out of grace with the franchise like so many have, you owe it to yourself to give Sonic Rush Adventure a look.