Ever since Sonic left the hollows of his Dreamcast family, his life has been in sort of a downward spiral motion. Each game failed to live up to the Sonic name, creating what seemed to be many lackluster additions to the series that redefined the platforming genre. With the high-def era of next gen gaming taking full swing, and the PS3 and 360 focusing more on raw power than gameplay, it is key to note that Sonic’s adventure on the Wii impressively speeds past the competition in full strides, and delivers one of the most satisfying and innovative Sonic titles in years.
Sonic’s latest journey starts out with the blue hedgehog receiving a message from a genie, set in the pages of the classic book Arabian Nights. The genie warns Sonic of an evil genie named Erazor Djinn, who has set his sights on the secret rings scattered throughout the pages of the book in hopes of reclaiming them all and freeing himself from the story. Once free, he will terrorize Sonic’s land and become the most powerful genie in the world. Naturally, Sonic takes to the challenge quickly and soon finds himself racing to retrieve the rings before Erazor. Each scene is shown in a type of story-book cinema, complete with pictures and some nifty looking animations, in which Sonic (who sounds incredibly un-cool for such a neat-looking character) travels through the pages of Arabian Nights to find the rings and stop Erazor.
While the Sonic games never really had a strong central story point, Secret Rings does a good job of focusing on the key traits of the Arabian Nights folklore, recreating some of the most inspiring and well-thought out levels in the series’ history. While most levels are based off classic tales from the book, Sonic will also travel to different levels, complete with pirate ships, prehistoric animals, and desert ruins. Each level has its own unique look and feel, with some parts of the levels available for some clever platforming maneuvers, such as wall hugging to avoid dangerous traps and rail grinding over dangerous chasms. Despite these new additions, the same core gameplay is still well in tact, with Sonic running at an increasingly fast pace throughout. With things going at such a frantic pace all the time, it’s reassuring to note that there are no framerate problems or any occurrence of slowdown at all—something that plagued the other next-gen versions. Each level looks fantastic, brimming with their own special array of enemies and surroundings, while still making them look both realistic and artistic.
The sense of speed has always been the key aspect of the Sonic series and the Secret Rings is no exception. While the other games had players moving Sonic at their own free will, the Wii version moves Sonic automatically on a pre-determined set course throughout each level. If Sonic happens to stop or slow down over an obstacle, he will gradually start running at full speed once again automatically. The lack of control over Sonic may be intimidating for some players, but with the new control structure it actually works extremely well in most places.
First and foremost, players must hold the Wii remote horizontally, with the D pad resting in your left or right hand. As Sonic runs along his path you simply tilt the controller in the direction you wish to turn. The turning maneuver is really only used to dodge obstacles or to collect rings or other powerups since you don’t really have any control over where to run. Along the way Sonic will earn the ability to learn new moves that will help him make his marathons a lot easier to maintain. By using the 2 button, players can launch Sonic into the air to hurdle over obstacles. Reminiscent of his Dreamcast days, once in the air Sonic can lock onto targets and with a quick thrust of the controller, players can send him flying into the enemy. This attack can be chained together in succession to create combos or even be used to cross different areas. If for whatever reason you feel like Sonic is getting too out of control, you can simply press the 1 button to slow him down, which is also useful for clearing bigger hurdles which require more precision. The basics on the controls are quite simple to manage, and once you learn how to jump and move your way from side to side, you will no doubt master the mechanics of the game. There are times when things get a little too hectic and it is hard to maintain flow of the game and move the controller at all the right moments, which make some levels feel like a pain due to constant do-overs (caused by not being able to jump over something) or endless jumbles with obstacles that always seem to slow you down.
In any case, Sonic is much better equipped this time around as he now can improve his skills to help him in later levels. Since Sonic travels to seven different worlds, after every level he will be awarded points depending on how well he performed. Players may than use those points to upgrade skills and ultimately learn new abilities, such as ring multipliers or double jumping. While these new abilities add some form of depth and customization to the Sonic series, they don’t serve any real purpose simply because you can easily finish the game without ever equipping a skill.
The single player campaign should take you about 10 or so hours to complete, depending on how much time and effort you are actually willing to spend learning new skills and upgrading. While the single player is relatively short, the multiplayer has potential in keeping fans hooked long after the campaign is complete. Similar to other party-game titles, players can compete in a series of minigames, varying from ordinary fishing to juggling fruit, canoeing, and swimming. All of the 40+ games are very creative and use the Wii remote in interesting ways, but like all the other games they get repetitive much too quickly.
Sonic and the Secret Rings is a welcome addition to a series that has long been caught in a struggle for quite some time. The controls will no doubt intrigue fans of the series, and Wii owners who are hoping to pick up a new game in hopes of trying something both innovative and fun should look no further. The classic sensation of speed, coupled with some of the best locations, makes this Sonic game one of the best additions to the series in a long time.