In February 2007, Sonic the Hedgehog was still fresh in the memories of Sonic fans. Yet they already had a new game to play in the form of the Wii exclusive Sonic and the Secret Rings. Secret Rings was a radically different kind of Sonic game, featuring on-rails play and a heavy emphasis on motion controls. Secret Rings had been championed the previous year by journalists as a Sonic game that was actually good, that took a radically different approach to the formula to solve the franchise’s problems. What gamers actually got was a mixed bag of great and poor design decisions that was still a huge step up from Sonic 06, and would start Sonic on his slow, winding road to recovery.
When I first picked Secret Rings up back in February I was excited. I was hungry for some unique ground breaking software to play on my brand new Wii, but so far the console hadn’t yielded anything that truly blew me away. Secret Rings, with its heavy emphasis on motion controls, looked like the answer to my problem. Much to my excitement, Secret Rings lived up to my expectations. Sure, there were problems: the game had too many cheap deaths, the controls started out too sluggish, some of the missions were stupid and the party mode was a waste of time, but once I memorized where the cheap death holes were and unlocked better control options, I was having more fun with Secret Rings then any Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2.
Of course, critical and overall fan reception was a lot cooler, largely due to the aforementioned issues. Compared to Sonic 06 Secret Rings was a godsend, but when measured on its own merits it became obvious that Secret Rings was not “the game”. Secret Rings did a lot of things right. It focused on one form of game play and gave Sonic the spotlight. It used the auto controlled on rails game play to turn Sonic’s game play into a true roller coaster ride, complete with pitch perfect camera angles and amazing speed never before seen in a 3D Sonic game before. The game allowed you to buy upgrades to Sonic to improve his skill set, allowing players to give Sonic even greater speed and attack range. Finally, Secret Rings had a very strong set of levels and boss battles, topping it all off with the absolutely amazing Night Palace.
So how did this Sonic game screw it up? Regrettably, with some silly design decisions that never needed to be there. Easily the biggest problem this game had was its sluggish motion controls. This had nothing to do with the Wii, mind you, but was actually a conscious design decision made by the dev team. See, instead of giving Sonic the absolute best controls from the outset, the dev team decided to make better and more responsive maneuverability a skill, rather than just a standard part of the game. Once the better maneuverability skills are unlocked, moving Sonic from left to right with the Wii remote is a breeze, but until then you’re left with a character that simply moves too sluggishly. Secret Rings also had ridiculous difficulty and some areas that just didn’t work well in an on rails game such as platforming areas and enemy rooms. Such elements would stop the game’s pace in its tracks and force gamers to repeat the same areas constantly.
While it was a shame that reception for Secret Rings was so cool, it also served as a beacon of hope for me and a few other Sonic fans that SEGA may be able to pull Sonic from the brink, and repair the damage that had been done to the franchise by Sonic 06.
Secret Rings was followed up by another, better Sonic game from Dimps in the form of Sonic Rush Adventure. The treatment of Sonic’s handheld outings is rather odd. On one hand, they have been almost universally praised as great to amazing games ever since Sonic Pocket Adventure was released on the Neo Geo Pocket in 1999. On the other hand, they have been almost universally ignored whenever anyone discusses the quality of Sonic as a franchise, almost as if they don’t count because they aren’t on the big high definition consoles. As a person who loves handheld gaming, I’ve never really understood this. It’s kind of like saying the Pokemon franchise is terrible because every single console Pokemon release has been mediocre at best, but I digress. How was Sonic Rush Adventure?
Aside from the hullaballoo made about Sonic getting another (though as it later turned out non playable) friend in Marine the Raccoon, Sonic Rush Adventure was about what everyone expected it would be. It took the Rush formula, added a hub, missions and boating mini games, and made Blaze an almost completely optional character. While I felt the boating missions were fun, they were also unneeded. Fans and critics alike generally liked the game, and it averaged a pretty typical and respectable 80% on GameRankings. As usual, no one cared, but Rush Adventure was a rather fun romp that again served to remind gamers what Sonic could be in the right hands.
Easily the biggest Sonic title released this year was the first ever crossover between Sonic and Mario, in the form of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. More of an expansion on ideas first shown off in Nintendo’s Wii Sports, Mario and Sonic was at first considered a hoax by many upon its reveal on March 31st. The idea seemed ludicrous at the time. Sonic and Mario finally staring in a game together that uses the Olympic branding? Sounds like some fan idea gone horribly wrong! With only a website showing some CGI images, surely it was fake? Why weren’t there any screenshots?
Even I was a little unsure. It didn’t take long to get an official confirmation though: Mario and Sonic were indeed crossing over, and perhaps an Olympics game was a fitting way to start their new relationship. After all, the modern Olympics have always been about bringing together nations at odds with each other for the sole purpose of taking each other on in a stadium. Bringing these two rival characters together for the first time in a game centered around the Olympics seemed symbolically fitting.
Though just because something works symbolically, doesn’t mean it works creatively, and when Mario and Sonic debuted in November it proved to be something of a mixed bag. As an expansion on the ideas presented in Wii Sports, it worked. As a game for the hardcore gamer, however, the mini games where shallow and their quality was hit and miss. There also wasn’t much of a single player experience to speak of. Of course, in the end, all of these problems didn’t really matter, since Mario and Sonic was aimed at the Wii Sports crowd, and with them the game was a huge hit.
As it turns out, crossing over the Mario, Sonic and Olympics brandings was an incredibly brilliant idea on SEGA’s part. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is the best-selling video game crossover of all time, selling over 7 million copies on the Wii and over 4 million copies on the DS. Regrettably, while this success has spawned two sequels in the Mario and Sonic at the Olympics line, it has yet to spawn an outright crossover between the two platforming legends. One can only hope that someday, SEGA and Nintendo will smell the money, and get to work on a game that truly mashes together Sonic and Mario into a massive platforming adventure.
2007 was an odd year for Sonic, but it was also a year of healing. While only one game gained true critical praise, SEGA still didn’t turn out any stinkers on the level of Sonic 06 and Sonic Genesis. So now that the franchise had begun to pick up the pieces, where could it go from here? In 2008, SEGA would reveal Sonic’s next big HD adventure, and this one would be the one to define the character all the way through to his next big anniversary title.Ad: