Earlier this week, during a visit to Sega's San Francisco office, we were treated to a sneak peek at a one-level demo of Sonic Rivals 2. Currently scheduled for release on the PSP toward the end of this year, Sonic Rivals 2 is a racing game in which the titular spiky-haired mammal and seven of his friends and enemies face off against each other in head-to-head speed challenges through environments filled with gold rings, power-ups, and plenty of obstacles to overcome. There's purportedly a story-driven mode in there somewhere, but Sega isn't saying too much about it just yet, save for the fact that it'll support all eight of the game's playable characters.
A couple of the playable characters are also being kept under wraps for the moment, but we can tell that the roster will definitely include Sonic, Tails, Shadow, Knuckles, Silver, and Metal Sonic. The basic controls for all of the characters will be the same, though each of them will be able to perform a unique signature move after collecting enough of the aforementioned rings. Pretty much the only other controls that you'll need to concern yourself with as you speed through environments like the Sunset Forest Zone, which we were shown, are a jump button, an attack button, and a power-up button. There are a handful of other, context-sensitive controls that you'll need from time to time, and instructions for these appear on the screen anytime you're going to use them. Examples from the Sunset Forest Zone level include hitting X to launch yourself from a cannon, alternately hitting X and O to scale walls, and pressing either X or O to move between a series of pads that the racers are drawn to like magnets.
The only characters who were playable in the early version of the game that we were shown were Sonic, Tails, and Shadow. We had an opportunity to see all three of them in action at one time or another and, having seen their various special moves, we reckon you'll each have one or two favorites based on your play style. Sonic's signature move is a huge speed boost that, if you use it to catch up with your opponent, ends with a powerful attack. Tails can fly to evade hazards or take different routes, and Shadow can send a nearby opponent into slow-motion for a short time. In addition to the signature moves and standard attacks, Sonic Rivals 2 will feature a number of power-ups that can be used to gain an advantage over your opponent. Only two had been implemented in the demo version that we saw: Mines that you drop behind you to slow down your rival and make them drop their rings; and magnets that circle around you, pulling in nearby coins.
Based on our time checking out the Sunset Forest Zone environment, you'll find plenty that's familiar in Sonic Rivals 2 if you've played either its predecessor or pretty much any game with Sonic in it. There are gates that speed you up as you pass through them, there are loop-the-loops that you can only negotiate if you're traveling fast enough, there are pinball-style bumpers that shoot you around, and, well...you get the idea. Perhaps the most pleasing thing about the Sunset Forest Zone, and presumably the rest of the environments as well, is that it doesn't punish you too severely for mistiming jumps and the like. The environment design is such that staying at the top of the level appears to be one of the quickest routes through it, but anytime you miss a jump you simply fall down onto another route and keep going. Even in the brief time that we spent with Sonic Rivals 2 on this occasion, we saw several completely different routes through the same environment.
Although the goal of each race is, of course, to be the first across the line, you'll be awarded a score at the end based on how many rings you collected, your time, how many boosts you hit, and how many times you successfully attacked your opponent. We're not entirely sure how relevant the resulting overall score is going to be in the finished game, but at the very least you'll be able to brag about your performances after competing in the obligatory ad-hoc multiplayer races. We're told that races won't be the only events featured in Sonic Rivals 2, incidentally, but Sega isn't talking about any of the other gameplay modes it's planning to include just yet. We look forward to bringing you more information on Sonic Rivals 2 as soon as it becomes available.