Just when it seemed like Sonic the Hedgehog was going to wind up as the video game equivalent of performers who hobble over to Vegas to coast on former glories, 2005's Sonic Rush for the DS reminded the masses just why Sega's onetime mascot held his own against Mario back in the day. The title focused on 2D platforming with some 3D peppered in to liven up the action. Given the game's return to Sonic's roots, the DS title was met with open arms by critics and consumers alike, who had suffered through a gamut of titles starring the hedgehog that were less than exciting. Not surprisingly, Sega and Sonic Team have now queued up a sequel to the game, Sonic Rush Adventure. This new game takes the speed and platforming that made the original game pop and adds a new adventure element that includes some Phantom Hourglass-style touch-screen-powered sailing. We had the chance to try out the game to see if Sonic's winning streak on the DS will continue, or if the hedgehog is about to stumble into yet another mediocre adventure.
The first Sonic Rush introduced Blaze the cat to the menagerie of critters in the Sonic universe. The last time we saw the mysterious, firepowered feline, she was heading back to her own dimension after defeating the evildoer she'd chased over to Sonic's world. This time out, Sonic and Tails pay Blaze's dimension a visit following an accident while observing an energy field from Tails' plane. The pair is helped out by Marine, a deluded but cheerful Good Samaritan who rescues the duo and lets them chill on her island. The pair winds up helping Marine explore the ocean around her island home by helping build watercraft. As the story progresses you'll encounter a surly pirate and his crew, who are causing all sorts of problems.
The action in the game revolves around helping Blaze and humoring Marine, and takes the same "side-scrolling platformer tricked out with some 3D" approach that worked so well in the original Sonic Rush. The same approach is taken with doling out playable characters, as you'll start out with Sonic and get access to Blaze as you go through the story. The gradual progression also comes into play with several other features in the game, adding to the action. Marine's island is a sparsely populated and decorated place that evolves throughout the game thanks to Sonic's adventuring. You'll meet new faces who'll come over and hang out. The newcomers will let you access the game's multiplayer feature, which lets you play with friends wirelessly, shop for items, play through time trials, and take on new challenges that become available as you clear more levels.
In keeping with the "adventure" portion of its title, the game tosses in some extra, RPG-lite features. Marine's island serves as your home base. While you're initially stuck there, after playing through a few stages you'll earn enough raw material for Tails to make a Sea-Doo that you can use to start some exploring. Once you have a craft you can use the touch screen to map out a course and do some sailing on the open water via a minigame that has you controlling Sonic and his vehicle. The travel sequences offer a minigame-style race mechanic that finds you collecting rings, turboing into enemies to take them out, and performing stunts by following onscreen prompts. The new islands you'll discover comprise the new playable levels you'll have to run through.
As with the original Sonic Rush, Sonic Rush Adventure follows the same "two levels and a boss fight" structure. As you clear levels you'll earn different types of material that Tails will need to make new items, such as ships, or other helpful objects, like a radio tower. As you progress, Tails will come discover how to make more craft to use on the ocean. The different craft have ever-expanding ranges, which let you explore a wider arc and also feature unique mechanics. For example, while the Sea-Doo has a more active mechanic that requires you to pilot it for Sonic, the next ship you make, the sailboat, has a totally different mechanic for its travel sequence. The sailboat is essentially a shooting gallery and requires you to fire on enemies, toggling between three different types of weapons, as you travel on rails. Once you discover different locations you'll have the option to call up a quick menu and travel to them automatically or go through the various travel minigames.
The visuals in the game are a colorful mix of 2D and 3D elements that blend together seamlessly. The island settings and the ocean you'll be navigating to get to them lend themselves to the brighter color palette. As before, Sonic and Blaze will be rendered as polygons and tear through mostly 2D environments, though you'll encounter a number of 3D elements on your runs through the various levels. New to the experience are 3D sequences that find Sonic and Blaze navigating areas with the camera placed behind their shoulders. The 3D bits that pop up during levels seamlessly blend into your run via a Super Paper Mario-esque screen flip that rotates around Sonic and Blaze. The ocean runs in your various vehicles run smoothly and maintain a consistent sense of speed. The 3D boss fights play out smoothly and make more use of both DS screens, with bosses stretching from the lower screen to the top or the action shifting between the upper and lower screens. So far we've seen plenty of variety, both in the levels and the various enemies you'll encounter, and it all keeps the game interesting.
The game's audio stays true to the approach taken in the original Sonic Rush. You'll hear the familiar ring sounds and the high whine of Sonic peeling out as he tears through levels. You'll also hear unique effects for Blaze's fire-infused attacks. Those core effects are livened up by some speech and assorted sound effects for enemies and bosses (the T-Rex roar is notably menacing). One of the highlights of the audio is the soundtrack, a bouncy collection of tunes reminiscent of the music heard in Sonic's classic Genesis games.
Based on what we've played so far, Sonic Rush Adventure is looking to be an assured follow-up to Sonic Rush. The game retains the polished feel and blistering speed of its predecessor, which serves as a potent reminder of the franchise's charm. The new adventure elements work pretty well, though they seem to affect the game's pacing a bit more than we'd like. However, our overall impression of the game is that it's another cool return to form for Sonic. If you dug the first Sonic Rush or are looking for a tight little platformer for your DS, you'll want to keep an eye out for Sonic Rush Adventure when it ships later this month.