Sonic Shuffle Preview

Sonic Shuffle can be seen as Sega's attempt to establish its main characters as marketable icons akin to what Nintendo's done with Mario and company.

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If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Sonic Shuffle is one big, sloppy kiss on Nintendo's backside. Taking a cue from Mario Party and the board-game concept it pioneered, Sonic Shuffle doesn't make any claims of originality. Instead, Sonic Shuffle can be seen as Sega's attempt to establish its main characters as marketable icons akin to what Nintendo's done with Mario and company. Sonic R was to Mario Kart what Sonic Shuffle is to Mario Party - the gameplay is the same (think board game gone digital), but the names and places have been changed to protect the copyrighted.

Sonic Shuffle's high-risk shenanigans all take place in the cozy confines of your 3D game board. Here, you and up to three other friends or computer opponents will mix it up as you try to advance around the board collecting "precioustones." Yes, that means no chaos-emerald or Robotnic hunting for Sonic and company this time; Sonic Shuffle is an all-new adventure. In this new world, known as the land of Maginary Whirl, Sonic and his friends Knuckles, Amy Rose, and Tails come to the assistance of Illumina the Guardian Angel. The Maginary Whirl has come under the threat of a mysterious creature known as Void. Void has somehow consumed the powers of the precioustones, which contain the hopes and dreams of people from every dimension. Each game in Sonic Shuffle is a battle among the four characters to see who will be the first to recover the precioustones from Void and return the dreams and hopes to their rightful owners.

Moving around the game board is a little different from rolling dice and moving the appropriate number of spaces. The action in Sonic Shuffle is controlled by a deck of cards that instructs you to move a certain number of spaces, advance to a special square, and much more. As in an old-fashioned game of Uncle Wiggly, drawing cards is the key to moving around the board - but making it around the board is just half the fun. Once each player has moved, the game goes into the familiar multiplayer mode, where all four players can compete for rings in up to fifty unique games that range from free-for-all melees to three-on-one matches to two-on-two team matches. The games themselves will be different from those found in Mario Party, though button-mashing coordination will still be the general rule. You'll also find that you won't need to rotate the analog stick much - the development team apparently heard the complaints about the grinding of joysticks in the original Mario Party. The commodities of choice in Sonic titles have always been rings, and naturally, that remains unchanged in Sonic Shuffle. How rings will be used alongside the precioustones is not yet known, but, considering the game's roots, speculating that they can be exchanged for precioustones probably isn't too farfetched of an idea.

Sonic Shuffle's homage to Mario Party's gameplay makes much more sense when you understand that Sega brought aboard some of the design team from HAL Laboratories (Mario Party's developer) to make a title similar to Party. But Sega didn't stop there; Shuffle also makes use of the cell-shading technique of animation that first debuted in Jet Grind Radio. Cell shading renders polygons with high-impact coloring and outlining, giving characters in particular a distinctly hand-drawn look. Thanks to the graphical makeover, Sonic and his compatriots look more like cartoon characters than ever before.

The multiplayer aspect of Sonic Shuffle will be the most-talked-about facet of the game, but this doesn't mean that the single-player feature will be ignored. A story mode will also be included that is key to unlocking new game boards and gameplay features. Another important gameplay mode to note is ONLINE PLAY - Shuffle has been planned as a fully online title that can be played across the Sega Network when it's made available to gamers this fall.

Sonic Shuffle is scheduled for a release alongside Sega's massive online network, so you know it has to be one of those titles that's meant to be really enjoyed with friends and family, either at home or away. You can look for Sonic Shuffle on store shelves this fall.

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