Over the years, Sonic the Hedgehog has gotten away from his roots. What once was an incredibly fast-moving, well-designed platformer series eventually exploded into adventure games, racing games, and the other typical genres that you'd expect from a mascot-type character. While the Sonic series has continued to be popular, many felt that the game was at its peak in those first three or four side-scrollers. Handheld systems have been getting games that have tried to recapture that magic for a few years now, with increasingly positive results. Sonic Rush moves Sonic's 2D adventures over to the DS, and that positive trend continues with a platformer that focuses on raw speed while still managing to do interesting new things, particularly when it comes to the handheld's dual-screen format.
The storyline in Sonic games is usually just enough to set you in motion against the longtime bad guy, Eggman. The Artist Formerly Known as Dr. Robotnik has again managed to get his hands on the chaos emeralds, which he'll be able to use to gain ultimate power...unless Sonic shows up to save the day. The wrinkle here is that there's some interdimensional madness at play, too. There's what appears to be an alternate-dimension version of Eggman hanging around, known as Eggman Nega. You'll also encounter sol emeralds and their protector, the game's other playable character, Blaze the Cat. While Sonic's movements tend to leave behind speed lines and blurs, Blaze's versions of those moves have a decidedly fiery tone to them. You can select either character from the menu to play through the levels so that you can see the story from both sides. Blaze's path through the different zones is a bit different from Sonic's, but the gameplay is roughly identical. Since the story is both brief and told through still frames and onscreen text, you might not feel like playing through the same levels twice just to see how the story pans out.
But that's fine, because Sonic Rush is really all about its gameplay. Past Sonic games have been criticized for merely asking you to hold to the right while watching the levels fly by. And while watching the levels' roller-coaster-like designs unfold is certainly a large part of the action in Sonic Rush, the game gives you more to do by adding a few moves. The most prominent of these is a dash attack that you can use to quickly move to top speed, as well as use to bust through most normal enemies. It's a handy move, because the game moves way too quickly for you to stop to think about jumping on enemies. This makes a lot of the game depend on sheer reflex. Can you hit the dash button fast enough to take out enemies before you run right into them and get hit? That's a question you'll be asked multiple times in every level.
Occasionally you'll get locked in an area, and you'll have to defeat a set number of enemies before continuing on. Since that's a bit more confined, you can usually just jump on those guys to move forward. Your dash attack is governed by an onscreen meter that drains when you dash but is refilled when you do tricks. Whenever you hit a bumper or are launched into the air by a bumper, trampoline, or other device, you can pound on the jump button to make Sonic or Blaze spin, flip, or do other tricks. Each trick refills your dash meter a bit. There are plenty of opportunities to do this, so you can use the dash attack quite liberally. Each of the two playable characters also has a midair move that you can execute with the R button. Blaze has a midair hover move, while Sonic's midair move is more of a dash.
The action is displayed on both Nintendo DS screens, and you'll actually move from one to the other as you play. You'll occasionally get launched up to the top screen, or you might miss a jump and then fall down below. The Sonic side-scrollers have usually been very big on multiple paths, so this doesn't exactly mark a dramatic change for the series. However, it's certainly a good use of the system's two screens. The game's boss fights do only take place on one screen, though. The other screen is used to display the boss's life gauge and a cheerleader character that eggs you on. Sonic gets Tails, and Blaze is accompanied by Cream. The characters talk a bit while you fight the boss, usually saying "almost there" or some other form of basic commentary. The dialogue is awfully repetitive and doesn't add much to the proceedings.
The boss fights are your standard Sonic-style boss fights. Eggman's got a bunch of crazy machines, and it's up to you to let them attack--before counterattacking. The patterns aren't too tough to deduce, and the bosses repeat a bit. But overall, they're good. On occasion, the boss fights also take you out of the regular 2D perspective found in the rest of the game. This gives the boss fights a more unique look. The game also has bonus stages, which take you back to the halfpipe runs and coin grabs found in Sonic 2. If you can make it through the entire track while meeting specific coin quotas and dodging coin-stealing obstacles, you'll win a chaos emerald. You control the action with the touch screen, using the stylus to steer Sonic and tapping enemies to attack them.
In addition to the single-player mode, you can also play a two-player race mode that has both players running through the same level at the same time. Power-ups appear in the levels that affect how the other player moves, including items that mess up the other player's controls, slow the opponent down, and so on. You can play this two-player mode with one copy of the game as well. It's a decent inclusion, but it doesn't really add much to the overall package.
Graphically, the game looks very sharp and moves very, very fast. The speed has been a trademark of the series, and this is definitely one of the fastest-moving games in the line. Sonic and his foes are rendered polygonally, and they look nice. But they don't really show off a ton of character, either. Sonic Rush is a very colorful game, and the stage designs cover plenty of the archetypal Sonic zone themes, including an underwater level, a nighttime bumper-filled course, and an aircraft-carrier-like military tech zone. The audio includes many of the sound effects that have been with the series since the beginning. There's some occasional speech, though not enough to get annoying, which is nice (because it isn't so hot). The music, however, is really great. The high-tempo, sample-filled electronic tracks have a Jet Grind Radio-like sound to them, and they fit the action really well.
Sonic Rush is a great Sonic the Hedgehog game that modernizes the old 2D formula a bit, though without losing what made those games so cool in the first place. While the action between the two characters isn't necessarily different enough to warrant playing through the game twice, anyone looking for a good, strong platformer should have fun with this one.