Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Hands-On

We take a peek at what happens when BioWare meets Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Sega and BioWare reps were on hand at Nintendo's recent press event to show off Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, the upcoming DS role-playing game starring Sonic the Hedgehog. The unlikely pairing of publisher and developer, not to mention subject matter, initially left many scratching their heads. While it's no mean feat to show off a meaty BioWare RPG, our look at the game offered a good idea of how the promising title is shaping up.

Sonic Chronicles looks quite sharp for a DS game.
Sonic Chronicles looks quite sharp for a DS game.

The game's story is being kept fairly under wraps at the moment. The only thing we got from Sega reps is the basic setup, which, unsurprisingly, isn't reaching too far beyond the typical Sonic storyline. Basically, Sonic is vacationing (in some of his rare downtime), but one panicked message from Tails and one kidnapping later, an adventure ensues. As with any RPG worth its dropped items, Sonic Chronicles won't be sending the hedgehog into danger by himself. You can plan on having three other familiar faces along for the ride, each with unique attributes you'll need over the course of your quest. One thing we can say after trying the brief demo is that you'll do a lot of talking, but that's par for the course in any RPG.

Now as far as the actual game goes, we were able to try out two areas: Green Hill Zone and one of the towns you'll find yourself in. The two areas were a good primer on what to expect from the game's two main types of gameplay: exploration and combat. The exploration sequences had us guiding Sonic and company via the touch screen, a la Phantom Hourglass, by simply tapping where we wanted them to go. The big twist to the action were points we came across that had action buttons for us to tap with our stylus. For example, when we came across one of Sonic's patented loop-the-loops, we simply tapped a nearby icon to get him to run through it automatically. We were also prompted to talk to a random character, which helped us get accustomed to the dialogue. Conversations were a mix of reading and making choices on a menu. It also seems--based on some of the later stuff we saw--that conversations and action points will be key to solving some puzzles because you'll have to split your party up to progress.

The other major component in the demo was combat. Sonic Chronicles takes a familiar approach to battling: You'll walk into enemies and trigger the shift to a close-up view of Sonic and company. The battles are turn-based, and you'll find the same basic array of options in the game's radial-style menu. You'll be able to perform normal attacks as well as power moves, which will cost you "fatigue points." Fatigue points are like mana or magic points in a typical RPG. The power moves are a slightly different take on traditional magic-style attacks; they'll require you to do some timed tapping on the touch screen with your stylus. The most important element of the power moves is the combination of characters in your party. Some moves require specific characters to be in the same group in order to perform them. Once the battles were over, we scored loot and experience points. The loot included rings and, sometimes, gear we could equip on our characters in one of three slots. The experience helped raise one of four stats on each character: speed, attack, defense, and luck.

The visuals in the game are shaping up to be a winning mix of art and technology. The areas we saw showcased gorgeous 2D art and a robust 3D engine that pumped out colorful characters and moved pretty well. The exploration segments moved smoothly and transitioned to the various action sequences we mentioned earlier. The combat sequences weren't quite as smooth, with some of the expected "work in progress" frame-rate hitches that are common in an unfinished game. The character models looked remarkably sharp for a DS game. In addition, there was a respectable number of special effects going on during combat.

Based on what we played, Sonic Chronicles looks to have a lot of promise. The gameplay has a nice feel to it (rough spots aside), and typical RPG trappings seem good so far. The jury's still out on the story, but we reckon we'll find out more on that soon enough. The key thing right now is that the game seems fun and accessible. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is slated to ship this fall. Look for more in the months to come.

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