Let's face it: Sonic has had a rough time for the last decade or so. A lackluster crossover with the former competition, an abortive attempt at a franchise reboot, an underwhelming hoverboard racer... The list goes on and on. If you were on the lookout for an end to this disturbing trend of shoddy sequels and unimaginative spinoffs, Sonic Rivals 2 is not for you. Any but the most diehard of Sonic fans would do well to stay away from this, the next rung down the ladder of Sonic's continually downward-spiraling career.
The overly obtuse and patently mad story tells how Sonic and the titular rivals all end up on the same island for various reasons with similar goals in mind. Normally, this would be the time for them to put aside whatever differences they may or may not have to work together as a team, but because they are rivals and chock full of baditude, this of course doesn't happen. Instead, they engage in unfathomably bizarre dialogue that is absurdly confrontational and naturally ends in a race or a fight. Why? Because that's how anthropomorphic animals settle their differences, of course! Meanwhile, the dubiously sinister Dr. Eggman returns to harass everyone with his ineffectual inventions and conveniently drop pieces of paper that hint at something of a deeper but still shallow plot.
Sonic Rivals 2 features eight characters divided into four teams: Sonic and Tails, Shadow and Metal Sonic, Knuckles and Rouge, and Silver and Espio. At the beginning of the game, you'll select which of the teams you want to race with and which of the characters you'll follow to determine what story scenes you'll see. Despite the large variety of characters, they all play completely identically, with no differences in speed or agility (with the exception of their generally useless special ability). This greatly hurts replayability unless you're in it for the long haul and a 100% complete game.
Rivals is divided up into six worlds ranging from a haunted house to a casino and beyond, each of which contains two races, a battle, and a boss fight. Races are large, left-to-right areas that feature speed boosts, loop-the-loops, corkscrews, rings, and all the other Sonic craziness you've come to expect. The emphasis is on speed and beating your rival to the finish line, and everything goes, including cheap shots and power-up attacks. As with its predecessor, you will have to essentially memorize the layout of the levels through trial and error if you're to have any real chance at winning, because your speed makes obstacles and hazards visible only in the moments before you encounter them.
Battle levels are small, enclosed arenas in which you must defeat your rival in one-on-one combat, and boss battles are bizarre competitive bids to defeat Eggman's latest mechanical monstrosity. You're actually competing with your rival to beat the boss, which for some inexplicable reason is only destroyed once a single character damages it x number of times, despite how many times your opponent hit it.
Beyond the standard story mode, it's also possible to play through single events and unlockable cup events, which are just several back-to-back races. You can also go through races in a free-play mode that lets you search them for hidden animal friends called chao. By performing certain feats throughout the course of these modes, such as finishing a race with 100 rings, you will earn collectible cards that serve as achievements of sorts. Some of them unlock new outfits, but they're generally just for show; with 150 to collect, obsessive-compulsive personalities will have their work cut out for them.
Both ad-hoc Wi-Fi and game sharing are supported for multiplayer modes, though if you're looking to race a friend you'll both need a copy of the game, given that game sharing works only with battle and boss stages. Battle mode is vastly improved for multiplayer because six types of battles are present, including the standard knock out, tag, king of the hill, and more. Finally, the cards earned in the single-player mode can be traded or even wagered in multiplayer, which adds a fun collectible/competitive aspect to the built-in achievement system.
In terms of presentation, Sonic Rivals 2 is a great-looking game with little-to-no graphical glitches and a thoroughly consistent frame rate. The music is a high point, with unique stage themes that fit their world's terrain and have an overall positive affect on the gameplay experience. The sound effects are for the most part spot-on, and as an added bonus (or not, depending on how you feel about talking animals), each of the characters is voiced surprisingly well.
Unfortunately, this is just camouflage for several major behind-the-scenes flaws. Rival artificial intelligence is comically terrible, and it's not uncommon to see them get stuck on terrain and do nothing but wait or jump continually until you pass them, at which point they'll snap out of it and catch up. In battle levels, it's often possible to win by standing completely still and hitting the counterattack button when opponents approach from the same exact direction with the same exact movement, and in the times that it's not--such as in the casino battle--they will run in circles aimlessly if you don't move.
In addition, the game's controls seem overly sensitive, which makes it seem impossible to perform subtle movements such as rapidly moving between platforms in high-pressure scenarios like boss battles. The air-attack move in particular seems to home in on nearby objects, which sends your character in unlikely directions to incomprehensibly bounce off of something or become momentarily stuck.
Ultimately, Sonic Rivals 2 is a game that none but the most blindly devoted of fans will enjoy. The race levels are the most enjoyable parts of the game--which really isn't saying much--but for every one of them, you have to deal with a boring battle or an anticlimactic boss fight, not to mention the terrible story. Collectible achievements and extensive multiplayer options do help to extend the life of this brief tryst, but because there are so few levels, it quickly gets old.