Review

by Andrew Yoon, Jun 5th 2007

Nintendo Wii

Sonic and the Secret Rings

Description:
Sonic and the Secret Rings

Sonic has become trapped in the exotic world of the Arabian Nights. In order to save the world and find a way out, he must collect the power of the secret rings before they fall into the hands of the evil genie, Erazor.

Review:

Sonic and the Secret Rings for Nintendo Wii is easily one of the best Sonic games to come out to date. But, that doesn't say much for the hedgehog-with-an-attitude. There are a myriad of good ideas to be found in the game, but it's hampered by poor controls, bad production values, and highly illogical game design. Although Secret Rings is a good step in the right direction, it doesn't do enough to save the ailing Sonic series.

Secret Rings abandons many of the series' trademark features, and returns to a design more akin to the classic 2D adventures. For the first time in more than a decade, Sonic is finally in a solo outing. Although Tails and other friends will appear throughout the game, they're merely relegated to cameo status. Most of Sonic's previous 3D adventures were slowed down by unimaginative gameplay, limited by his friends' less than speedy attributes. With his allies gone, Sonic Team had the opportunity to create a focused, Sonic-only adventure.

To recreate the feel of the original games, Sonic Team has wisely positioned the game on rails, forcing players to constantly go forward. This is not unlike the original 2D games, where players were limited in the directionality of their movement, and were encouraged to simply move forward. Through the behind-the-back perspective, fans can appreciate Sonic's trademark speed and react to the obstacles that appear on screen. When the game works, it works beautifully: seeing Sonic rush through the environment and react to pre-scripted environments creates a true sense of adrenaline.

Unfortunately, the potential for fun is hampered by misuse of the Wii Remote. A game on rails shouldn't control poorly, but Secret Rings manages to be one of the most frustrating games in recent memory (next to the 360 and PS3 Sonic the Hedgehog games). For the most part, Sonic must only move left or right, and jump occasionally. What could be relegated to simple button presses is translated into unnecessary, and inaccurate, motion controls. Why not press left to move left? Why not press right to move right? A platform game should be about precision, and the Wii Remote simply does not provide.

Problems surrounding the controls become more apparent when trying to boost. A simple button press is all that's required to jump, but boosting requires a thrust forward. At times, the thrust will not register, usually causing Sonic to plummet to his doom. Moving backwards also proves problematic, as that requires tilting the controller back. Once again, this rarely registers with the system, causing you to miss crucial items, or run into dangerous obstacles. The best platform games have players blaming themselves for any missteps—in Sonic and the Secret Rings, players will find the Wii Remote to be responsible for much of their failures.

While the controls are enough to warrant the game broken, Sonic and the Secret Rings insults players even more through some truly miserable game design. Although the worlds in the game feature a great deal of variety, most gamers will not have the patience to see them all. Why? Players are forced into replaying levels countless times, each with slightly varying objectives. The objectives themselves are mundane, offering players a variety of challenges, such as “destroy 5 enemies” to “destroy 10 enemies.” Some objectives dare you to go around the level in a constant loop half a dozen times, collecting items along the way. Playing the game is as much fun as performing manual labor. Unfortunately, the game is less rewarding.

For some dumbfounded reason, Sonic Team thought it would be amusing if Sonic's defining speed was hindered. From the beginning of the game, Sonic is no faster than a lame mule. Once again, the game encourages mindless repetition of the same level in order to collect experience points. Almost every facet of Sonic's abilities can be enhanced, from his speed, to his boost, to his ability to lock on. Even the “smoothness” of his movements can be tweaked using experience points. However, forcing gamers to unlock the ability to control well after hours of play is an experiment in madness.

At the very least, Secret Rings can be commended for its strong production values. The graphics are some of Wii's best yet: it looks like a title that's almost pushing a Gamecube to its limits. There's a good deal of detail being rendered, and some of the special effects look quite nice. Those with HDTVs will be relieved to know that the game runs in 480p widescreen. There's also numerous manga-like cutscenes scattered throughout the game. Although the English voice acting leaves a lot to be desired, Sega has wisely given fans the option to turn on the Japanese voice acting with subtitles. The Japanese acting is far from perfect, as well. However, Sonic does come across as a bit cooler.

There's also a bonus, unnecessary multiplayer component of the game, which plays very similarly to Mario Party and other Wii minigame collections. Essentially, players will go through a game board and compete in some unimaginative games. The challenges are so standard that it's hard to imagine anyone actually having fun in this mode. Interestingly, AI opponents are offered, allowing players to tackle the minigames solo.

Sonic and the Secret Rings is the kind of game that players will want to like. It certainly has some great ideas, and will hopefully shape the future direction of the series. However, good intentions cannot mask the truth: broken Wii controls and frustrating game design make this a game that every gamer should best avoid.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : F

+ Good graphics that run in 480p widescreen. Japanese language option available.
Terrible controls. Repetitive game design forces players to repeat levels with boring objectives.

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