Sonic RushlikePEGI3 Developer Dimps Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform Nintendo DS Release 18th November 2005 Retro Recall - Released at the same time as the ill-conceived Shadow the Hedgehog title, SEGA pushed out an interesting fan diversion in the form of Sonic Rush, a Dimps developed handheld Sonic game. Rush, amazingly; is a pretty solid game. Though, it all comes down to semantics and how the game was marketed, people's perception of why the game was 'good' or 'bad' mostly because it wasn't presented as a "true" Sonic title, but as a spin-off. Where as Sonic Advance and subsequent sequels were nothing like the original games on Megadrive and were marketed as 'proper' Sonic titles, they bore the brunt of my all-encompassing nerd rage when the titles didn't live up to their promises. Sonic Rush side-stepped this issue by being up-front about it's less-than-normal gameplay style.

Sonic finds the joy of... Randomly falling in press shots.
Sonic Rush was the first Sonic title announced for the relatively new Nintendo DS system, it touted an interesting screen transition system where-by the player character, be it Sonic or the new character; Blaze would quite naturally switch from one screen to another. For instance if a character ascends a vertical wall they would end up on the top screen. If they fell from a long distance they would often end up on the bottom screen. The change isn't jarring either, usually facilitated by hitting a spring or using a stage gimmick or just falling from a ledge. It's an interesting mechanic. The game also added a 'boost' ability for any player character, hence the "rush" in the game's title. Said boost does go against everything I've said about what makes an 'ideal' Sonic game thus far... But more about those features in due time.

Sonic Rush does suffer from the age-old Achilles-heel of the Sonic franchise: awful story telling. The game starts out promisingly by throwing you right into the game, not a single line of text or dialogue preceding it. This was a trick later recycled in Sonic Colours and much like Sonic Colours, the game's story pokes it's head out of the proverbial woodwork and then doesn't shut the hell up. The game starts gently by having some unamusing banter between Sonic and Dr.Eggman before entering a boss battle and once that's taken care of, where we're introduced to Blaze the Cat for the first time as she claims a Sol Emerald dropped by the boss. Then as if out of nowhere Tails starts speaking, actual spoken lines. He will never cease to be the bane of your game time. Every time you enter the world map he says "welcome back, Sonic" in his grating, high-pitched voice. When you select a stage and act to play, he says "do your best, Sonic". Every. Time. The story is presented in a quite strange way, usually through static images flying around screen but sometimes you have events taking place in the 3D visuals of the game or sometimes both.

My pleasure, it's not like I've been doing it for 14 years or anything.
The basic plot is thus; Blaze is, get this, a princess from another dimension who is thrown into Sonic's dimension when the evil -- wait for it, this is absolute naming genius -- Dr.Eggman Nega destabilises the space time continuum [somehow] which causes both Sonic's and Blaze's worlds to merge into one-another. The consequences of which means Blaze, who is also the guardian of the Sol Emeralds (this 'alternative' dimension's Chaos Emerald replacement) and said emeralds to fall into Sonic's world. Dr.Eggman Nega also meets his Sonic-world counterpart... The normal Dr.Eggman. And through a convoluted and not-well-explained plot, the two Eggmans conspire with one-another to use the recent destabilisation to destroy bits of reality they don't like a build anew by [somehow] warping reality into how they see fit. You guessed it, after collecting all the Chaos and Sol Emeralds, Sonic and Blaze transform into Super Sonic and Slightly-Recoloured Blaze, defeat a pitifully easy but annoying boss, saving both worlds and returning both dimensions to normal. I suppose it's one of the more creative storylines in the Sonic franchise so far, it doesn't rely on Eggman awakening some evil he thinks will help him rule the world but just ends up betraying him and destroying just about everything, so there's brownie points to be had from Eggman being the evil villain all the way through and not just part way this time.

Enough fluff, though. Let's get onto gameplay, since you're all obviously dying to hear what I have to say in this game's defence... Well, there's not an awful lot to say, really. The game's like a more refined Sonic Advance 2 in that speed is the most overwhelming aspect the game relies on. Unlike Sonic Advance 2, though, there are segments which require platforming and even moments where the game just grinds to a crawl. It's almost as if -- and don't call me crazy for saying this -- someone actually implemented gameplay gimmicks which were fun. As mentioned before, speed is king and nothing quite hammers that point home than the "dash" mechanic. By pressing the X or Y buttons will make Sonic or Blaze gain a burst of speed and become invincible not unlike the spindash move (which consequently makes the spindash move rather pointless, really). The only barrier to entry and the thing which tries (keyword: tries) to prevent abuse of the mechanic is the dash gauge which runs down the left-most side of the 'active' screen (the screen Sonic/Blaze occupies at any time), this is filled by destroying enemies, finding item boxes with dash-power in them or performing tricks, which isn't dissimilar from Sonic Advance 2 only this time wildly mashing the B button when midair causes Sonic/Blaze to do minor tricks which gains score which has a multiplier attached to it and dash power, also the pressing of the right-shoulder button can make Sonic or Blaze perform various more helpful tricks such as Up and R-Shoulder which throws Sonic or Blaze upwards. Blaze's moves are far more difficult and unpredictable to control, Blaze's upwards R-Shoulder move throws her skywards much higher and faster than Sonic, but her rightwards R-Shoulder move makes her boost forward but open to attack, where as Sonic is invulnerable when performing the same move.

Tricks, tricks and more tricks.
As you may have guessed by my lack of stating it already, there's very little in difference between how Sonic and Blaze play. Blaze could be considered the game's "hard mode", her stages seem to be slightly more difficult than Sonic's but not by a huge margin. One major difference between the two characters is that while Blaze collects the Sol Emeralds by defeating bosses thus you don't need to enter Special Stages and they're just given to you as you organically progress through the game. Sonic collects Chaos Emeralds by entering Special Stages, which their entry procedure has finally, finally become easy and with a pretty sweet Special Stage to boot. In the Sonic Advance games, they persisted in making Special Stage entry difficult and tedious but in Sonic Rush, everything's streamlined. All you need is about 1 and a half to 2 bars of Dash energy and locating one of the many submarine-door-hatch-handle-things located in a stage. Dashing while on this opens up a portal, which once enough energy is put into the strange spinning thing, you're taken to the Special Stage.

It's like Elite Beat Agents, only not as fun.
The Special Stage is surprisingly very good. Making the most of the Nintendo DS' touch-screen capabilities, you control Sonic using the touch-screen as he makes his way down a Sonic the Hedgehog 2-style half-pipe. The idea is, as usual, to collect the number of rings the game asks of you. You can lose rings if you bump into enemies or spikes. You can't jump on-command however you can tap on enemies to attack them, this takes you off ground-level and later stages use this to take you over spikes which would be otherwise impassable. You can also get rings by attacking enemies. There's these strange pulsating balls that propel you into the air, where the game places these circles on-screen with numbers within them in various patterns, you have to tap the numbers in number-order and from doing so, you get rings. Fail and you get nothing. The special stages are by far the most fun, most well-executed of any Dimps-made Sonic game so far. The fact that they're so easy to find in stages and there's multiple entrances remove any sort of tedium out of Chaos Emerald collection making the process... Well, fun. Starting to see why I like this game? It's fun, not boring or tedious.

That's not to say there isn't bad things about this game, far from it. The game's stage designs are still rather lacklustre in the same vain as Sonic Advance 2. There's often just a 'higher' or 'lower' path through the stage, you can get onto the 'higher' path by performing tricks or basically just not falling down pits. The game also suffers from the "bottomless pit" complex which the Sonic Advance titles also felt the pain of. If you fall from most ledges, you'll fall for a solid 30 seconds or more until your character hits the bottom of the screen and die. Later into the game they add in this 'instant kill' laser which saves you a long drop to your death which is nice, but you have to question why there's huge, gaping holes in the stages. These gaps, you'll probably be quite unsurprised to hear are covered by grind-rails as yes, they make a return. This time though, you can mash on the R-shoulder button to perform tricks on the rail to speed up, get points and fill your dash gauge so their purpose of lazily covering flaws in the stage design is somewhat masked in this game. Still, if you jump off the rail (although there are special rails which do allow you back on the rail after) you'll fall right through the rail when you come back down, usually leading to an untimely death. Not cool, really.

I question this city's need for a giant water slide, really.
Stages also rely quite heavily on gimmicks which are either poorly implemented or just bizarre. In the stage "Altitude Limit" which is this game's "Sky Canyon" where you'll spend most of your time plummeting to your death, you have these platforms that you stand on and they propel you upwards. You steer left and right using the D-Pad, however the movement is delayed. It's also very difficult to judge the width of the platform, which is bad since the game forces you through pretty tight passageways at some points and hitting a wall will make the platform explode, leaving you plummeting into a bottomless pit. There's hardly an instance where there's any recourse for your failure should you be abandoned by a gimmick such as a flying platform or a rocket from the final stage in the game, a rocket where it can only be controlled in circular motions, so pressing up and down for too long will make you double-backwards. Of course, hitting anything with the rocket causes it to blow up. There's 'safer' gimmicks in the game as well, such as the hang-gliding segments in Altitude Limit which you move around on-screen (reminiscent of Sonic Advance 3's Special Stage) and collect rings while dodging enemies. The game would perhaps be better-off without these gimmicks.

Oh bugger. Geddit? Bug-ger? No? Oh well.
Bosses in the game are a bit of a mixed bag. They don't take place in actual stages, they're given their own little 'act' of the stage. These bosses then usually have a circular or flat arena in which to fight them in. Bosses have their own unique gimmick or weakness. For instance, the first boss in the game slams it's serpent-like body's head onto the ground and you must jump to hit the flashing area while it's stunned. This boss is then re-used later on with some 'improvements' although it's mostly just an extra attack and his attack pattern is changed slightly. Some are quite unique, the casino-level's boss makes you hit a weight-come-electric-sphere when it's not covered in electricity to pull the boss down on the other side and hit the boss while it's down. And then there's the game's "F-Zone" boss, which is frankly ridiculously easy, just dodge a bunch of weak attacks, hit his arm and then climb up, occasionally stopping and holding down on the D-Pad to cling on while he shakes his arm about trying to shake you off and then hitting the flashing head-area. They can be quite frustrating at times, but a nice diversion from the main game. The game's 'final-final' boss is also pretty weak, you just hit back these projectiles which he throws at you and switch between Sonic and Blaze (automatically, you don't get to chose) until the boss is done for. Pretty simple, really. Can't really rip into the game for the silly final boss this time since getting the Chaos Emeralds this time around isn't a complete chore.

Dimps also really seemed to understand what was wrong with the design of Sonic Advance 2, where this all-driving speed-based gameplay turned out to be monotonous and boring. So they mixed up the speed a bit by offering little segments where the game comes to a complete stop. You'll get the odd instance where you get trapped in an area and must defeat a certain number of enemies before continuing. These are quite fun since you can often just dash right through a line of the enemies and be done in no time. Then you have a segment in Mirage Road, the cliché desert stage, where you ride this strange platform as it goes along rails or floats on water and enemies and boulders fall at you from above. Once again making the duality of the dash mechanic, where you can blast through enemies, seem organic to the gameplay. This shows sign of competent game design, like they actually played Sonic Advance 2, thought "Hm, this could do with improvement" and then fixed the majority of what was wrong with it. I didn't hate Sonic Advance 2 so much because it wasn't like older Sonic titles, it was because it was boring. Sonic Rush is pretty exciting, it's entertaining at the very least and frankly, that's why it gets such praise from me. There's annoyances in the game, as there are many games that I love. But unlike say, Sonic Advance 2 or Sonic Colours, where SEGA or Dimps haven't understood that Sonic games aren't entirely about speed or shoe-horning in something 'different' and hope that it counter-balances the avalanche of bad, like a warehog or wisps or some vacant, hollow trick-system.

Ahh! Stop talking. You're melting my ears!
One thing that does get on my nerves, though, is the fact that when you start playing the game, you play through each 'zone' or 'theme', however you want to call it, in order. So you go Act 1, Act 2, Boss. Simple, that's how it should be, right? Well, once that zone/theme is clear, you can't go through in order automatically. Every time you complete an act it throws you back to the stage select map, where Tails or Cream (if you play as Blaze) will greet you with their poorly performed lines. Then you have to select the next act and listen to Tails/Cream vomit out the speakers to you. There's just no option to play through the zone completely again unless you clear the game's save data and wipe out all your progress, which is an unlikely option since acts grade you on your performance and they become persistent on the act-select screen. What the hell is with this? Linear stage progression was found in Sonic Advance 1 and 2. If you completed one act in a theme, you'd go onto the next. Finish the zone/theme and you move onto the next. Simple. Instead, you have this annoying, convoluted method where you have to go back to the stage select screen, select the next act, listen to some dialogue, complete the stage only to have the same thing happen on a continuous loop. It's a pretty big oversight on the side of the developers, especially since linear stage progression has been a staple of Sonic games since the very first game.

What is this? Platforming? In a new-age Sonic game?
The game's visuals are interesting to say the least. The game could be called "2.5D" mainly because the environment is all beautifully presented in luscious flat detailed imagery while Sonic and Blaze are rendered in real-time 3D, as are bosses and boss arenas. It makes for an interesting visual style and makes the game stand out. Sonic Rush was also one of the games to trigger the debate about how game developers handled the 'gap' between the top and bottom screen on the Nintendo DS. Some developers ignored the space while some, including Dimps it seems, don't ignore it, meaning that if you put the two screens on-top of each other, you would have a big missing chunk about a quarter of a screen's height. Thankfully, no screen transitions occur when you're likely to hit an enemy, so there's no 'blind' hits from hidden enemies. Other than user-interface design which gets confused as to whether it wants to be all touchscreen-based or if it wants to be all button-based it's a pretty tight run ship as far as visuals go. It surely doesn't push the DS to it's limits, but for the time it does well to mix fast-paced 2D Sonic gameplay with 3D visuals.

Where the game really shines and stands out far above just about anything else the game has to offer is it's delicious soundtrack. Composed by Hideki Naganuma, the man who you'll probably know best for Jet Set Radio on the SEGA Dreamcast or Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox. It is a very distinct soundtrack which has probably one of the craziest custom sample collection in the entire DS library to date. It's all extremely memorable as well, while older handheld titles like Sonic Advance and especially Sonic Advance 3 had problems being anything other than bland, somewhat boring and over-reliant on using just about every instrument the Gameboy Advance offered the composer, Sonic Rush waves goodbye to the in-built sound-chip's synths and just lays down it's own brand of awesome. It's not always very relevant to the stage, but it's like you'll care. The entire soundtrack from start to finish is just one big, long ear-fiesta and I approve very much. I approve so much, here, let me show you why Sonic Rush's soundtrack is so awesome: Water Palace's stage music, Final Boss' music and the Final-Final boss' music. Yeah, that's the actual music used in the game. And now you know why it's so easy to love.

So, Sonic Rush. Sure, it has it's fair share of flaws. Most flaws are the left-over or remnants of the Sonic Advance games it was undoubtedly built-upon but it seemed like the team behind Rush really understood what was missing from Sonic Advance 2 and really tried to fix some of the fundamental problems with the Advance series in general; like too much work to acquire the Chaos Emeralds for such a pitiful pay-off at the end of the game. As I said before, Sonic Advance 2 didn't fail because it wasn't "Sonic-like", although that is a major contributor. Sonic Rush is hardly "Sonic-like" in any sense of the classic Megadrive titles, but it is a fun game and will keep you entertained through-out. If you haven't already played the game, do so. You wont regret picking up and playing Sonic Rush or be left with a bitter after-taste like much of the Advance series did. Dimps, you did us good here.
Probably the best story Sonic games have given us so far... But still nothing to be fond nor thrilled about. Getting there, though.
It's fun. I think that's the main point to take away here.
Nifty, Sonic's running animation is pretty goofy, but other than that, it's pretty solid.
Amazing. Most likely to be the best soundtrack on the Nintendo DS. And even if it isn't, it's up there with the best.
3 Hours
About 3 to 3 and a half hours per character. It's not a lengthy game, but one you'll want to replay time and time again.