Sonic and the Secret Rings
Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform Nintendo Wii Release 2nd March 2007
- I've joked before how Sonic games feel like they're set on a linear path and that often control is taken away from you so much that it feels like the game's a roller-coaster, so much that the game feels like it's "on rails". It perhaps doesn't help that every Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2 has had you grinding on rails
, with each successive instalment getting more and more intolerable with the amount of control that's taken away from you. Well, in 2007 SEGA finally made that leap from "sort-of, kind-of like on rails" to "yeah, this game's totally on rails". I am, of course, speaking about Sonic and the Secret Rings. A game so awful that this is one of the odd instances where I really can't bring myself to finish this game, not because it's difficult or because it's tedious, no, I've learned to live
with that. No, it's because this game is padded to all hell
. So forgive me, dear reader, for I have sinned. But it's a damn sight smaller sin than the one SEGA made to put out this rubbish.
Sonic prepares to take off... (Yep, bad jokes will be a staple in this review's picture comments. Oh and innuendos. Lots of them.)
Sonic and the Secret Rings, originally titled "Sonic Wildfire" was announced at E3 2006 and was thought to be a release title for the system. However, it turned out that the game wouldn't be out until early 2007, it was. Being the first Nintendo Wii Sonic title and a relatively early Nintendo Wii title, it of course had two things; horrible motion controls and tacked on party games. I'll go far as to say that this game would be immeasurably better if they released the game with the option to just control Sonic using the D-Pad rather than having to physically tilt the Wii remote, but we'll get on to that in due course. The worrying thing about this game was that, when trying to actually source out a copy of this blight to all humanity, the cheapest I could find it was around £10, preowned. Luckily, I was able to find someone who would lend me a copy they had. I would normally ask why they have the game, but considering I'm writing reviews for the internet, I don't think I'm in a position to judge tastes. In comparison, a far better game; Mirror's Edge is easily found for £5 brand new
. Do yourself a favour and play it
(then write to EA and make them reconsider their cancelling of the sequel).
Rated PEGI 7+
Sonic and the Secret Enjoyment Value
starts off with Sonic doing... Nothing. That is until he's disturbed by a "genie of the ring"; Shahra. Who tells Sonic that she is a genie from the stories of the Arabian Knights, Aladdin and the Magic Lap to be exact. Seems that the words written into the story are being lifted straight from the page, as Shahra explains; the words are being removed by an evil genie known as "the Erazor Djinn"... Because he's erasing
words from the pages. Get it? Well, anyway, after being sucked into the book... Or the assumption is made that he's sucked into the book, you never see it, Sonic meets Erazor and immediately gets shot with... Some sort of flame, which sticks to his body. I guess it was supposed to be a flaming arrow which gets shot into him... Considering that's how the initial E3 press release
and the game's theme song describes this, however the actual game footage is very vague about it. Most likely to appease rating boards not to give the game a high age rating for graphic content. Sonic is then told to collect the mystical Seven Secret Rings
and bring them to Erazor before the flame extinguishes else he'll kick the bucket. Erazor, being a genie, has somehow escaped his obligation to follow the orders of whoever has possession of his lamp... Mostly by bending
the lamp out of shape. Ultimately, it turns out that Shahra betrays you, but does that old chestnut of changing sides, perishes saving Sonic, only to be brought back to life after Erazor Djinn's lamp is restored and the villain is now under Sonic's control, granting him three wishes, which he uses to bring Shahra back to life, restore the world to what it once was and then seal Erazor away forever. The game then ends on a ridiculous note of Sonic asking Shahra for a "mountain of handkerchiefs". I'm serious.
Oh look, Sonic characters in different roles. I wonder what wacky situations will occur.
Now, don't get me wrong, this is a very brief overview of the story but very little of it is actually borrowed from the Arabian Knights stories. Some characters make their way into the game in the form of familiar Sonic characters. Eggman, for instance is King Shahryar and Knuckles is Sinbad the Great. Other than this, the setting is loosely followed and the mythos of genies is borrowed from the stories. It's not a fantastic story in anyway, nor is it told in a particularly compelling manner. There's the odd bit of CGI here and there, but the game's mostly told in a static, an almost comic book panel-like manner with animations occasionally occurring within those panels. I can't fault it for it's stylistic approach to story telling, but action often happens in the game with very little explanation as to what's actually occurring, only sound effects and a vague pictorial of what's going on is all you'll ever get. And don't think I'm picking on comics, oh no, see, while comics generally have nice artwork which perhaps might have several panels dedicated to some sort of action... This game doesn't. It has one frame, lightly animated by the occasional fading out or a slowly moving picture... Either way, the game's effectiveness to actually describe the action to you is... Well, weak, to say the least. Not great.
Thank heavens I don't have to control the game... This is like the opposite of normal Sonic...
One thing I must highlight off the bat is how the game's set up. See, when you start off the game you have one chapter
of the story, this chapter is broken up into several paragraphs
which are missions you must undertake. Like "Collect 50 rings" or "Don't break the jar" (which is grammatically incorrect considering there's always more than one jar, unless it implies that there is only one jar you shouldn't break and the game doesn't tell you and I've just been extremely unfortunate
to hit every jar which was that one
). The thing is, is that the game starts off so excruciatingly slow. You have a mandatory "Lost Prologue" chapter you must complete, which contains nothing but tutorials. And there is a new mission for every part of the tutorial
, it's not all shoved into one, convenient level, that would be far too simple. No, let's have eight different missions to cover the tutorial. The worst part about this is that once you complete one mission in a chapter, you can't just move onto the next. You have to sit through a screen where your "experience points" are added and... Wait, Experience points? Oh no... Why do I have a such a sense of dread every time an action game has "experience points"? Anyway, and after that screen's done, it throws you back to the chapter select screen. Uh, okay. That's nice of you. So not only does the game assume I don't want to play the next level straight away, it also assumes that I don't want to play that chapter any more. Well, that's fine, only there's only one chapter available at the moment
, why take me back to the chapter select screen? Why is there even a chapter select screen visible if there's only one choice?
And running into things you can't see coming. A reoccurring theme.
And straight from the get-go with these tutorials you know exactly how this game is going to pan out. Perhaps I saw this coming because I had played the sequel to this game already; Sonic and the Black Knight, but the whole damn game is nothing but the same 7 or 8 stages over and over again. Each mission comprises of some contrived reason to replay a truncated segment of a stage you played in the first mission
of the chapter. Sometimes they just make you replay the part of the level with stupid reasons like "Don't get defeated" and all they do is throw in more enemies. It's nothing but padding. The game would litterally be 20 minutes long if you didn't have these contrived missions poking their head out at you. There's 7 proper stages in the game. That's it. But you've got to complete these stupid missions either to progress or to grind for levels in the game. That's right, there are mandatory missions in the game... Basically any mission which doesn't say "Secret Paragraph", you are obligated to complete else the game wont progress. And perhaps one of the worst aspects of the game is it's stage design. It's awful. But I must first explain how bad the controls are before we can get into that.
Read: "Controls suck. Tough luck."
As the game was designed as a near-launch title for the Wii, SEGA was obligated to annoy the hell out of everyone by showing how amazing
motion controls were. They did this by making you control Sonic by tilting the Wii remote side to side while holding it horizontally. The controls are so loose that even the slightest unbalance on the remote will cause Sonic to veer off course. And despite the controls being so sensitive, Sonic doesn't seem to move all that fast across the screen. It's always extremely difficult to judge just how far you should tilt the remote in order to get the right alignment and often the controls just wont respond at all. It's a mess. The jump mechanic is also ass-backwards too, in order to jump, you must first press the "2" button... But that's only half of it, just pressing the 2 button will make Sonic do a small leap, however if you need a larger jump, you need to hold down the 2 button but this makes Sonic slow down until eventually he comes to a complete stand-still. And when you come to a complete standstill, either by getting hit by an enemy or by purposefully breaking by using the 1 button, he takes an age
to speed up. By violently shaking the Wii remote forwards mid-air, you can perform a homing attack which will lock onto near by enemies and various other objects and perform the jump-dash to push forwards mid-air. You can also reverse Sonic by tilting the controller back towards yourself, however actually executing this move is complete luck, it seems.
Argh! This. This sucks. Why hold back the speed of the game? Especially when the default is 'super slow'?
So with this now in mind, let me explain to you where this game all falls apart: Straight away. After you've had a lengthy tutorial period, the game neglects to inform you of several not quite-so-intuitive
control mechanics it may have actually wanted to let you know, for instance, on rails you can press the 2 button to speed up, as you normally just slow down after being on the rail for so long. The game also doesn't tell you that it's purposefully withholding basic gameplay mechanics
from you until you level up enough. This was a problem I found with Sonic Unleashed a while back. The game purposefully makes your character start out crappy. Oh and don't get me wrong, levelling up in the game doesn't improve the controls nor make the game any more enjoyable. It just makes it slightly more bearable as time goes on. And I mean slightly. The biggest mechanic which the game hides from you for a few stages is the "Soul Gauge" which is a bit like Shadow the Hedgehog's hero-fast-travel mechanic. The game takes over as you speed through the level. This gauge is powered by collecting small fireballs scattered on stages, which did confuse me at first as to what the hell these things were I was collecting. I assumed that the "experience points" mechanic would come around to bite me in the arse in this way the moment I saw them. And it doesn't disappoint. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike the idea of powering up characters in this way... But when you have to undermine your basic control mechanics in order to facilitate the need for a levelling system, especially when you need to attain a good chunk of those power-ups to get the silver or gold medals in stages then you've completely failed at making a good game mechanic. I mean, the levelling system isn't quite like Sonic Unleashed's, because you do get some more over-the-top powers and more challenging power-ups, such as the one which denies rings to be added to your ring counter, despite you collecting them. So you always take damage when you hit objects.
Even when SEGA controls the camera, it's still glitchy.
One of the worst things about Sonic and the Secret Development Budget
is the fact that the game's use of motion controls is completely unjustified. The game would have been a damn-sight better if they had knocked the stupid out of whoever thought tilting the Wii Remote to control Sonic was a good idea. There's nothing in this game that couldn't have been improved if they had just stuck with a more traditional control-scheme of D-Pad to move, 2 button to jump, 2 button when mid-air to homing attack, shake of the Wii Remote or the B trigger to boost. That's all it needed. Instead, you have these awful controls which are damn near unusable. Many times I have jumped over water or a bottomless pit in the game to ready to homing-attack an enemy to progress... Only to have Sonic homing jump either too early or too late. The motion controls really do have a hard time registering your actions sometimes. And I shake the remote violently
. I mentioned that you can back up in the game. Often I've found myself stuck at a dead end because I missed some enemy I had to destroy to proceed, but because I can't actually turn around, you have to just reverse. Sadly, the controls are so bad at recognising my tilting the Wii Remote backwards towards me is often just ignored. Sometimes Sonic will also just randomly decide to run full-pelt forwards again undoing all the work spent trying to reverse. It's frustrating. Who thought this was a good idea? Why can't I just turn around
? By the way, when reversing, you're completely defenceless and move at a snail's pace. Some will say that I shouldn't have missed the enemy in the first place, but damn it, I tried. Sonic just completely missed the target.
Stage design is also a complete nightmare at times as well. The game likes to shift into this zoomed-out over-head view on some winding paths... But the control scheme doesn't change to accommodate this. So you still have the controls as if you following Sonic... But from a more birds-eye angle. And from every YouTube video I've ever seen of people doing these parts of stages, none of them have been able to keep on a straight line to collect the power ups. So not even the people sad enough to complete the game 100% are able to control these segments properly. I'd wager a playtester for this game couldn't even do it. The controls are broken when the camera takes it's normal pose, let alone when the camera decides to go AWOL and point in strange angles... And the worst part of this is that there's no good reason to have the camera move at these positions. It's perhaps the designers trying to hide the fact they're rehashing stage gimmicks over and over. Which is a bad sign in a game which comprises of 7 stages
Dinosaur. That is all.
Visually, the game isn't that bad. For a launch Wii title, the game is at least over that "looks kinda-like Gamecube" hurdle which many titles for the time got lumped with. One of the later stages is quite dire in visual appeal since when you're outside, the whole damn stage is pitch black. You have no idea what's going on, no idea where you are and all you can see are oddly luminescent speed boosters and rings. The story scenes in the game are, as previously mentioned, stupid. They don't show you what's going on, there's too much action to be depicted in the manner they chose and even if they were able to pull it off. Visuals aren't bad, which is perhaps the least we can hope for in a modern SEGA title, but they're nothing ground breaking and often detract from the game.
... I give up. And the worst part is, this goes on through the WHOLE DAMN GAME.
The game's soundtrack is, for the most part, pretty solid. The game's main theme is often over-used, what was once the domain of the game's final boss is now played on the main menus, when you complete a stage and during the final boss. It's not a terrible song, just when you've heard it for the hundredth time due to the game one, letting you hear it when you complete a mission, then reprises that song when it throws you back out onto the menu, it's annoying as all hell. Voice work is, and prepare yourself for this, not that bad. Okay, the scripting is terrible and corny and some of the deliveries are so forced it hurts just listening to it, oh and they do that thing where someone says something of importance to the plot, so the next line immediately afterwards will be that keyword or phrase repeated. For instance: "Blah blah blah Seven Secret Rings", "Seven... Secret... Rings?" This is lazy writing. Why not just bold
important items in the subtitle text while you're at it. Perhaps a big neon sign which points to the plot point with people prancing around it, showering it with flower petals while they repeat the key phrase in harmonic choir-like song. Sorry, went on a bit of a tangent there.
Ultimately, Sonic and the Secret Rings is a dire game. It's barely playable, the controls are awful, the game would be shorter than my patience for this game if it wasn't for the endless missions the game throws at you, which are just the same 7 stages cut up into bite-sized chunks with contrived mission objectives. The game's just padding for the sake of padding and SEGA wanted you to gleefully put down £35 for this crap when it came out. It's one of the most drawn-out, poorly executed video games I've ever had the unfortunate experience of playing and frankly, it wasn't worth me even getting three quarters through this game just so I could rip into it. Thankfully, I don't see an awful lot of the Sonic fanbase defending these "Storybook" Sonic games... But like that matters since SEGA had more than enough people buying them to spawn a sequels which barely fix any of this game's flaws and just added in annoying sword mechanics. Let us hope SEGA wont spring another
one of these games on us.