Sonic the Hedgehog, standard bearer of Japanese game publisher/developer SEGA, has his white-gloved fingers dipped in all sorts of pies nowadays. From roughing it up in Super Smash Brothers Brawl to taking to the track in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, the blue-haired speedster certainly puts himself about, so much so that it's easy to forget that his bread and butter is supersonic ring-collecting 2D platforming perfection.
So it's reassuring to know that Sonic Rush Adventures on the DS is a solid, addictive and massively fun game that polishes the series rather than swaps it for a new model. In SRA, Sonic and Tails find themselves washed up in the middle of the ocean on Southern Island following a lightning storm that causes their plane to crash. You meet up with Marine, a headstrong Aussi loud mouth who calls herself a "sheila" and says "strewth" and "holy dooley" a lot. Tails ends up helping Marine by building the Wave Cyclone, a jet-ski, using materials that are earned by completing the traditional 2D stages played out on both the DS's screens. You'll soon run into Captain Whisker, a half robot half pirate with a big moustache who's hell-bent on finding a mysterious sceptre for his own evil needs. As you progress through the game, you'll travel over and under water as you uncover the Captain's intentions. We don't want to spoil it for you, but we will say that Blaze turns up as a playable character to aid you in your travels and an old friend makes a shadowy appearance towards the end. It's all classic Sonic - it won't win any Oscar awards, but it's charming, feel-good fun.
The game is divided up into classic 2D Sonic levels, which are very well designed and a lot of fun to play through, some spectacular 3D boss battles and addictive mini-games where you control one of four sea-faring vehicles that Tails builds to discover new islands. Each island gives you a different type of material, from green to bronze to aqua when you complete a stage. The islands have two stages in the traditional 2D format, followed by a 3D boss battle with a mechanical abomination sent by Captain Whisker to crush Sonic. Once you get enough materials, Tails will be able to build different methods of sea transportation, including the ship Ocean Tornado, the hovercraft Aqua Blast and the submarine Deep Typhoon. Each will allow you to access different secret islands and areas of the ocean. To do this, you need to draw your route with the stylus from the island you are currently on to where you want to go. This, surprisingly, is a lot of fun. Certain ships won't go through icy areas of the sea, for example, while others can't travel in shallows, so you have to choose your boat carefully and draw your route precisely. Get it wrong, and Tails will ask you whether you want to go back or re-draw your route.
Travelling in the boats is loads of fun too. Each boat is its own mini-game in essence, controlled with the stylus. The Wave Cyclone moves forward by touching it with the stylus. You then drag it left and right to avoid enemies and to catch ramps. Ocean Tornado moves on its own but you have three forms of cannon fire to battle enemies, Aqua Blast plays like a shooter, with you tapping the craft to fire a blast, and the submarine Deep Typhoon is a rhythm action game, where you have to touch enemies in time with the music to destroy them. They're all a lot of fun, and, dare we say it, possibly better than the 2D dual screen stages.
The graphics are sound rather than spectacular, with the polish you'd expect from a SEGA published game. The 2D sections look lovely, and there's no slowdown even when you're pushing Sonic's legs hard. The 3D sections (boss battles and boat sections) look less impressive and the DS sometimes looks likes it struggles with these sections, but you won't be complaining too much.
While it'll only take you about five or so hours to finish the main story part of the game, there's tonnes of extra content that will extend the life of the game. There's 100 additional missions to complete, which involve replaying levels, boss battles and race sequences with specific goals like getting 100 rings within a set time frame. You'll pick up these missions from the various characters dotted around Southern Island. When you complete them they'll reward you with special extras, like decorations for the island (including a balloon and a statue of Sonic himself). There's also the hunt for chaos emeralds, as you'd expect from a Sonic game, and time trials for the stages. In short, the game is jam packed with stuff to do.
And if you get bored of playing on your own, you can race a friend even if they don't have a copy of the game, wirelessly across the island's stages. We've given this a go and it's decent fun, but no-where near the best multiplayer action the DS has to offer.
While the game is not a massive departure from Sonic Adventure, and at £30 it's a tad expensive for the play-time you get, if you're new to the series on DS or love all things Sonic, we heartily recommend it. One of the best games on the system.