Sonic The Hedgehog is one of the all-time great gaming icons and the one responsible for Sega's rise to power in the 90s. Sadly, recent games in the Sonic franchise have left his once stellar reputation in tatters, and Shadow did the blue hedgehog no favours either. Does Sonic Rush breathe new life into the classic franchise or is it just one more nail in an ever more secure coffin?
As ever, the premise of the game is to gain back possession of emeralds which the evil Dr. Eggman has stolen. This time there's a slight change to the story, with Blaze the cat - the guardian of the Sol Emeralds - also on the trail of Eggman. There's also some alternate dimension goings on which sees the worlds of Sonic and Blaze merge together as you progress through the game. It's no masterpiece, but it's enough to get you into the game, though there really isn't any need for it as Sonic Rush is all about insane fast paced action.
Despite the DS's 3D capabilities Sonic Rush is essentially a classic 2D side-scrolling Sonic speed fest. There are some 3D elements, but these are all for show and really don't change the traditional gameplay mechanics in any way. Where Rush really sets itself apart from classic sonic of yesteryear is the use of the DS's dual screens. We see many games on the DS where the second screen serves little to no purpose and is filled with a map or game info, but thankfully this isn't the case with Sonic Rush. Both screens display the game action, with Sonic seamlessly moving from one to the other as he speeds through the levels. This will take some getting used to, especially when beginning the game, but after a short while tracking his movements will come much more naturally.
For the most part the game moves at breathtaking speeds, even for a sonic game, but - as with many a sonic game - this speed will often get you into trouble - either being propelled miles into the air only to fall to your death or simply running head on into a stubborn enemy. Thankfully the latter can be avoided with the aid of a new move; instead of relying on inhuman like reflexes and rings to stop instant death, you can now use a boost move to enable Sonic and Blaze to speed through enemies, taking them down in the process. You can't just boost all the way through each act though, with your boosting ability relying on the Tension Gauge - a bar which is filled by performing tricks. Yes, Sonic and Blaze can perform tricks such as grinding rails, spinning and flipping, all of which give you trick points and fill up the Tension Gauge. The gauge maxes out at 300% and will decrease over time and when you take damage, making it important to continuously pull off tricks at every opportunity.
It may be primarily a 2D platformer, but that doesn't stop the game from looking good. Environments are your normal Sonic fair, with bright colours and lots going on, but nothing really out of this world. There are, however, some polygons scattered around, with all the game's characters now rendered in 3D, as are a lot of the level elements, giving a feeling of depth to the environments. Each zone comprises of three acts, with the last act being a boss battle. Here the game's graphics transform from the 2D side-scrolling stages to full 3D rendered areas. Whilst still on rails, you're given the impression of a 3D environment, much like the pseudo 3D platformers from the PlayStation era. The camera might do some fancy stuff, meaning you end up moving into the screen, but essentially you're stuck to the same two-dimensional movement. It would be a crime not to mention the awesome soundtrack from Hideki Naganuma (of Jet Set Radio fame), that features some very catchy tunes that fit brilliantly with the breakneck speed of the gameplay. Top stuff!
The story mode will see you playing through a series of Zones as both Sonic and Blaze, but you get the same levels for each character. This gives you both perspectives of events, but there really isn't much different when playing the game as Blaze, and the only bonus you get from doing so is seeing the story unravel. Special stages can be accessed via a special generator which creates a dimensional distortion, transporting you into the special stage. These are the only stages of the game to use the stylus, guiding Sonic down a half-pipe collecting rings, and reaching the end of the stage will reward you with a Chaos Emerald. There are seven of these stages scattered throughout the game and while lacking in originality (collecting rings in a half-pipe has been seen in previous Sonic games) they do give your stylus a workout and provide a nice break from the frenetic pace of the main game.
Once you complete the game with either character you unlock a time trial mode in which you can attempt to finish each act or boss battle in the fastest time possible. The top five times are recorded and you only have one life available to you. This does add some replay value to the game as you challenge yourself to finish the game faster than before, although replaying the game normally also gives you the challenge of beating your previous high score. There's also a wireless multiplayer battle mode where you simply race through an act as fast as you can in an attempt to reach the end before your opponent. You're restricted to the top screen - with the touch screen used to display the progress of your opponent - and on the whole it's a fun mode to play, but because the game moves at such a fast pace the ability to attack your opponent is rarely used. The Battle Mode can be played with a single cart making it ideal for some quick games with a friend.
While Sonic Rush does a lot of good things, it's not without its problems. Thanks to the newly introduced boosting abilities, running into enemies isn't an issue, but falling to an apparently unavoidable death is. On many occasions I found myself screaming in frustration as either Sonic or Blaze fell to their death after being propelled into the air. To make death more annoying, the game also chooses to restart you on the first act of a Zone should you reach the game over screen before completing Act 2. In the end though, you'll come back for more, but this is an annoyance that could have been easily avoided.
Sonic Rush is a great game that, for the most part, is a blast to play through, and is a real return to form for Sonic. The game won't take all that long to complete, but the top score and time trial challenges, as well as the multiplayer battle mode, should keep you entertained for quite some time. If you own a DS and fancy some traditional Sonic magic, Sonic Rush should fit the bill nicely. The best pure platformer on the DS is from Sega; who'd have thought it?