Sonic Team have been big supporters of the DS so far. They supported the launch with the quirky Project Rub, have an equally insane looking sequel to it in progress and are currently developing Sonic Rush. Sonic Team's enthusiasm for the system is surely proven by the fact that this will be their first Sonic game developed by the core team since Sonic & Knuckles back in 1994 - since then the games have been doled out to Sega of America and Dimps (with some supervision from Sonic Team). With the core team back behind Sonic, though, can he front another 2D classic? Early signs certainly look good.
Sonic has been left spinning when it comes to the 3D realm, thrown into snooze-worthy 'adventure' sections and speed sections full of glitches that make many want to connect their controllers with the characters' faces. It's reassuring, then, that he's staying in 2D for the most part in his first DS outing, and looking as a crisp as a fresh spring morning with it. The characters are in 3D but run on 2D planes, which allows for some nice effects as Sonic scales in and out of the screen on swings and roundabouts.
The game does switch to a 3D view for some boss battles that look set to display some of the best 3D on the DS so far, including a battle with an impressive-looking metallic serpent which tries to crush Sonic, and a mine-throwing scarab beetle which bounds about trying to kill the speedball in no uncertain terms. The special stages from Sonic 2 also make a welcome return, presumably in full 3D this time, wherein players charge down an everlasting tunnel dodging bombs, trying to collect enough rings to net them a much-lauded Chaos Emerald.
The sound is also looking to be a pleasing sensation for the ears, with the range of music heard so far consisting of slightly-techno tunes which serve to highlight the speed of the game. One such (brilliant) tune seems to be stolen from somewhere but changed just sufficiently enough so that there are no copyright issues. Unfortunately, it's also one of those irritating situations where you just can't place your finger on where it's come from. The classic chiming of ring collecting is also present as always, but unfortunately some new sounds have found their way into the 2D games - Sonic speech. Anybody who has played any of the past few home console outings will know how ear piercingly bad the voices are, and this is no different. Perhaps in a bid to make Sonic more ‘urban’, the would-be hipster now lets out strings of the word ‘yeah’ in a nauseating American accent, with a few ‘alright’s thrown in just for good measure. To say that it is heard around 20 times within a minute of preview video is no exaggeration at all (I counted), and could prove to be a factor that infuriates many.
In this outing, Sonic is joined by another new character, Blaze the Cat, a purple creature of the feline persuasion who happens to be a member of some kind of royal family. Presumably Sonic’s other friends, rivals and general filler characters are at home drawing straws to see which random assortment of characters will be appearing in the next game, or perhaps holding X-Factor-style auditions to find the latest member of the ever-growing ‘So Sonic Crew’ to go in the next game. So far, not much information is known about her, or what she even does. Brilliant.
The DS' dual screened nature is used to full effect here, with Sonic whizzing between the two screens. One second he will be running on the top screen, the next he could be running down a hill and switch to the bottom screen. This may sound confusing, but upon watching a video of the game you realise that this looks very natural and fits well into the Sonic convention of frantic speed runs, definitely more than the recent home console efforts ever have. To add to the fun for speed freaks, a metre is displayed at the side of the screen which fills as you move. When it reaches its peak you can unleash a speed dash which rockets Sonic along at double speed for a second or two. The touch screen is not put to use at all, which is perhaps a good thing as it could only result in wrist injuries/gashes in the touch screen at the speed the game looks to hurtle along at.
Disappointingly, there don't look to be any boss battles that take advantage of both screens so far, but perhaps this is being saved for a large boss encounter somewhere along the line. The return of the final boss from Sonic 2 in glorious 3D? We can only hope...