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Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Hands-On (Nintendo DS) Preview

Review for Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Hands-On on Nintendo DS

Despite the ongoing success of Mario's transition into the realm of role-playing games, the announcement of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood - an attempt to slot Sega' platformer-centric mascot into a seemingly irrelevant genre - still seemed to come straight out of left field.

In fact, neither Sega nor developer BioWare appears to be entirely sure how the project originally came about. It was with cautious intrigue, then, that Cubed3's Ben Southam and Karn Bianco took a look at the game, scheduled for an Autumn release, and how it's shaping up.

Karn Bianco, Previews/Retro Editor: I would like to preface my impressions of The Dark Brotherhood by saying that I am both a longtime Sonic fan, and a big admirer of BioWare's work. Of course, I never expected the two to come together quite like they have, but I have endeavored to keep an open mind. Ben and myself have now experienced the first hour or so of Sonic Chronicles, which is more than enough time to get an impression of most of its key elements. Elements like the overworld, for example.

Navigating the overworld is handled entirely with the touch screen. Pointing at a location with the stylus will force the currently-controlled character to move in that direction, a la The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Although the game is party-based, only one member of your party will appear on the overworld at any given time. It is, however, possible to swap between characters on the fly. Doing so is essential for navigating to certain areas, for example those that are blocked off by crates that only Amy and her over-sized hammer can deal with.

Rings, which serve as the game's currency, and NPCs are scattered about in various locations. Enemies also wander around non-town environments, allowing you to avoid battles (more on those later) if you prefer. Certain objects, for example loop-the-loops and climbable rock faces, can be interacted with by tapping context-sensitive buttons which appear on the touch screen when your main character is in close proximity to them. It may be not be as fast as Sonic fans will be used to, but it all feels pretty smooth. Wouldn't you say, Ben?

KB: Indeed. Of course, when resurrection isn't an option, there's always the possibility of fleeing. Unlike other role-playing games, Sonic Chronicles features an interesting take on the flee/escape command. In order to escape a battle successfully, Sonic and his companions must first complete a brief mini-game in which they literally run away from their foes as the player uses the touch screen to help them avoid obstacles and race through speed boosts. The same mini-game is also used to prevent enemies from fleeing; if you can help Sonic and company catch up in the alloted time, your opponent will be forced to resume the battle.

Needless to say, no RPG (especially a BioWare RPG) would be complete without some sort of dialogue system, and The Dark Brotherhood is no exception. When you consider that Sonic isn't exactly known, at least historically, for starring in dialogue-heavy games, BioWare seems to be doing a great job of characterizing Sonic and his chums in a believable fashion. Each of the game's dialogue trees consists of numerous nodes/responses, each of which conveys one of Sonic's emotions. For example, it's possible to abruptly end a conversation with the likes of �Let's get going!� but it's just as acceptable to ask lots of questions. In fact, Tails recommends you do just that during an amusing introductory scene in which we were able to respond with �What's your favourite color?� to which Tails replies �That's not really what I meant, Sonic.�

While we're on the subject, humour is another element of Sonic Chronicles that BioWare seems to be handling extremely well. Given that the game features a cast of anthropomorphic animals who have spent most of their lives running through hoops and collecting golden rings, that's no mean feat. Par exemple, in addition to the aforementioned dialogue tree options, it's possible to choose an overly sardonic response that, if handled poorly, could have been entirely cringe-worthy. Instead, we found a selection of genuinely witty remarks which, although somewhat uncompromising at times, ultimately sounded like the words of an impatient, super-speedy hedgehog. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing if BioWare is able to keep the humour fresh throughout the course of the game. How about you?

BS: By all means, if BioWare can manage a decent sustentation of the game's humour I'll be pleased. The danger lies in a weakening plot and the need to force elements in to drive the story turning this genuinely charming game into a generic mess. But there's certainly no sign of this happening judging by the playtime we got with it. The music doesn't play a particularly important role in the game, and BioWare don't seem to have hired some B-List J-Pop artists to do their soundtrack, but as with the other elements, you still know you're in the Sonic universe. BioWare have melded a decent graphical interface with really colourful and vibrant 2D backgrounds to create a pleasant game environment that rarely chugs, even in pre-release code, and, at times, looks very nice. The DS isn't really strained but with the subtle soundtrack, witty dialogue and faithfully Sonic-y locales, BioWare have got the ambience covered.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of the game, if only to discover how well BioWare manage to sustain their manipulation of the Sonic universe for the RPG genre. It has so much promise, and should probably find itself on any fan's shopping list come release. I can't speak for more than what I played, clearly, but if the first few sections are anything to go by, we're in for a Sonic treat.

Worth waiting for?

BioWare certainly seems to have most of the key components needed for a great role-playing game in place, but the potential issues you mention could well undo all that. After all, many of the problems that plague RPGs - stagnating plot lines, monotonous level grinding, etc. - cannot be gauged with only a brief play test. For the time being, though, I remain cautiously optimistic and urge that people try to keep an open mind about a game that, at least on paper, seems to many to be little more than a recipe for disaster.

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C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  n/a

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10 (6 Votes)

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Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Preview

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Definitely one to watch. I don't see how Bioware can mess this up, liscencing another dev to make a spin off was a fantastic idea, it could be the biggest real quality Sonic game we have seen in years.

Nice preview, with all this talk my hype for it has grown loads Smilie

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I've never really been a Sonic guy, but I have this on my radar because I don't have a ton of RPGs. I loved Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time as well, so if its got similar gameplay, chances are better that I'll enjoy it.

Nice one guys! Smilie

C3 Moderator

Not into RPGs that much no matter how hard I try, but this is looking pretty interesting. This preview's got my anticipation up as well, good work guys!

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Nice - liking this a lot more recently, can't wait!
Good hands-on guys Smilie

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

i seriously wish they'd stop making new characters for these things. I mean, they get used like 3 times then there all WEHAM!!! NEW CHARACTER!_____ HAS A DARK UNKOWN PAST! SINF IT OUT!! NEW ____! FIND ______! THIS AND THAT! MORE THIS! MORE CHARACTERS! WI FI!!!!!!!! COllECT THIS AND ________________ and so on. This new character that is coming out is making me think about whether or not I should care about the blue hedgehog or not.

I heard this game is bad, you have to trace certain lines to do attacks. Smilie

Super Duper Ultra Fun Time!

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