Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii) Review

By Mike Mason 20.03.2007 12

Sonic’s fall from grace has been one of the most prolific examples of a series of games losing its way. Beginning with his being unleashed into 3D, bringing camera issues along with it, and culminating in the murderously terrible Sonic The Hedgehog 360/PS3, Sonic has far to go before standing a chance of reclaiming any gaming crown that doesn’t resemble a dunce hat - Sonic and the Secret Rings, however, might just be the game that puts him back on track.

The story goes that one day, Sonic is minding his own business when a genie, Shahra, appears and begs for his help as the Legendary Blue Hedgehog – she is from the world of the Arabian Nights stories, which is slowly being wiped out by the evil Erazor Djinn, who will then seep out into the real world and take command of that, too. Sonic decides to help out, and so places Shahra’s ‘wish ring’ on his finger, commanding her to take him into the story so that he can deal with this new threat. Once there, though, Sonic is penetrated by a cursed arrow by Erazor, giving him a limited time to collect the seven world rings for the evil genie – or die.

The main problem with Sonic games of late has probably been the sheer lack of direction displayed by the development teams responsible. Over the last six years we’ve had Sonic joined by an increasing number of infuriating ‘friends’, gimmicks involving teams of characters and more than a hint of human/hedgehog love. Despite being completely bizarre, Sonic and the Secret Rings’ setting is refreshing in a way – it remains reasonably focused in its apparent re-enactments of Arabian Nights tales, while seeming more like Sonic than much of the things we’ve seen recently. Perhaps more importantly, the imagination employed in wringing the most out of the premise in terms of level variety suggests that, yes, the developers may have even enjoyed making this one. The Arabian Nights mould is stretched almost to breaking point with its futuristic foundry stage and dinosaur level, but we’re willing to forgive it – for this is perhaps the 3D Sonic title we’ve been waiting for.

Sonic is on-rails this time, constantly, automatically, running forward towards his goal. The player holds the Wii remote horizontally and controls his movement from left to right by tilting the control pad to dodge obstacles, hitting 2 to jump, 1 to brake and tilting the controller backwards to move…backwards. Attacking enemies is as simple as leaping into the air, waiting for the target around the enemy to turn red, then flicking/pushing forward with the remote rapidly. All of this feels very smooth, and actually feels much better than using an analogue stick in our opinion – we went back to play Sonic Heroes to confirm, and found control to feel very loose in comparison. Homing attacks are also disappointing on the older game after playing Secret Rings, as the forward thrust instils an animalistic joy of destroying the enemy with your hands that cannot be matched by pressing a button. We’re a sadistic bunch really…the exception to the rule of good controls though is moving backwards. It’s easy to tell that the entire point of the game was to keep going forwards, as Sonic never stops moving unless you explicitly press a button to make him do so, and the backward movement feels so awkward and cumbersome. Some features later on improve this a little, but it’s still disappointing compared to the otherwise excellent control scheme. It’s not all movement on foot, though - other diversions include riding on flying carpets and missiles, firing Sonic out of catapults (pull back remote, thrust forward) and flying in pots with wings (flap remote up and down), all of which work pretty well. The dreaded grind rails come back, too…

Many were outraged and/or confused by the on-rails nature of Sonic and the Secret Rings when it was first unveiled, but after a few minutes of adjustment you realise that this was a superb way to go control-wise – not necessarily the only way they could have gone, but one that works brilliantly nonetheless. Essentially when you’re playing a Sonic game you’re pressing and holding a single direction for much of the time anyway; this is done away with and the game does it for you, so we’re not certain what some people are complaining about. Sure, it’s frustrating not being able to run all over the vast sands of the opening desert stage, but being on-rails focuses the action and keeps you from going astray, and this is really the only stage that offers much temptation anyhow - others are more contained. By directing the player carefully, Sonic Team have been able to cherry-pick the best features from their levels for you to run to and give you the most action that they can. You play the levels the way that they wanted them to be played – not to say that there are singular identical routes through every level (in most there are variations of what you can do or where you can go), but it is more limited, and this works to the games’ benefit. It’s never usually less than an exhilarating experience, and the levels just keep getting better and better the more you play and the further through the game you advance.

An abilities/upgrade system has been put into place, giving this Sonic game a different twist of RPG (as opposed to speaking to people in the Adventure and 360/PS3 outings). The abilities improve Sonic in all areas – speed, attack, defence, ring holding, etc., and they improve issues that people may have at the start of the game (though we personally did not experience them too severely); namely, that they believe the game to be too slow, movement slightly clunky, or the backwards stepping is terrible (this is one that we can agree with). You can only assign a certain amount of powers to Sonic at once, so Sonic has a limited Special Power metre that lets you know how many techniques, stored on his magic ring, he can be given - your allowance grows as Sonic‘s level grows after accumulating experience points during, and for the completion of, levels. Adjustments can be made before each level and, kindly, the game gives you four separate ring configurations so that you can have four specialised skill sets at your beck and call. While Sonic is passable initially, he much improves as you build up your powers – it is irritating that some will have to play the game for a few hours before gaining any real enjoyment out of it, and may even consign it to their shelf for eternity/back to the shop before getting to this point, but the end result is worth it. Another new feature is the ‘soul gauge’ – Sonic can collect pearls as well as rings which power up a metre that allows him to control time for a limited period. Pressing up on the d-pad with a sufficient amount of power gives him an incredible speed boost, while pressing down slows things down and allows obstacles to be dodged more effectively.

Presentation-wise, Sonic and the Secret Rings is easily one of the best looking Wii titles we have seen to date. Sonic’s character model is spectacular, and the environments are filled with smooth obstacles and an impressive range of elemental effects – boss stages (delivered in a similar style to the rest of the game in that Sonic is constantly running forward chasing the boss, with an exception or two, working surprisingly well in the process) can be particularly nice-looking, with explosions and particles bombing around the place. Later stages are stunning. If you can persevere, you might even find yourself enjoying the music once you’ve gotten used to its cheesiness, as we did – the music for Levitation Ruins in particular is quite possibly the best composition in a Sonic game since the glories of Sonic & Knuckles. The cutscenes are also of note – the opening CG intro movie is beautiful, and other story sections are delivered in a wonderful cartoon-on-scroll style that captures Sonic’s personality and appearance far better than he has been shown in any other recent artwork. Some of the scenes are actually genuinely humorous as well, which is always a bonus, thanks to Sonic showing the sarcastic side he was given for the old TV shows. There is at least one moment that had us with our heads in our hands, though, as it’s cringeworthy and does not fit in at all, temporarily putting to rest the character build up of Sonic to that point. You’ll know it when you see it. It involves fingers. You have been warned.

Sadly, the game is not without its weak points. While level design is usually reasonably tight, there are some parts of levels with instant death drops, much like in Sonic Rush and other 3D Sonic games – a big no-no in our book. Other times, you might as well sit back and relax as control is practically wrenched from your hands and the game plays itself as Sonic runs through hoops and spirals. Obstacles can pop up with no prior warning. Hopping on invisible or partially-visible grind rails can be essential for passing stages. A lot of this is contained within Levitation Ruins, which also seems to contain a bug that sometimes doesn’t allow you to start the stage properly unless you restart it so that you can get past the first hurdle. While it’s good to see a number of different level types, split into missions, we can’t help but miss the simple ‘Act 1, Act 2, boss’ structure employed by other Sonic games, and the story seems to be revealed sporadically and randomly at times. It might have been good to have missions marked ‘story’ and then other, non-mandatory missions optional to play. Also, if you want to retain a mostly-positive outlook on the game, you do not want to enter the party mode, as it is abysmal. Controls are unresponsive, games don’t make any sense or aren’t explained properly, it looks significantly worse than the rest of the game…it’s nothing but bad news. If it wasn’t for this review we probably wouldn’t have gone on the option, and it’s unlikely we will do ever again. It seems like it was tacked on in the last week of development to appeal to new or non-gamers, and that’s where it should have stayed – in development. Forever.

The first press to play Sonic and the Secret Rings at E3 2006 claimed that this is how Sonic in 3D should be, a natural 3Dization of the 2D games. It isn’t. Nor is it like the 2D games because it relies on speed, as the 2D games never really did this. No, this is not an adaptation of 2D Sonic, and it is not a refinement of the existing 3D games – it is not a change to an existing formula. Sure, it might take elements from previous games, but that does not make it the same as them. Sonic and the Secret Rings is something entirely new and different for the series, and it should be up to each person to play it and decide whether it’s a direction they like, or whether they’d rather step back into the previous 3D Sonic titles, or pretend that only the 2D games exist. As for us, we embrace it in all its newness – not as a perfect example of how a game should be, but as an example of how there is still hope for the franchise and that there is still potential for a Sonic game, somewhere in the future, to exist that is up to the standards of the originals.

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

A marked improvement over the Sonic of recent years, but still one that has enough slight issues to build up and pull it down a peg or two. This is something that can be built and capitalised on, though, and we look forward to seeing another Sonic on Wii along these lines that takes the formula and perfects it, perhaps in a more traditionally ‘Sonic’ setting than the Arabian Nights stories. Sonic and the Secret Rings is a great example of a franchise-saving game – but only if future efforts are at least this good.

Developer

SEGA

Publisher

SEGA

Genre

3D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (30 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

MEH...I was expecting great things from this game...it just let me down...

I absolutely love this game.
Easily the best 3D Sonic game.

Some of the levels are utterly amazing (Levatating Ruin), and the upgrade/reward system is well well done.
The speed boast and slow-mo are great fun too. Slowmo, especialy in the setting, feels very Prince of Persia.


Its certainly the best 3rd party Wii game yet, from the selection I have and those I have played.

It feels like a proper "meaty" game too. Lots to do.
The bonus's are very nice too...concept art, development material ect.
Stuff that should be more common.
You feel a real sense of reward unlocking stuff.

The only downer is the minigames.
While theressome nice ideas in the method of play, they frankly suck, and were a waste of development time.
But, they are safely ignoreable.

Approach this game with an open mind, and dont expect it too be easy.
It certainly is a blast :Smilie

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Great review, glad Sonic is getting better treatment for the Wii. Might have to pick this one up.

Wo33eR ::: Wo33eR.CoM Website :: Cubed-3 :: [ General Writer :: Reveiwer ]

34,723/1,119,437 - World :: 6,399/137,860 - UK

Got this game and agree totally. Feels great (takes a bit to control) and at parts is simply sublime. Best 3d sonic by a country mile.

Oh and Japanese voice. YES YES YES.

F*ck off! What a load of bollocks, the controls are a piece of s*it and it's one of Sonics worst 3D outings, not best.

Worst C3 review ever! I urge you not to buy this game; it's a pile of tripe. More like 6/10

Get yourself Excite Truck instead.

How do 'sh*t controls' and being a 'pile of tripe' warrant a 6/10 rating, then? :tongue:

It controls well. You don't get on with it, but it doesn't mean that the rest of the world is incapable of using it.

I have to contrast with you Marzy, I'm really enjoying this. I'm not 100% sure why it stands out for me so much, but it feels like Sega have tried for this one.

Sure the story is crud but combine the grows-on-you music with the fast gameplay and it's just fun. The controls also work nice after the brief learning curve.

360 Gamertag: shiptoncraig
PSN: shiptoncraig
Steam: Guess what?

I liked this game, sure it has a few issues, but hell, it's better than the 360 and PS3 Sonic games.

Just got it today, 'tis quite good :Smilie

I'd personally have given it a 6

I can't believe that it's being graphically comparable to the good looking GC games is regarded as a plus :lol:

It is when you see some of the other graphical rubbish we've been served up on Wii so far. Besides, good looking GC games are still good looking games, doesn't matter if they're last gen quality.

Ben, I thought it was a 6 or so when I first played it, but the more I carried on the better it got for me, hence the score.

Totally agree with this review! the game really grows on you, and for once with a Wii game it's got a decent level of difficulty and tons to unlock. I dig the consistent frame-rate too and "wow" moments.

It was this game or Excite Truck for me, and I don't regret my choice!

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