The Sonic series’ move to 3D was not quite as graceful as other series’ offerings. The original Sonic adventure while clumsy, was enjoyable, but later releases have strayed so far from what made Sonic great in the first place that many have given up on the series. The last straw may have been Shadow the Hedgehog, an almost unforgiveable move to make Sonic more ‘hip’. These reasons may be why Sonic and the Secret Rings feels like such a triumph, even though it is often clumsy in its own right.
Many previews said that Secret Rings was attempting to emulate the 16-bit Sonic games, and if that was the intent with this game, SEGA failed. What Secret Rings does is try to find a happy middle between 3D gameplay and the 2D games of yore. The levels here are more like tracks, and the gameplay feels more akin to Sonic R than any other Sonic game. Here, you will zip through some very well designed levels, trying to grab as many rings and avoid as many hazards as you can, until you find the finish line. And it works. Quite well, in fact.
The Wiimote adds a lot to this title, and I didn’t think it would. The smoothness of turning with the remote takes a little while to get used to, but as soon as the tutorial is over, you will be racing away. Where the controls, and ultimately the game, fall short is that while you can go really fast and the thrill is absolutely amazing, the game asks you to stop sometimes. When you turn the controller so that the face of it is facing you, Sonic will start to walk backwards. Some parts of the game actually require this and everytime, you will curse the dumbest design decision ever. If I need to backtrack, why not have a clearly marked alternate path I can use to circle around to where I was?
Sonic starts out with a decent bit of speed, but by the end of the game, you will wonder why you ever thought he was fast at the beginning. Sonic and the Secret Rings has a surprisingly delightful RPG aspect, where upon successful completion of a level, you will get skills and experience points. You equip these skills onto your skill ring, and swapping out for specialized skills in certain stages becomes an art form later on.
Never fear, Wii owners, this is one game that you can actually use to show off the graphical abilities of the Wii. Textures are wonderfully crisp, the areas detailed, and if the game drops below 60 FPS, it isn’t noticeable. While your friends are being wow’d by how fast the little hedgehog goes, they can marvel at the sound track. But probably not. The soundtrack is made up of some of the cheesiest rock music on the face of the planet. You can even make a game out of what you think the words are. “No such thing as an aeroplane… la dee da”
As one of the few original and buyable games for the Wii, Secret Rings is a triumph that just stumbles a little bit in the controls department. Later iterations will hopefully take care of this. There’s even an obligatory Wii Multiplayer Mario Party Style Minigame-Fest to goof around with once your friends want to pick up the controller. If you are a Wii owner chomping at the bit for something original and daring, here’s my pick.