Sonic and the Secret Rings Art 

It’s been eight years since I really enjoyed playing a new Sonic the Hedgehog game, and after having played Sonic and the Secret Rings, I must sadly report that this is still the case. For me, what made the original Sonic games so compelling was their mixture of solid platforming combined with incredible bursts of speed. Watching Sonic cruise around loop-de-loops, shoot off springs, and zip through chutes and tunnels was just plain fun. While Sonic and the Secret Rings certainly contains many such fun moments, the overall experience is derailed by shoddy controls, a ridiculous story, shameless recycling of levels, and a cumbersome and incongruous RPG-style system for gaining experience and abilities.

The story is set in motion by a genie who summons Sonic to enter the book of the Arabian Nights in order to save the story-world from being erased by the evil Erazor Djinn. While the game is in 3D, the story portions are told in storybook style via 2D panels. As the plot unfolds, familiar characters from the Sonic universe pop up as characters from the original stories (e.g., Tails as Ali-Baba and Knuckles as Sinbad). I am not intimately familiar with the Arabian Nights; however, I am almost certain that the story in Sonic and the Secret Rings is really, really bad. It is so ridiculous, in fact, that after a while it was easier to just tune it out.

The main game consists of seven racetrack-like stages, each with a distinct style and names like “Sand Oasis” and “Pirate Storm." In the “Dinosaur Jungle” stage, Sonic runs from a pack of Triceratopses, cruises down a river, and speeds along the necks and backs of several Apatosauruses. In “Evil Foundry,” he sprints through a castle, dodges spiked traps, and hops over pits of lava. In "Levitated Ruin," he dashes over airships, shoots across zip-lines, and even zooms through the sky along the wake of a flying beast. Although Sonic always remains on a fixed path, the way he moves through each course has a fairly fluid and organic feel to it.

Sonic and the Secret Rings Screenshot

The first and last missions of each stage always consist of a run through the entire course for that level and a final boss fight, respectively. If the developers had left it at that, then I might have been happy. Unfortunately, each stage also crams in a dozen or so challenge missions that reuse and recycle small sections of the larger course. These challenge missions include objectives such as beating a timer, collecting a certain number of rings, and getting to the end without destroyong any enemies. Not all of the missions are bad, but their repetitiveness drags things down, and I would rather have skipped over most of it.

Guiding Sonic through the stages feels in many respects like playing a racing game. Players control Sonic by holding the Wii remote horizontally (the nunchuk attachment is not used at all) and tilting it left or right to steer him one way or the other. By default, Sonic always runs forward at a medium pace. Tilting the controller forward speeds him up, while tilting it back slows him down or moves him in reverse. Although the core gameplay resembles a racer, the courses are often punctuated by short sections that require Sonic to jump between platforms, leap over traps, destroy enemies, or use mechanisms such as springs, catapults, and turbo pads.

Unfortunately, the motion-sensing controls seriously hinder the experience. Like most Wii games I have played so far, the remote’s motion sensing feels far too loose when compared to the precision and sensitivity afforded by standard controllers. Often, it seems almost impossible to make any fine or subtle movements. When the situation requires Sonic to stop or make a precise jump, the controls behave erratically. I can’t count the number of times I died simply because Sonic was spasmodically jerking around when I merely wanted him to stay still. There are a few rare instances where the game’s motion-sensing actions feel well executed (e.g., tilting the controller forward to do a homing attack), but on the whole the controls seriously get in the way of the game.

Further diluting the experience is an ill-fitting RPG-style leveling up mechanic. After completing missions, players are awarded experience points and access to new and enhanced abilities (e.g., better jumping, turbo starts, speeding or slowing time, etc.). These skills are equipped via four customizable rings. The more experience the player has, the more abilities can be equipped to a ring. For me, this entire aspect of the game felt hideously out of place. If it were simply a matter of gaining experience and acquiring new abilities without the added step of selectively attaching the abilities to rings, then I might have accepted it. But asking players to sit around and mix and match abilities is too removed from what this game should be about—namely, going really fast. Such messily implemented RPG-like features do not fit well in a Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Sonic and the Secret Rings Screenshot

Another somewhat gratuitous feature is the multiplayer "party" mode, in which up to four players can compete at 40 different mini-games. The games are extremely simplistic, and most of them try to utlize some aspect of the Wii's motion-sensing capability. One such game has the on-screen character drifting through the air with an umbrella while the player tilts the controller left or right to steer the character into as many floating coins as possible. There is a modicum of fun to be had playing some of these games, but for the most part, the multiplayer struck me as a rather trivial distraction.

About the only thing that is consistently good in this game are its graphics. The colors are crisp and vibrant, and the environments are fun and interesting to look at. When things are going smoothly, there is an undeniable visual appeal to watching Sonic speed around through the various unique stages. While there is nothing in the game that seems as though it couldn't have been done on the GameCube, the visuals are quite impressive nonetheless.

In the end, there are far too many problems with this game to make it worth recommending. From its incongruous RPG-style leveling up to its endless recycling of levels to its utterly ridiculous Arabian Nights-themed story, Sonic and the Secret Rings feels horribly padded from top to bottom. To top it off, the sloppy controls make the game way harder than it should be. There might be a serviceable game buried somewhere in here, but I don't think it's worth anyone's time to try and find it. Rating: 4 out of 10

16
Leave a Reply

avatar
16 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
AnonymousFriikRPG ExpertAustinSpace Harrier Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Anonymous
Guest

[quote=Anonymous]BURN![/quote]
BURN THE GAME BECAUSE IT SUCKS!!!!

Anonymous
Guest

[quote=Anonymous]BURN![/quote]
BURN THE GAME BECAUSE IT SUCKS!!!!

Anonymous
Guest

BURN!

Anonymous
Guest

It’s not that bad. They could have tryed harder on the extra levels instead of recycling the main course. The plot was
pretty much Alladin. But I think the RPG style was a nice touch.
Personally it was my favorite part. But Darkspine Sonic? Give me
A break! His voice was a mix of Sonic The Hedgehog and Jett The
Hawk!

Anonymous
Guest

That is rather game-specific, though, so it should count. The Wii Remote is not too sensitive in EVERY game, it’s sometimes not sensitive enough in some. Like it or not, this is a problem with the games and the developers, not the remote, so it’s certainly fair enough to dock major points for it. One of the fundamental design choices is controls, and poor controls can ruin an otherwise good game. If the developers are making bad controls for games, it’s not our job to accept it, we SHOULD be docking points for it and not tryint bo lame something… Read more »

Austin
Guest
Austin

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good review, and I can understand what the reviewer is saying. I’m just saying that a review is supposed to tell, from a non-opinionated, impersonal point of view, what the quality of a game is. You can’t rate a game’s quality on personal opinion, because opinion varies. Quality is rated on how good the controls are, or how many glitches and problems are in the game. The game is by no means perfect, though, but it’s still worthy of at least a 7. My main gripe is that he gave the game a… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest

It would be helpful if the reviewer had played the game for more than ONE HOUR.

RPG Expert
Guest
RPG Expert

All reviews are 100% opinion. You can either take the reviewers word for it or, like I’m doing with sonic next-gen, see for yourself. BTW PC release?

Friik
Guest
Friik

Yes, and that’s one of the main reasons I don’t appreciate giving points or something like that: It’s always only a personal opinion. But as to the controls I can only say they worked fine for me all the time. The problem in most cases is imo that some levels are based upon “Trial & Error”, you sometimes see obstacles a bit too late. But that’s not a problem of the control, because after some trials I was able to dodge every single obstacle with ease^^ The English voice actors were awful as well, just like the music was, well… Read more »

Brandon Erickson
Guest
Brandon Erickson

Thank you for your responses, and I appreciate the differences of opinion that you’ve expressed. All I can really say is that this is my personal critique of the entire game, and that necessarily must include a critique of the control system. Regarding my description of the controls, I know for a fact that tilting the controller back slows Sonic down because I was actually doing that in the game. I know that tilting the controller forward gives Sonic a boost in midair and also gives him a boost if done during the opening countdown. If, however, Sonic just automatically… Read more »

Austin
Guest
Austin

I’m really surprised by this review. It’s hardly credible at all. I mean… I’m not a Sonic fanboy. I admit that there hasn’t been a good Sonic game in a long time, but to say THIS particular game is bad is truly misguided. First of all, most of the review is opinion, with few facts about the actual game itself. Complaining about the story is opinion; a lot of people enjoyed the story, including myself, and thought it was a needed break from these “hard-core” and “serious” plotlines. It’s hard to take a game about a talking hedgehog seriously, so… Read more »

Friik
Guest
Friik

Sorry, but I think this Sonic-title would have deserved at least 7 or 8 out of 10 points if you ask me. This one is the only 3D Sonic game I actually enjoyed, and that’s mainly _because_ of the controls, which worked fine for me. Just tilting the Wiimote to the left and right while Sonic keeps running on rails feels like a true Sonic-experience, Sonic Team should have made the 3D-Sonics this way from the beginning on imo^^. Yes, the game is really hard, I had to play some missions over and over again to get a gold or… Read more »

RPG Expert
Guest
RPG Expert

Personally, I think SA and heroes are much better. At least you actually control sonic in those games. BTW, I heard sonic Next-Gen is coming out in a PC version. Is this true? And don’t tell me I’m an idiot for wanting it. Just anwser the question please.

Space Harrier
Guest
Space Harrier

Thanks for the impressions on this one. I just bought a Wii, and was thinking about getting it but now I’m definitely going to rent first. It can’t be as bad as Sonic Adventure 2 or Sonic Heroes, right?

Gene
Guest
Gene

There is a disturbing trend of control issues popping up with practically every single Wii game, even one that is as polished as WarioWare. Motion sensing is either far too loose or “sensed” far too arbitrarily by the sensor bar. That sometimes leads to frustration. In this case, it led to hangups. And as anyone who’s played a Sonic game knows, hangups in his levels are no fun at all. Unfortunately, the problem with the past several games is that the developers themselves implement hangups in the game. In this particular game, the hangups were caused not by the developers,… Read more »

RPG Expert
Guest
RPG Expert

I saw this coming a mile away. This game is just the sonic rush bonus stage spruced up. End of story.

Guitar Hero II Art 

For a long time I resisted playing the original Guitar Hero. I had read the rave reviews. I had heard the buzz from friends. But I dismissed it out of hand, figuring that it was somehow beneath me. Being an accomplished guitarist, why would I want to pay 80 dollars to play songs on a fake guitar that I can already play in real life? So when Guitar Hero II came out, I hardly gave it a thought. But after a considerable amount of urging from my older brother, I finally decided to give it a shot. What have I learned? 1) I should listen to my brother more often; 2) Guitar Hero II is an absolute blast, perhaps even more so for those who can play the guitar; and 3) This is the best and most broadly appealing multiplayer videogame I have ever owned, a fact amply demonstrated by the parade of new visitors I have had.

The game works as follows. Players wield a two-thirds-size guitar controller sporting five colored buttons on the neck, a strum bar, and a whammy bar. Players choose a song (e.g., Heart's Crazy on You) at one of four difficulty levels, watch notes scroll down the screen and play them when they reach the bottom by pressing the corresponding button and hitting the strum bar. Successfully hitting sequences of star-shaped notes fills a "star power" meter, which when activated—done by raising the guitar vertically in true rock star fashion—temporarily doubles point values while drawing thunderous applause from the crowd. Rounding out the ensemble is a whammy bar that lets players freely bend the pitch on long notes and chords, whether for individual artistic flair or to gain "star power" when used on star-shaped notes.

The net effect of Guitar Hero II's gameplay combined with its unique controller is the utterly kick-butt feeling of performing live rock music in front of a crowd of screaming fans. During my first gaming session, which lasted five hours, I was jumping around and gesticulating like a deranged rock star in no time, and I would have played even longer if my arm muscles hadn't cramped up. The control scheme comes together beautifully to create a feeling of pure exhilaration that is unlike anything I have experienced in a game save for the original Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero II Screenshot

The single-player mode is organized around a musical tour through eight cities, with five songs per city. The fifth song in each set is revealed only after giving in to the audience's cry for an encore. With some of the best songs being saved for the end of each set, the encore setup pays off incredibly well. More than once I found myself beating my fists on the ground and loudly exclaiming my gleeful disbelief upon getting to play a particularly awesome and unexpected song for an encore. The single-player mode works its magic best if the player hasn't seen the full song list beforehand, so I would recommend that declared rock ‘n roll fans keep themselves in the dark initially.

The 40 songs that comprise the main game cover a range of classic and modern rock music, from Van Halen to Guns ‘n Roses to Rage Against the Machine. In addition, there are 17 bonus tracks from a variety of lesser-known bands, some of which are surprisingly fun and interesting. The music in Guitar Hero II is a bit heavier and more difficult than the original overall, but the increased complexity is partly offset by a much more forgiving system for hammer-ons and pull-offs that makes it much easier to execute fast passages.

Where Guitar Hero II really shines is in its three multiplayer modes (face-off, pro face-off, and cooperative) and, having recently played through Guitar Hero, this is easily the biggest area of improvement over the original. In face-off mode, players trade note sequences and occasionally play in unison. Unlike the original, however, Guitar Hero II actually lets players pick their own difficultly level independently of one another, making it much more fun for people at different skill levels to play together. Pro-face off mode lets players compete note for note on the same difficulty, at last providing a level playing field on which to settle disputes with friends over who is better on a given song. But my favorite by far is the new cooperative mode in which each song is split into two parts—guitar/bass or guitar/rhythm. Contrary to my expectations, the bass and rhythm parts were often just as satisfying to play in their own right as the main guitar part, so players shouldn't worry too much about not getting to "take lead."

Guitar Hero II Screenshot

But as amazingly fun as Guitar Hero II is, the game is not perfect. The controller could be sturdier and the whammy bar needs to be more durable. The start button ought to have been moved or depressed to help prevent accidental pausing, and the cord should either be longer or the guitar should just be wireless out of the box.

By far the biggest weakness, however, is the static song list. I personally loved the music, but even the best songs get old after a while. Given the game's high cost, it would be nice if there were some way to customize the music more to one's own taste or to purchase songs à la carte for a minimal extra cost. The forthcoming Xbox 360 version will have downloadable content, presumably in the form of additional songs. Ideally, Harmonix will give the Guitar Hero treatment to a wide variety of songs and make them available for individual purchase and download. Of course, this is not feasible for the hard drive-lacking PS2, but it would be a fantastic direction for the series to take.

Guitar Hero II is one of those rare games that can engage players who would not normally be disposed towards playing videogames. I recently competed in a Guitar Hero tournament—which I won, incidentally—at a local bar and was amazed by how many females and non-gamer-looking types showed up to compete. Any game that can bring such a diversity of people together is doing something right. How long the fun lasts will partly depend on how players handle hearing the same songs over and over again, and on keeping friends and family involved in the multiplayer. For me, the ultimate success of Guitar Hero II's formula lies in the pick-up-and-play accessibility of its controller, the strong selection of catchy songs, and the game's uncanny ability to make players feel like they're actually rocking out on stage. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of

Hero from Dragon Quest VIII 

I’ve spent almost my entire life in Oregon, a state whose populace has a reputation for being both laid back and outdoorsy. While I’ve definitely mastered the laid back part, I never quite got a handle on the outdoors thing. I love the scenery around here, but I usually prefer not to be in it. Strange, then, that I feel totally comfortable spending countless hours wandering the simulated countryside in Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, a lengthy old-school role-playing game (RPG) wrapped in modern visuals that manages to feel like more than the sum of its parts.

Dragon Quest VIII puts players in the role of Hero, a young castle guard on a quest to find Dhoulmagus, the evil magician who destroyed his castle, placed its inhabitants in suspended animation, and transformed King Trode and his daughter Princess Medea into a toad-like monster and a horse. Joined by Yangus, a dumpy ex-thief with a Cockney accent, Jessica, a sultry redhead from an aristocratic country family, and Angelo, a suave Templar with a penchant for women and gambling, Hero will engage in a long series of adventures in order to restore his kingdom.

The game possesses a distinct charm that can largely be credited to the character and monster designs of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. Each character comes to life with clean lines, bold colors, and expressive faces, from King Trode’s indignant glare, to Yangus’s confused gape, to Angelo’s mischievous smirk. The monsters are some of the strangest and most amusing I’ve seen in a game, ranging from a smiling blue blob that looks like a piece of candy, to bullfinches, buffalogres, and bunicorns (the names should give a clue as to what they look like).

Dragon Quest VIII Screenshot

Although the characters and monsters are rendered in 3D—a la Toy Story—they retain a distinctly 2D look—a la Mulan—an effect that seamlessly blends Toriyama’s 2D designs with the 3D game world. Unlike many games that strive to be as realistic as possible, Dragon Quest VIII’s comparatively simple visuals and consistent physical scale (i.e., characters and objects stay the same size between all the game’s environments) lend the game a satisfying artistic coherence.

The gameplay sticks to tried-and-true RPG conventions. Characters enter a town to purchase weapons and armor, with important locations conveniently marked—shield sign for the armor store, sword sign for the weapon store. The party ventures outside to fight in random monster battles and acquire experience and gold. Once strong enough, the group defeats a boss in a nearby dungeon, obtains some essential item or piece of information and moves on to new areas and towns. Simple? Indeed. Yet, even after 100 hours it never got old for me.

Aside from the standard battle commands—attack, heal, etc.—players can “psyche up” a character to raise tension, which can be stored for a more powerful attack on the next turn. Repeatedly psyching up characters will whip them into a state of “super high tension,” making them look something like a demon about to undergo nuclear fission, and unleashing one of these attacks is one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Other fun battle moves include Jessica’s ability to use “sex appeal” (an upgradeable stat) to hypnotize enemies, and Angelo’s use of “charm” to similar effect.

Even with such powerful “assets,” I still found my party getting wiped out quite a bit. Fortunately, however, instead of forcing players to start over from their last save, the game merely strips the party of half its gold and transports everyone back to the nearest church. Having experienced the profound frustration of losing several hours of progress in an RPG after dying unexpectedly in battle, this feature came as an enormous blessing. While I have since been informed that this system has been a part of the Dragon Quest series from the beginning, it still felt downright revolutionary to me.

 Dragon Quest VIII Screenshot

Where Dragon Quest VIII truly distinguishes itself from other RPGs is in the size and scope of its world. Beautiful and lush landscapes stretch for miles in every direction, and walking between towns feels like an adventure unto itself, with fields, mountains, deserts, and oceans. Everything is woven into one staggeringly expansive environment, and more than any other game (only Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, often noted for its massive world, can compare), Dragon Quest VIII conveys a sense of true-to-life scales of distance and sheer physical space. Standing outside the first town, I spotted an orange patch far off in the distance. As I headed towards it for the next 10 minutes I watched it gradually grow in size until I was standing in front of an enormous tree with autumn-colored leaves. Even the most distant mountains form part of a continuous world open for exploration.

The music, some of which was recorded by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, sounds superb. As good as synthesizers are at imitating the sound of real instruments, I must admit that nothing quite compares to the real thing. The soothing pastoral melody that bathes the overworld and the noble refrain that fills the cathedrals particularly stand out. A few additional musical tracks would have helped reduce the inevitable repetition that occurs in a long RPG such as this, but the quality mostly makes up for the lack of quantity.

I’ll readily acknowledge that Dragon Quest VIII is not the best-looking game out there, nor the most exciting, nor does it have the best story. The loading times could be faster, the music could be more varied, and leveling up could be easier and less time consuming. For some players, these issues may well constitute valid reasons to avoid the game. For my part, however, these weaknesses completely evaporated next to the game’s sheer addictiveness and heartwarming charm. If lengthy leveling up forced me to stick around longer than the content justified, then I sure as heck wasn’t complaining. In the end, Dragon Quest VIII succeeds brilliantly by taking time-tested traditional-RPG gameplay and placing it in a uniquely vast and beautiful world that is a pure joy to explore and inhabit. Exploring the world of a videogame may not count toward my Oregonian outdoors credentials, but at least it more than fills up my laid back quota for the year. Rating: 9 out of 10

3
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Wow! Come on man just because there aren’t saves at ridiculous places and you cant beat the game doesn’t mean you can diss this game! This game is a type of game to be valued because games as good as this are only created once in a life time! My score to
this game and aswell as the music is 10/10.

RPG Expert
Guest
RPG Expert

I too, think this is a worthy game. However, problems I have with it is that fact that there’s lack of save points and in order to use the wing or cast zoom in order to get back to town to save or use an inn, you have to get out of the dungeon your in. These problems can be a living nightmare if you are near death and at the end of a dungeon fixing to fight a boss. Take doulmagus, who I am stuck at while i’m writing my review. He’s such a big boss that they give… Read more »

Skeleton
Guest
Skeleton

Brandon describes DQVIII’s gameplay as ‘tried and true’ and ‘time tested.’ And in many respects, he’s right. The Japanese-RPG has remained relatively unchanged from its SNES days, relying on conventions that seem to, somehow, attract the masses. According to Wikipedia DQVIII sold over 3 million copies in its first week in Japan. Such success is phenomenal, and while most of it can be attributed to the DQ brand-name, there’s no question that the genre itself has a pretty large fan-base. Thus, a resistance to change, or shaking up the formula, is inevitably taken with trepidation. However, that can only result… Read more »