Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sonic Rush Adventure (video game)

Platform: Nintendo DS
Developers: Dimps, Sonic Team
Genre: Action, Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: September 18th, 2007

I'll be honest; I almost didn't play this game at all. I played and reviewed Sonic Rush a ways back and the short version is that I hated it. A friend assured me Rush Adventure was better, but Rush classic was so tedious, so unfair and so crushingly boring that I ended up putting off Rush Adventure for well over a year and a half. Despite saying I'd play it, it was kind of a question mark for a while there. I may be a big Sonic fan, but I'm not looking to suffer any crappy games just because of that.

Well, I did eventually end up playing this and thankfully my friend was right. Sonic Rush Adventure is a better game than Sonic Rush. But while there's significant improvement to the formula here, some of the old problems from Rush just haven't gone away.

Visually, the game looks about the same as Rush. There hasn't really been a jump in overall graphics quality. Really, the most significant change is the stage themes. For the most part, it sticks to a more nature-y, islands feel; so you won't find any city levels, carnivals or casino levels here. The most non-natural the levels get is a machine labyrinth island and some ruins. That's actually rather fitting since, you know, the entire game takes place on a chain of islands. It does make for a more muted impression though; there's a decent chance the look of any given stage isn't really going to stick with you.

The sound is similarly unimpressive. None of it is actually bad, but you won't remember any of the themes either. It's kind of sad, but Dimps really hasn't put enough effort into the music for it to really resonate. The classics had catchy, great music that stuck with you long after. Dimps Sonic hasn't really had that. Just kind of samey. That doesn't change here. Thankfully, the worst offender from the sound last time is mostly gone; the voice clips that were so plentiful in Rush are pared down so far that there really aren't that many at all. Considering it got so bad in Rush that I wanted to inflict bodily harm on Tails, I'd say that's a good thing.

The story is nothing to write home about. Sonic and Tails somehow manage to find themselves transported to Blaze the Cats world. They meet a hyperactive, Australian raccoon named Marine who likes to think of herself as the captain of your crew. Said raccoon quickly grates on your nerves and causes trouble. Meanwhile, some pirates decide it would be a great idea to steal some precious treasures. Naturally, you're tasked with stopping them and getting back home. Blaze also shows up a quarter of the way through.

It's... well, it's passable. On the one hand, it creates a new "friend"; she may be in a different dimension and thus may never appear again, but still. She's also annoying in a way most of Sonics cast is not. On the OTHER hand, for most of the game you're actually fighting against a new villain instead of Eggman. While I love a classic Eggman confrontation, Sonic desperately needs more bad guys to fight against. In fact, I wish Sega would spend as much time trying to make new villains for him as they do trying to make new friends. So it all kind of balances itself out and the story's not offensively bad. It's just not really great either.

Of course, Eggman eventually shows up along with his Nega counterpart to be revealed as the ultimate mastermind for the "Last Story" of this game. I know this is technically a spoiler but come on; don't even pretend you didn't see that coming. This really doesn't work. He literally shows up out of nowhere for the last stage after next to no set-up or involvement, exposits his plan and is then swiftly defeated by you. There was no point to it other than to try and get Eggman involved in some way because he's the classic villain. They should have just left him out.

The gameplay is where things have improved the most; which is fortunate because that's the area that sank the last game. To get the bad out of the way first, the general way the game is played hasn't really changed. It's still less a platformer and more a runaway train of speed and fury. There's no rhyme or reason to the level design; it's simply sheer madness whizzing by at mach three. This has long been a problem with Sonic since Dimps got a hold of him; there's such a massive emphasis on the speed that levels have become both longer, barren and boring to compensate for it. The games idea of platforming is hopping from platform to platform over a death pit every now and then after long stretches of hitting speed boosters and springs. It's uninteresting; there's nothing to see or do and even if there was you're racing through the level too fast to see or experience it.

Where the level design has improved is in less reliance on nasty tricks. Rush was teeming with unfair death pits, horrid enemy placement and poor structure in general; it was common to be flying by and suddenly there's an enemy in the way with no time to react, run right into a spot where something crushed you with no time to react or to run right into a death pit with, you guessed it, no time to react. For the most part, this has either been toned down or removed.

For their part, Dimps seems to have lessened the ease with which level gimmicks can catch you unaware; back in Rush there were times I'd be going fast, hit a wall and a moving platform would crush me from above before I could do something. There aren't many instances of that here, if any. Enemy placement is still problematic, but things have at least been toned down enough so that you're usually doing something that's slow enough of a pace to notice them ahead of time. You're still going to have instances where you unfairly run into an enemy, but to fix the problem entirely they'd have to either remove enemies entirely from speed sections or completely change the engine. Obviously, neither option is really attractive - and this is the fault of the engine design's reliance on speed over platforming and physics - so at least they struck more of a middle ground.

Where the most improvement lies is with the death pits. That crap was everywhere last time. This time, they're still around, but are less plentiful. There aren't occurrences like in Rush where you'd go flying off a ramp, hit a wall, start falling, see a platform pass to the left, find yourself unable to react and hit a pit. So, they're really less of a factor this go around and Dimps wisely saves any levels with numerous death pits for either optional levels or ones very, very late in the game. I'd rather they were nixed in general, but at least you're not likely to find yourself killed for something that isn't your fault.

All this doesn't fix the engines problems, the over-reliance on speed or the iffy design of the levels in general, but it does kill enough of the frustration that you may actually end up pulling some enjoyment out of the game instead of wanting to toss the DS across the room.

On a final note, it's worth mentioning that for all the games flaws, Dimps did put in efforts to give variety to the overall package. Getting from island to island is a matter of playing a different minigame for each of the four vehicles; and they're all fun enough to keep from dragging things down. Chaos Emeralds are typically garnered from waterbike races, as well, which is a fun enough twist on the old formula as opposed to adding some poorly conceived special stages. There are even missions to undertake for Sol Emeralds or customizations to the home island.

On top of that, there's a feeling of exploration to the world map; since you're exploring the seas for islands, there's plenty to run across, including close to twenty hidden islands that are extra one act levels. They reuse art resources from the main levels - this would have REALLY been something else if they all had slightly unique art, even if it was only a matter of palette changes - but it's still more levels to race through on top of the core game. It's a great idea, just one I wish had been implemented back during the era of the classics, when level design was top notch, instead of here where it's just a bit of a diversion. But, alas.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

This wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. There were still issues with the game - mostly stemming from how the Rush series is done in general - but there were enough improvements that some enjoyment could actually be dug from it. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon, like playing the original. Now if only they would stop focusing on speed and put more attention on how the classics did things, we'd be in business.

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