Hands-on with Sonic Team's long-awaited, 2D Sonic side-scroller.
Preview by (Email)
June 13th 2005
After 11 years, Sonic Team has finally produced a brand new 2D Sonic installment. While it's a mystery to me why they've taken so long to deliver, Sonic Rush makes up for their long-awaited return. Although there have been other handheld iterations of the famed hedgehog, hitting the GBA, N-Gage, and the NeoGeo Pocket, none were directly handled by Sega. And to be fair, all of them were exceptionally awesome games, though as any Sonic purist will admit that it makes all the difference when Sonic Team is at the helm.
One of the initial things I noticed about Sonic Rush is that it actually uses both of the Nintendo DS's screens for gameplay simultaneously. While it seems like an obvious concept for a side-scroller, it's been rarely put into practice on the DS. In fact, Yoshi's Touch & Go is one of the only other games of this type to come to mind, but the action transitions across both screens much more frequently in Rush. For example, if Sonic hits a spring and soars upward, he'll go straight from the bottom screen to the top, and vice versa if he plunges down a pit or a ramp. Many of the loop-de-loops cross from the top to bottom screen and back again. This appears to open up twice as many potential routes through each stage, and you'll often be speeding along the top screen, notice a path you could have taken on the bottom--maybe even looking a little longingly at power-up items or cool enemies now out of reach! Yes folks, the replay value is going to be huge.
In a way, the simultaneous use of both screens for pure gameplay hearkens back to some of Nintendo's classic dual-screen Game & Watch handhelds, like Oil Panic and a version of Donkey Kong. Although those early LCD games also featured gameplay elements crossing from one screen into another, they didn't scroll at a blistering speed; or at all, come to think of it.
Sonic Rush is a great example of a game that incorporates "2.5D" elements. To illustrate, the backgrounds are rendered in 2D sprite form, but many of the foreground elements, including Sonic himself, are actually rendered in polygons. This allows for some great character animations when Sonic spins around doing his various maneuvers, seamlessly showing his character model from all angles. It's a flashy effect that certainly makes Sonic's respective gymnastics look better than ever. Meanwhile, you get all the speed and simplicity of focus that the classic Sonic games are known for.
This merging of two styles was best showcased during the demo's end boss encounter, where Sonic has to take on what looks like a huge fighter plane cockpit attached to a metal tentacle. Sonic can walk in all four directions (including limited movement towards and away from the player) to avoid the boss's attacks and set up his homing strikes, but the action remains mostly 2D. You can't walk around to the side or back of the enemy, for example. The boss is modeled in polygons like Sonic, and fluidly animated. I didn't notice any dynamic camera moves as prominently featured in the 2.5D classics such as Radiant Silvergun and Viewtiful Joe. However, with the action being so frantic, they'd probably just get in the way.