After years of near-misses on the Gameboy Advance, Sonic Rush was the shot of adrenaline the series so badly needed. It might not have nailed the visual style, and the music was an unexpected change of pace, but it packed blistering speed with balanced, refined level design and new mechanics that added the depth needed to keep players coming back after they had finished off the last boss.
Enter Sonic Rush Adventure. The name alone will send up a red flag that Sega and Dimps are trying to fix what ain't broke. Adding adventure elements is a sure way to irk hardcore fans, and exploring a watery world of isolated islands may conjure up unpleasant memories of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. It's true that Sega has changed a lot in an effort to make this a more protracted experience. What's even more surprising is that they've been largely successful.
Luckily, Sonic Rush Adventure delivers a game that will have some real staying power for hardcore fans, and will at least keep the more casual players amused for a few hours longer than usual
This new format does not borrow from Sonic Adventure at all. Instead it sticks closer to the basics. Between levels, you'll pilot four different watercraft via four different action-oriented mini-games played with the touch screen. These take the place of the excellent touch screen Special Stages from the first DS game, and, at their best, are just as much fun.
Generally you'll be hopping quickly from one level to the next, but occasionally you'll need to collect "Material" won by scoring ranks in the action stages. This means you'll likely have to replay levels from time to time, which some players might find to be a chore. Luckily with levels this well designed, most won't mind.
In fact, replaying stages may be one of Sonic Rush Adventure's most rewarding experiences. The level design is very well balanced, and playing to earn high ranks or record times is hopelessly addictive. It's also a relief to see that these levels do a much better job of capturing Sonic's style. They're beautiful to look at and pack a good amount of variety, something the first Rush needed badly. It's a shame the developers still dropped the ball with the competitive play by not allowing both players to select the same character. This could have been the best 2-player Sonic yet.
Hideki Naganuma's soundtrack, a noisy breakbeat collage of samples, was probably the most controversial thing about Sonic's first DS game. While some people loved it, most seemed to feel that the Jet Grind Radio composer's music didn't mesh well with Sonic's style. Sega plays it safe in the sequel with a more pop-centric soundtrack with only light touches of the first's sound. It feels a bit too much like a compromise, though, as the soundtrack neither impresses nor offends.
The wild 3D boss stages return, this time spanning both screens. These fights are a big step up from Sonic's last handheld outing, with some genuinely clever fights, and larger stages that at times almost seem to hint at a fully 2.5D Sonic game. Each of these fights is different and memorable, and are some of the strongest bosses in the hedgehog's history.
It's great to see Dimps and Sonic Team really hit the bull's-eye. The classic Sonic games stand among the best 2D platformers ever, and it's been difficult to see the franchise lose much of its former glory. Luckily, Sonic Rush Adventure delivers a game that will have some real staying power for hardcore fans, and will at least keep the more casual players amused for a few hours longer than usual.