Polished to a Chaos Emerald's Shine
And speaking of level design, Rush serves up the best paced Sonic levels since the original series. Although they don't seem to pack a lot of secrets hidden throughout, they do offer the right balance of speed and challenge that keep the action flowing (something sorely missed in Advance), but don't leave the player feeling as if he is just holding right and watching the fun (the ultimate pitfall of Sonic Advance 2). These 7 zones are fun to play, varied, and simply feel "right." They are mostly the traditional Sonic tricks, but occasionally they exploit the 2-screen layout for some fun tricks which I shan't spoil.
Emerald hunting has been rethought for Rush as well, and collecting the coveted gems that allow Sonic to go Super is more enjoyable than ever. Entering the special stages is as simple as finding a generator in a level and blowing off some steam with the rush move. The special stages are a variant of Sonic 2's half-pipe course that had the hedgehog dodging spiked balls and collecting rings, but the DS offers its own twist with the addition of touch screen control. The touch screen offers some new precision to the old formula and allows the dastardly level designers to push these obstacle courses to some pretty extreme levels. Luckily it's not usually hard to retry these levels over and over to get them right, and they may be the finest special stages yet in a Sonic game.
Although it's never been a main draw for most fans, Sonic Rush offers up the classic multiplayer modes of old, so players can race against their friends. Races include the single player levels (a la Sonic 2) as well as some short looping course to run laps around (as in Sonic 3). The latter was always a personal favorite because of the sheer perfectionism it encouraged, and it warms my heart to see its return. All of these are available for time attack as well for the antisocial or the player who's simply too good to compete with his friends.
What impressed me perhaps the most, though, was how well this game stands up to in-depth dissection at the hands of an experienced Sonic player when playing for score or time attack. Levels are very well balanced such that the high roads offer rewards, but are also the hardest to stay on. The new tension meter and air-dash mechanics also add some new depth to shaving off those precious fractions of seconds. It seems that these levels are downright refined. Not since Sonic 3 have I so enjoyed picking apart a Sonic game in that impossible quest for a perfect time.
Sonic Rush is a valiant effort, and it seems that Sonic Team and Dimps have learned a great deal with every title they release. Rush shows a degree of refinement and balance that I never expected, and it comes very close to capturing the magic of the originals. If it looked or sounded as good as the Sonics of yore, it could have been the Second Coming of Sonic, but as it stands, it's still a very strong title with a surprising amount of depth and plenty to offer any loyal fan.