Posted on 16 August 2019
11 years ago, one of the Sega Genesis' last hurrahs and best games around was released: Sonic & Knuckles, the final Sonic the Hedgehog game on the Genesis. Thanks to its still unduplicated lock-on technology, it became an expansive quest and a must-own game for many Genesis owners. It also marks a major turning point for the series, one which many people feel Sonic has never fully recovered from. Enter Sonic Rush, which does little to change all that, but in many ways is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the Sonic Advance titles the GBA has offered up on three separate occasions. Read on for our full review.
Play as either Sonic the Hedgehog or Blaze the Cat
Defeat Dr. Eggman and Dr. Eggman Nega across a rift in the space-time continuum
Fill the new Tension Gauge by defeating enemies and pulling off cool moves to activate Super Boost at will
Twist and loop across both screens for even crazier gameplay
Use the stylus to collect Chaos Emeralds in new touch-screen powered bonus rounds
2-D look with a 3-D feel… battle bosses in a whole new perspective!
Battery-backed; saves one game save file
Even if you've played Sonic the Hedgehog games of yesteryear religiously, be wary, for a lot has changed. Sure, there's running, jumping, spinning and rolling, but it's what Sonic Team has built onto the top of all that which will leave your head spinning. Sonic Rush is easily the most extreme Sonic game to date, with all sorts of crazy stuff going on that you can't possibly comprehend before switching the game on.
But let's start with the basics. Making your way through each zone is as simple in nature as it ever was, with moving from Point A to Point B being your biggest concern. However, perhaps to better suit the game's top-to-bottom-to-top screen-switching style of gameplay, there are an awful lot of times where you wind up bouncing off of a spring and shooting off in the opposite direction, except up or down a winding ramp. This maximizes the vertical orientation of the stage while keeping the horizontal length down, and while it achieves the desired effect, it does more than its part in making following all the action onscreen more difficult.
Returning from the Sonic Advance series is the ability to perform aerial and grind tricks. Depending on the method Sonic uses to launch into the air, or anytime Sonic is grinding, you can pull off tricks with various combinations of B, A, and R. These tricks now serve a greater purpose, as they can fill up your Tension Gauge, which can be used for a limited extra burst of speed.
While it's a nifty little feature, it feels unnecessary. When moving in Super Boost mode, Sonic can automatically take out certain enemies just by running through them. However, long-time Sonic fans will know that is nothing new, having been seen in the many times more powerful transformation into Super Sonic in games past. What's more, yet again Sonic Team has denied Sonic the ability to change into Super Sonic at will by retrieving the seven Chaos Emeralds, instead using it only for the final boss battle, which is in itself greatly similar to the final boss battle in Sonic & Knuckles, so Super Sonic's single use in this game is laughable at best.
Meanwhile, the newbie of the series, Blaze the Cat, is introduced to the storyline by way of a rift in the space-time continuum that leaves Sonic (and Blaze) with two Eggmans (Eggmen?) to contend with. The same rift threatens to collapse the two universes into one, destroying much. Blaze, much to her chagrin, is befriended by Cream the Rabbit (something I suspect most folks would have a natural aversion to) and reluctantly accepts her assistance in navigating the unfamiliar territory so that Blaze can recover the Sol Emeralds, her dimension's variation of the Chaos Emeralds.
Blaze, as you might have expected, controls similarly to Sonic, with a few modifications. The zones are delivered in a mixed-up order, making gameplay with Blaze just a bit harder. While Blaze can't spin dash per se, she can rev up and use a Flame Tornado which works just the same. Everything else is also pretty much the same except that she has the ability to temporarily slow her descent using her boots as rockets. Basically, the two-character dynamic is simply a replay excuse, as you must complete the game with both Sonic and Blaze as well as collect all of the Chaos and Sol Emeralds. However, Blaze has it a little easier, since the Sol Emeralds were stolen by Eggman. Simply beating the level's boss rewards her with an emerald, while Sonic must collect the Chaos Emeralds via special stages.
Speaking of the special stages, the halfpipe from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has returned, but with a new twist: players must use the stylus to direct Sonic's side-to-side movement, enabling him to move as quickly as you'd imagine he could. The caveat to this is that there is no jumping, save for angling off the edge off the halfpipe and flipping overhead briefly. Collecting mass amounts of rings is the ultimate goal here, just like in Sonic 2, except that now Sonic also can collect special rings worth 5 rings, hit switches to generate additional rings, attack enemies when you touch them with the stylus, and most importantly, launch off of trick springs.
When launching off a trick spring, forward progress will be temporarily halted, and Sonic will leap overhead while numbers will appear on screen. If you touch all the numbers in the correct order, Sonic will perform a trick and collect bonus rings. Pass or fail, the round will continue until Sonic reaches a checkpoint and either moves on or is dumped to the nearest exit based on his current number of rings.
What really drives Sonic Rush for most of the game is the in-your-face extreme attitude the game delivers at full force. It seems like every couple of seconds Sonic is thrust into some new game mechanic that wildly changes the gameplay. Whether it's hang-gliding, parachuting, or something else altogether, you'll find yourself adapting on the fly to something you weren't expecting to happen.
And speaking of what you weren't expecting, there are still a few key areas where unnecessary bottomless pits are thrown right at you, causing unfair and annoying deaths. This was a staple of the Sonic Advance series, and although it is a rarer occurrence here, it still could have used some work. With the top-to-bottom screen mechanic, you might assume that you're in safe territory as long as you're on the top screen. Because there will always be something to catch you on the bottom screen, right? Wrong. You're never safe, and this hurts the speed of the game. Another element that slows down gameplay is the addition of arena-style enemy battles, where Sonic is trapped in a room and forced to defeat all the enemies before he can move on. It grinds the gameplay to a halt, like sledding down a snowy hill when the spring thaw comes, halfway from the bottom.
Boss battles are of a new breed in Sonic Rush and an exciting aspect of the gameplay. They utilize the game's 3D engine to deliver bosses that attack from all sides, even while Sonic's movements remain limited to 2D. Still, they are similar to standard Sonic bosses in that you must attack Eggman's ship (though it is now housed inside a bigger robot boss) and deliver a direct number of hits in order to defeat it (usually six.) The bosses are creative, but one boss is fought a second time during the game (with a couple of minor upgrades.)
Perhaps the continually most disappointing aspect of the game is that the zone names, like in the Sonic Advance series, are mostly terrible. Some of the most flagrant offenders are the Huge Crisis Zone, and worst of all, the Night Carnival Zone. (Genesis gamers will easily remember the Carnival Night Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Worst, Sonic Team had a decade to improve on the formula, and didn't even come up with anything half as inventive as the original Carnival Night Zone.) All things considered this is a minor point, but one that will gnaw at the subconscious of any longtime Sonic fan.
The graphics are the real star of the show here. Although they borrow heavily from the style designed for the Sonic Advance series on GBA, characters and environments are actually rendered in 3D, and not simply lifted from GBA. Everything is bright and vibrantly colored. Only during boss battles and other areas where the game gets a close-up of the characters and their surroundings do things start to look a bit blocky, but that's even minor.
And nowhere is the game's "extreme" attitude more evident than in the background music. Gone completely are the sometimes-peaceful melodies that accompanied the less frantic zones in the Genesis games, all replaced by music you would sooner expect to find in a game based on Poochie (the proactive, in-your-face mutt from The Simpsons that joined the cast of Itchy & Scratchy for all of two episodes.) Not that this necessarily is a bad thing, but it certainly took me by surprise. A little variety can't hurt either, and Sonic Rush features none of that in the music department. Lots of classic sound effects are in play (nothing else would sound quite right in many cases) and voices are now provided by the voice actors from the Saturday morning Sonic X cartoon series. I personally prefer the voices just a little to the old ones, but it's a close call.
Replay value is mostly neglected, with Blaze's quest thrown in seemingly as an afterthought. Since there is no way to transform into Super Sonic (or Super Blaze, for that matter), the only reason you'll play again is just for the fun of it or to earn a higher ranking on the individual stages.
Sonic Rush is still a little too out there for me to appreciate as fully as the classic games on the Sega Genesis, but it is a big, big step in the right direction, with improved gameplay mechanics and greatly improved level design. There are still too many classic elements missing for it to go down in the record books with Sonic's early adventures, though. If you've ever liked any Sonic 2D platformer, including the Sonic Advance series, this is a good buy. It's also for anyone looking for a great game that doesn't entirely revolve around the touch screen. It's not for everyone, but I recommend at least giving it a good look.