This article was originally published at Kombo.com on December 10, 2007.
When Sonic and Tails find out that Dr. Eggman is up to no good again, the two set out to get to the bottom of his evil plans. They then bump into Knuckles and Rouge who have teamed up to track down the Chaos Emeralds and missing Master Emerald. Meanwhile, Eggman pursues Shadow with Metal Sonic and explains that Eggman Nega is actually the one behind the new threat. Say, just what is Silver doing with the missing Chao (and why is Espio following him)? The story unfolds through five zones of platformer racing fun in this sequel to last year's Sonic Rivals.
Sonic Rivals 2 preserves plenty of material from its predecessor. The familiar head-to-head racing aspect is firmly intact, providing the same levels of challenge and speed seen previously. There's nothing wrong with a little repetition when the result plays so well, however. The game does mix up the formula at times. Zones are broken up into four parts this time versus three parts as seen in the original Rivals. Acts 1 and 3 are the familiar races, and Act 4 is a boss act where players try to be the first to destroy Eggman's latest weapons, but Act 2 is a one-on-one battle that uses the same gameplay as found in the racing acts, and confines the action to a single closed room instead of a Point A to Point B path. Characters can use items and direct homing attacks on each other with ultimate victory going to whomever can pummel ringless opponents again and again. Other main gameplay tweaks include time attacks, hidden Chao collecting, acquiring a certain amount of rings, and other such things that attempt to keep the racing aspect fresh.
The offensive and defensive items from Rivals (fireballs, ice blocks, wind tornadoes, and more) are back in action along with a few new tricks. One major change involves the characters' trademark moves, as these tricks (Sonic's superspeed, Shadow's Chaos Control, etc.) are now activated not by grabbing a special item, but by collecting enough rings to fill up the on-screen power meter. The returning cast maintain their previous moves, but the newcomers each get something new to do, such as Tails' limited flight abilities and Espio's invisibility maneuver. Card collection is another returning aspect from the original game, but this time the cards are handled in an Achievement-like manner. Cards are awarded for things like completing a race with lots of rings, attacking opponents multiple times, and even running a certain cumulative distance. The game tracks all kinds of statistics regarding attack and distance counts as well as the more familiar win/loss list. This data is available to curious speedsters from the game's main menu.
The result of including the battle mode is a mixed bag, as the battle acts showcase just how much the Sonic Rivals game engine was not designed with sudden stops and directional changes in mind. These characters are born to run, and any gameplay aspect that impedes that idea has the potential to derail the experience. It's almost as if the game doesn't quite know how to handle delicate platforming maneuvers, as characters can become stuck inside walls or floors briefly while trying to slow down or turn around during battle acts. The game is an equal opportunity frustrater if nothing else; CPU-controlled opponents can suffer the same stuck fate as well.
The original cast of Sonic Rivals is joined by familiar characters from elsewhere in Sonic's world. Characters work together in two-person teams which locks players into what has become a longterm problem in modern Sonic the Hedgehog games; namely, forcing players to play as someone other than Sonic himself. Act 3 always involves racing with the sidekick characters rather than the main attractions, meaning that players who want to run with Sonic will be forced to fly with Tails, too. Moreover, exploring the entire story means completing the game once with each character taking the lead, meaning that it'll take eight complete runs to the end to see everything. That means sitting through the sometimes lengthy story bits again and again as characters taunt one another on the way to stop Eggman. With all eight playable characters working towards the same approximate goal it seems as if there's not much of a reason for the bulk of the competition, and if the characters would just stop trying to outrace one another for a moment and actually compare notes then they'd learn that they are all on the same side of the conflict.
Sonic Rivals 2 is a welcome sequel to last year's adventure. The same sense of uncorked speed provides plenty of excitement, but an oddly conceived battle brawl mode and constant breaks for more dialog weigh down the action and break momentum all too often. Fans of the original game will definitely enjoy this, but anyone interested in a platformer/racing title for the PlayStation Portable should check this one out. It's a solid speedy experience despite a few frustrations.