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Mini-Review: Sonic Rush

Sonic the HedgehogBefore I tear into the new Nintendo DS title Sonic Rush I must state up front that I like the game.  It's fun and I recommend it for one reason which I'll get to in a moment.  That said, the worst thing about Sonic Rush is that it's guilty of not meeting my expectations.  That's a terrible piece of criticism to lob at a video game.  How can a video game expect to meet everybody's hopes and dreams?  Although it's an unfair verdict, I feel justified in saying it because while Sonic Rush is certainly enjoyable in parts, it's not everything it could have been and I've come to believe that Sonic Rush is about as good a Sonic the Hedgehog game as we're going to get now.

Sonic the Hedgehog has seen some dark days.  Remember the horrors of the mid-to-late 1990s when Sega shoehorned Sonic and friends into as many substandard games as possible?  Sonic Labyrinth, Sonic Blast, Sonic Drift, Sonic Shuffle... it's like reading off a roll call of shame. The original Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Genesis were about speed, but also reacting to upcoming obstacles and blasting through zones.  They're the perfect twitch games.  While Mario is about jumping and platform perfection, Sonic is about speed and reaction.  After the epic that is Sonic 3 and Knuckles someone calling the shots at Sega lost what Sonic is supposed to be all about.  Maybe it was Sonic Team who lost the mission, maybe it was Sega's wayward management, or maybe it's a combination of factors to blame.  The point is that Sonic changed.  Somewhere along the way he went from the gold standard of speedy twitch gaming to just a mascot that if you hold right on the control pad you'll see some shiny lights and ramps and eventually reach the end of the level.

Sonic RushThat's ultimately where we join Sonic Rush.  Hold down the control pad long enough and you'll reach the end of the level, hurrah hurrah. Multiple paths through levels?  Nope.  Plenty of annoying textual dialog that almost drives forward a stagnant storyline?  Check. Appearances from the ever-growing stock of Sonic cast members that serve no purpose?  You bet.  Like every other Sonic game released since Sonic Adventure, there's an amazing Sonic game begging and pleading to come forward to the foreground.  There's so much potential here that has been wasted and it's exciting to see the little touches of perfection glimmer for just a second before being swallowed up by what Sonic has become.

So, with all that said, here's what you get with Sonic Rush: fourteen medium-length linear 2D Sonic the Hedgehog levels full of loops and ramps, seven 3Desque boss encounters, two playable characters that play identically to one another and traverse the exact same path through the exact same levels, a time attack mode, seven bonus stages in the style of Sonic the Hedgehog 2's bonus half-pipe, and one final hidden level if all seven emeralds are collected.  It conforms to the recent Sonic formula and the levels are fun to race through, but the shining star of Sonic Rush are the boss fights.  For all the standard mediocrity of the 2D levels, it is the boss levels that make this game shine.  In fact, I am recommending this game more for the boss encounters than I am the main levels.

Sonic RushHere's what's so great about the boss battles.  While Sonic stays rooted in two dimensions, the camera swings around or even circles the area, providing key viewpoints on the action at appropriate times.  The bosses themselves mostly lurk just out of reach until they attack and enter Sonic's field of movement, and it is often during these attacks that the camera reveals an oncoming hazard or a boss weak point.  It is during the boss battles that I see that glimmer of the kind of game Sonic used to topline and it's the kind of glimmer I wanted to see more of in Sonic Rush.  Not just because the camera moves, but because it requires paying attention to the action, moving at key moments, and zeroing in on the boss's weak point.  You know, the kind of gameplay that Sonic used to have in spades.

So, here's Sonic Rush.  Unimpressive linear 2D levels, whiny supporting cast, pointless storyline, tacked-on second playable character, the entire game can be cleared in less than two days... and the best damn boss battles of any Sonic game since our hero's glory days.  Come for the boss battles.  Stay for the boss battles.  Study the boss battles.  Love the boss battles.  I believe that it will take a major creative upheaval within Sega and Sonic Team before Sonic returns in a A+++ 100% game, but for now there's Sonic Rush with its little glimmers of brilliance, and these days when it comes to a  Sonic the Hedgehog title, I take what little glimmers I can get.