What’s more, the game finds some ingenious uses for the gimmick-friendly Wii controller. The sheer amount of tilting and bashing would be enough, but you’re also expected to ‘pump’ the remote, pull it back and push forwards to fire catapults, and swing it wildly from left to right to make ropes move. It’s fun, and don’t forget that gizmos – jump-pads, springs, zip-lines and the like – have always been a big part of Sonic’s appeal. Sonic and the Secret Rings hasn’t, and in terms of simply flinging the hedgehog around the screen at a pace that makes your eyes water, this instalment does things better than any since Sonic Adventure.
Finally, there are some interesting mechanics here – and not in the ‘interesting but useless’ sense of the Chao-raising or fishing sub-games of other 3D Sonic titles. By completing levels, Sonic gathers new skills, which can be equipped via one of four customizable magic rings to improve the hedgehog’s speed, enhance his attack capabilities or give him new powers that can be kicked in at the press of a button. In effect, each magic ring becomes an optimised Sonic setup, enabling you to use one for levels where speed is of the essence, and another for levels where the enemy count gets scarey.
Nice work, Sega. If we were marking Sonic and the Secret Rings for good ideas and a solid basic grasp of what makes Sonic tick, it would score fairly highly. The problem is that, while all these fundamentals are all pretty great, the real nitty-gritty of the game design is all over the shop. The first issue is that the game runs so heavily on rails, and that the camera is completely fixed and relatively dumb. The same criticism was made of Sonic Adventure when it first appeared on Dreamcast, with its huge sections where you felt you had completely lost control of the character, but here it’s much, much worse.
There are critical points where you either don’t have time to react to an upcoming peril, or you have to fight against the fixed camera in order to defeat a specific baddy or grab a certain object. You can brake to halt the hedgehog’s progress, or trigger a special slow-down power to give you room to breather, but there will be numerous occasions when you can only watch helpless as Sonic propels himself into a waiting cactus or proves unable to escape a rampaging dinosaur. And when I’m fighting three vicious overgrown carnivorous plants inside an arena, I don’t really want Sonic to have to stumble blindly backwards into danger just because it’s the only way to get the gits on screen for a target lock-on. Surely there was a more intelligent way to handle the camera?
To make things worse, the controls are far from perfect. The basic left/right tilt is fine after a couple of level’s practice, but I was still struggling with the jump-attack mechanism several hours on. If an enemy is targeted with a red reticule, thrusting the remote forwards attacks him. However, if the target is green or not visible, the same movement triggers a boost jump. As the reticule blinks on and off depending on the current angle of the camera, this can be a recipe for disaster, particularly when sections require precision jumping or a chain of lock-on attacks to be performed.