The overall result is a game that will have you over the moon one minute, and threatening to throw the remote through the screen in a petulant rage the next. The structure is a little to blame here. The game is sensibly divided into a series of worlds, but each world is further divided into a series of unlockable challenges, which can be accessed once certain other challenges are completed. The best follow the traditional Sonic theme. Get from one end of the level to the other, grabbing rings along the way to maintain your defences, and either avoiding or killing any enemies.
However, other challenges demand that you kill a minimum number of enemies, collect so many rings, avoid smashing jars or complete another mildly tricky and irritating task. It not only means that you are forced to repeat certain sections of the world over and over again, albeit with some tweaks and different objectives, but also that you have to grind away at some of those challenges over and over again until you meet their requirements. When you’ve collected 98 of 99 rings only to run headlong into a suddenly materialising enemy, seconds before the finish line, it’s hard to suppress a furious strop. Don’t get me wrong – Sonic and the Secret Rings can be one of the purest, most exhilarating platform games you’ve played in years. It’s just that it can also be one of the most miserable, off-putting and downright idiotic ones as well.
While I’m moaning, can we have some kind of moratorium on Wii multiplayer mini-game extravaganzas? They’re rapidly becoming the Nintendo equivalent of the ill-conceived deathmatch modes that litter so many Xbox 360 releases. Sonic’s contribution to the form is a mildly wretched spin on the Mario Party board game with poor instructions and a remarkably unexciting range of mini-games to get through. The Pirate Cove board also suffers from some impressively mean penalty squares that hit the hapless player without warning or reason. Expect huge sobbing tantrums if you’re cruel enough to play it with the kids. Also, did I mention the music? I know cheesy eighties rock is part of the whole Hedgehog aesthetic, but does it really have to be as bad and as mindlessly repetitive as this?
Sorry. I love Sonic as much as the next ageing games fan, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Sonic and the Secret Rings still really isn’t good enough to warrant some of the praise it has been getting. It’s visually impressive and it can be absolutely thrilling, but a sizable portion of the game is just no fun at all. It’s not the resurrection of Sonic’s 3D career, and no amount of wishful thinking is going to make it so. At best, it’s just a sign that – with a little more love and a lot more attention to the nitty-gritty detail of gameplay – the hedgehog’s fortunes could be on the mend.
At times the superb visuals and high-speed, back-to-basics gameplay make this the best Sonic console game in years, but sheer game design idiocy stops it all coming together. It’s the best 3D Sonic for a while, but our spikey chum hasn’t quite hit his comeback form yet.