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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Sega's Sonic and the Secret Rings, a Wii-exclusive title that has garnered better feedback than many recent games in the franchise, with some claiming it's "the best Sonic

Danny Cowan, Blogger

February 28, 2007

5 Min Read

This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Sega's Sonic and the Secret Rings, a Wii-exclusive title that some critics are calling "the best Sonic game in recent years." While Sonic the Hedgehog may have served as both mascot and as a flagship series for Sega during the 16-bit era, the franchise suffered a steep decline in the years thereafter. Recent efforts like Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Riders have debuted to disappointing review scores, and releases like Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are widely reported to be practically unplayable due to bugs and serious technical issues. Series fans have since placed their hopes in Sonic and the Secret Rings, a title that Sega promotes as a return to the kind of simple, fast, and fun gameplay that made earlier Sonic games unique and appealing. Judging by the current crop of review scores, this new gameplay focus has worked to the game's advantage. Sonic and the Secret Rings currently weighs in at an average review score ratio of 75% at Gamerankings.com -- the highest review score ratio any title in the series has seen since 2005's Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS. GameZone's Steven Hopper scores Sonic and the Secret Rings at 7.5 out of 10, and notes that its newfound simplicity is its greatest asset. "Sonic and the Secret Rings is certainly a step in the right direction for the waning franchise by having Sonic do what he does best, running at insane speeds," he writes. "The game requires little more from you than fast reflexes, and pretty much does away with the overly frustrating platform-hopping elements that have damaged the series." "While not without some typical problems," he continues, "Sonic and the Secret Rings is the best Sonic game in recent years." Despite some critics' concerns over the implementation of a motion-based control scheme, Hopper assures that it only benefits the title. "The game is very successful at presenting Sonic both in a new way through the Wii’s control scheme, but also remains truer to his 2D roots," he says. "It works so well in Sonic and the Secret Rings that you’ll be left wondering why they haven’t done it this way from the first 3D Sonic exploit." "However, the game is not without its flaws," Hopper warns. "The controls can be a bit unwieldy at first, and it can lead to some frustration." In addition: "The mission design is also pretty weak. While the areas are nicely varied and detailed, you’ll often find yourself running through the exact same areas many times over in order to unlock more areas." "Sonic and the Secret Rings is not without flaws," Hopper concludes, "but it stands as the best Sonic in a good long while, and effectively brings Sonic back to his high-speed days of yore. Sonic fans should give this one a look, as it is possibly the best 3D Sonic ever." At Yahoo! Games, Justin Leeper is also impressed, despite Sonic's string of recent critical failures. "If Sonic and the Secret Rings for Wii is any indication," he begins in his 3.5-out-of-5 star review, "this hedgehog is finally starting to pick up speed again." Leeper praises the control setup and camera system in particular. "This is the over-the-shoulder perspective that Sonic games should've adopted since the advent of 3D," he writes. "Camera issues are few and far between." Leeper admits that there are still a few flaws and some initial awkwardness to be had with the control scheme, but otherwise, Secret Rings is a solid title that hints at better things to come. "Sonic and the Secret Rings isn't perfect, but after Shadow, Sonic Riders, and the next-gen game crushed our spirits, our Sonic expectations were lowered," he notes. "Thankfully, Secret Rings gives us the brand of Sonic action we remember and love, with a modern twist. Using the Wii remote just feels natural, too, and although it's not a monumental success, this is a Sonic console game you can feel proud to own." Matthew Castle of Games Radar, meanwhile, awards Sonic and the Secret Rings a rating of 8 out of 10, noting that its classic-styled gameplay runs deeper than one might expect. "In paying homage to the fan tradition of repeat runs," he says, "Secret Rings reveals itself to be the first Sonic title since the early nineties glory days to actually take the time to think about what made Sonic so popular in the first place." This focus on repeat runs manifests itself in the form of an objectives system, which Castle notes is similar to that found in Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. "Completely new, however," Castle continues, "is the ability system. With an RPG-ish vibe Sonic can stock certain skills that affect how he handles. From simple speed increases to more minor tinkering with Sonic’s skidding distances, the idea is to equip Sonic before each task to give him the best fighting chance." However, despite the good intentions of this attempt at added depth: "many of the 99 skills available feel slightly superfluous; minor adjustments that rarely affect gameplay." Castle ends on a positive note, though. "So where has this hedgehog been all these years?" he asks. "Wherever he was, it’s done him good. This release simultaneously strips Sonic down and bulks him up, reminding us of the gaming glory that once was." Critics believe that while Sonic and the Secret Rings may be flawed, its back-to-basics gameplay design is very effective, and represents a major step forward for the series after years of poorly received sequels and spinoffs. If future Sonic games can capture the essence of what makes Sonic and the Secret Rings fun to play, the franchise could have a bright future ahead.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan

Blogger

Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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