Review: Sonic Rivals (Sony PSP)

Sonic Rivals
Publisher: Sega
Genre: 2.5D Platform Racing
Release Date: 11/16/2006

Even though its been out for nearly 2 years, Sony’s PSP has not yet been privy to a Sonic the Hedgehog game — re-release or original. That finally changed with Sega’s new PSP-exclusive Sonic Rivals, which is a totally new take on the franchise. Well, kinda.

Sonic Rivals is side scrolling racing on rails, in a platform-type world. Think 2.5D platformer with the goal being speed. All of the normal Sonic elements seem to be in place — high speeds, ring collection, big boss battles and platform jumping. But does it work?

1. Story
Eggman has taken control of Onyx Island. His solution for dominance? Turn everything into a trading card! Sonic is skeptical at first, but then Tails does some scientific analysis and finds that indeed Eggman has turned Amy Rose and the Chaos Emeralds and other stuff into cards.

Suddenly Knuckles and Shadow and Silver show up and they want to stop Eggman too, but for some reason they want to race each other to get the cards first. That’s right, they actually prefer to collect the cards separately as some kind of competition instead of fighting Eggman together, so that’s how the game is set up. The characters are racing each other to collect cards.

This might seem like a joke, but this is really the storyline of the game.

Story Rating: .5/10

Although the gameplay is 2D, Sega went for a blocky polygonal look for Sonic Rivals and the result is something that looks barely better than something for PS1. The characters models are clunky, and the environments all seem to be made up of angular chunks that have harsh corners and seams.

Each of the levels has a unique look, mostly consistent with the Sonic universe seen in other games. There is the nighttime neon zone, and the grassy peaceful zone, and the ice zone. The motion and animation are pretty solid, and the game gets pretty speedy at times without any major obstacles to stop up Sonic and the others.

The environments are generally colorful, but with jagged surfaces and sometimes blurry textures. Some of the backgrounds are well done and animated, but some seems like repeated textures.

Overall the game looks dated and doesn’t do a good job of bringing the 2D look of the side scrolling games into 3D

Graphics Rating: 2/10

3. Sound
Sonic Rivals features some nice music that fits the game nicely. The sound effects are typical of the Sonic universe with the classic Ring sound as well as the rev-up speed effect. Overall nothing too notable but nothing offensive.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay
Sega took the Sonic platforming gameplay and put it in a racing environment, with ring collecting, chasm jumping and loop running. Although the game has 3D graphics, the gameplay is strictly 2D and on rails — similar to Pandemonium on PS1. There are parts that weave in and out of the horizontal, but for the most part you are pushing forward the majority of the time.

Running through the levels presents Sonic and his buddies with a variety of ways to boost speed, including zippers, jumping buttons and ziplines. Stringing these together causes Sonic or the others to go extremely fast through the level, and with strategic jumps, this can last a prolonged period of time.

Along the way there are various obstacles that stand in the path of the speed. There are large jumps that need several jumping buttons, or tree stumps that need a button press to acrobatically pass. The placement of these obstacles is largely random, and until each level is memorized, they usually result in a total stop in speed until they are passed.

Therein lies the biggest problem with Sonic Rival’s gameplay. Just as Sonic runs through a bunch of speed enhancers and is going super fast, an obstacle comes out of no where and stops the action. This creates a stop-start feeling throughout each race, and rather than enjoying the long spots of speed, there is constantly a feeling of dread of something coming out of no where to stop it.

Each of the characters has an attack, and attacks can be grabbed in the form of powerups throughout the levels. These include some clichés like ICE BLOCK and SLOW YOU DOWN to the point where even speed enhancers won’t do much to get you moving. These add an element of strategy to the game, as players can either attack or be attacked when close to the opponent. This alone would likely have been enough to stop the action at times, but combined with the randomly placed obstacles, it seems like there is more time spent regaining speed and stopping than moving along at blazing Sonic speeds.

One bright spot are the boss battles, which are grand in scope and get pretty challenging later in the game. Each needs 8 hits, and not only does the player have to defeat the boss, but he has to do it before the other competing player does it. This is a unique twist on the traditional boss battle and represents what the game could have been.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability
With the convenient card-collection storyline, Sega hopes the player will continue going back and playing the game with all the characters and collect all the cards. There are a ton of cards to collect, and going back and getting them all would take a good amount of gameplay time.

Unfortunately the only multiplayer available in the game is ad-hoc, which means there needs to be another PSP with Sonic Rivals in the general vicinity. Luckily I was able to set this up, and the multiplayer is actually very fun and doesn’t impact the speed of performance of the game. If the game was playable over the internet, it might open up more replayability after the initial single player mode is finished.

Replayability rating: 5/10

6. Balance
Sonic Rivals starts out with basic, fairly easy levels that progressively get harder. In early levels, it’s possible to collide with a number of obstacles and fall into pits and still recover enough to win the race. In later levels, there is less room for error, and the enemy characters get more aggressive in using items and weapons against the player.

Each of the characters playable in the game have slightly different attributes, but generally play pretty similarly. There is no one character who is dominant or overly weak, and it still remains fun to change up the main character even with minimal change in gameplay.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality.
With all of the negatives of Sonic Rivals, it is a credit to Sega to bring the Sonic franchise onto PSP with a totally new game and gameplay style. Unlike Sonic R, which was more of a traditional racing game, Sonic Rivals exists as a platformer where the goal is speed. The combination of platforming, racing and combat is good in theory, and certainly stretches what Sonic has been in the past. The boss battles are interesting and fresh as well, with not only a boss to contend with but an opponent as well, who is looking to defeat the boss faster.

Originality Rating: 8/10

8. Addictiveness
There is something that screams to the gamer to continue racing through these levels despite the monotony and boredom. Perhaps is it the call to collect the cards of the game. Perhaps there is a perverse feeling of what could have been in Sonic Rivals had it been done better. Or maybe there is just a glimmer of hope that later levels would reveal some kind of super-fun gameplay that blows the early levels out of the water.

Whatever it is, for a game like this, it was more addictive than it should have been, if not for the wrong reasons.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor
Sonic continues to have a major franchise appeal despite subpar games for most of the decade. The added appeal of Sonic Rivals is that it’s a totally new series, not a retread or re-release.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous
Between Sonic The Hedgehog on Xbox 360 and Sonic Rivals, the 15th anniversary of Sonic has been an utter nightmare. These are games that represent everything wrong with Sega in 2006 — below par graphics, gameplay that isn’t fun and games that devalue the legacy of once-mighty franchises. Nintendo would never release Mario games of this quality, and the fact that Sega continues to do so is just more proof that they are heading in a bad direction.

The box art is decent, not great, but the instructions are black and white as normal. The cost difference is in the pennies, and for a game like Sonic that relies so heavily on characters, it’s sad to see them all in a black and white manual.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores
Story: .5/10
Graphics: 2/10
Sound: 5/10
Control & Gameplay: 3/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10
Total Score 43.5/100
Final Score: 4.5

Short Attention Span Summary
The main problem with Sonic Rivals is that it’s not fun to play. The game sells itself as a fast-paced race, setting up dream racers between longtime Sonic characters. However, the constant stoppage in the racing, even for experienced players, marrs the experience considerably. Rather than relishing the speed, it ends up as a game of anticipating the stops, and that results in something that becomes tedious.



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