Released in 2005 for the Nintendo DS, Sonic Rush was the debut of Sonic and co. on the barely year old handheld. Developed by Dimps of Sonic Advance fame in collaboration with Sega and Sonic Team, Sonic Rush aimed to create a brand new 2D Sonic experience. The game introduced a brand new playable character in the form of Blaze the Cat, as well as Sonic’s now iconic Boost ability that would be seen in later 3D games in the series. Sonic Rush is a game that is all about speed, combos and high scores, and the result is a Sonic game that can quickly become very addicting to play and master. Do the new mechanics and playable character introduced in the game hold up for the duration of this portable adventure?

Story

Blaze Render 2

 

Our story begins when a mysterious purple cat named Blaze wakes up one day to find herself in Sonic’s dimension. Blaze is the princess of a dimension that is parallel to Sonic’s, and wishes to return home. She recounts that her last memory is one of a battle with Dr. Eggman over the Sol Emeralds, (her world’s equivalent to the Chaos Emeralds). Blaze, with the assistance of Cream the Rabbit, sets out on a quest to recover all 7 of the Sol Emeralds and return to her home dimension. Meanwhile, Sonic and Tails are on an adventure of their own fighting  Eggman’s “Sol Dimension” counterpart, Eggman Nega, all while collecting the Chaos Emeralds.

The good doctors inform our heroes that the Chaos and Sol Emeralds are like the North and South poles, and them being in such close proximity is a danger to both worlds. Sonic and Blaze collect both sets of Emeralds, and use their power to transform in order to put a stop to both Eggmen. After the battle, Sonic and Blaze say their goodbyes and Blaze returns to her world, promising to never forget the memories she made with her new friends.

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With the exception of a few cutscenes, the story is told entirely through character stills and text boxes.

The story is pretty standard Sonic affair, but Blaze is a really cool character, and has gone on to become one of the more popular characters in the series. She starts out as a stubborn but determined girl who tries to do everything herself, and isn’t very good at making friends. From the day she was born, Blaze had the power to manipulate flames, and was shunned during her childhood as a result. But through her encounters with Sonic, Cream and the rest of the crew, she learns to accept help from others when necessary.

Presentation

Sonic Rush is played from a 2.5D viewpoint, and takes advantage of both screens of the DS. The graphics are pretty standard for a 2005 Nintendo DS game. The 3D models are nice, and the 2D backgrounds are vibrant and detailed. My only real complaint is that I would have prefered the game use the gorgeous 2D sprites that were found in the Advance games, and in this game’s credits. I know sprite work is way more expensive and time-consuming than making 3D models, but I really feel like the extra effort is worth it to make a great looking game, (sprites also age better). But graphics aren’t everything, and the game still looks pretty good overall.

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Hideki Naganuma is the lead composer for Sonic Rush, and it really shows. Naganuma is most well known for his work on another Sega game, Jet Set Radio, and its influence can be heard all throughout Sonic Rush’s soundtrack. The tunes are all upbeat and catchy, which really adds to the high-speed nature of the game. I never get tired of hearing songs like A New Day, What U Need, Back To Back, and the ending song, Raisin’ Me Up. Seriously, you should check the soundtrack out when you have the time, you can find the entire thing on Spotify.

Gameplay

Sonic Rush Screenshot

Sonic Rush takes the classic 2D Sonic gameplay that we all know and love, and throws in a few new tricks. The two playable characters, Sonic and Blaze, can both perform the new Boost ability, which instantly rockets them to max speed, and allows them to plow through most enemies and barriers. While the Genesis Sonic games were all about earning your speed through skillful play, Sonic Rush challenges the player to keep their speed and momentum going through skillful play and quick reflexes. Stages are filled with hazards and obstacles that will either slow the player down, damage them or result in a quick death.

The physics system from past 2D Sonic games returns for Sonic Rush. Both characters react appropriately to player input, changes in terrain and being launched from springs and ramps. Badnik bouncing is also in full effect. One weird thing to note is that Sonic and Blaze uncurl after jumping on an enemy, though they are still able to defeat and bounce off of enemies without taking damage.

Sonic and Blaze

 

Sonic Rush is a student of the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 school of game design, and I’m happy to say that they graduated with high marks, (could’ve picked a better major though). Sonic and Blaze share the same basic playstyle, with a few unique differences. Both characters can Boost, Spin Dash, curl into a ball while running, grind on rails and take advantage of the returning trick system from Sonic Advance 2.

Sonic is the faster of the two, but Blaze is still fast in her own right. By pressing the R button, which is the primary trick action button, Sonic can perform an air dash that propels him a short distance forward. When performed near an enemy, this move turns into a variation of the Homing Attack from the 3D games. I really wish they had just fully implemented the Homing Attack for this game, as there were a few times that I would attempt to air dash forward to hit the ground running, only to hit an enemy behind me and either take damage or fall to my death. Sonic’s additional trick actions, which can only be performed when launched from a stage gimmick, are a forward kick, and a small upward dash that can be used to reach higher routes.

Blaze Screenshot

Blaze’s unique abilities are much better suited for reaching the high routes of levels, and making tricky platforming segments easier. She has a sweet hover that’s really helpful for landing and correcting precise jumps. She also has a really powerful forward dash that has more initial launch power than Sonic’s, but doesn’t last as long. But her coolest ability by far is her upward dash, which makes Sonic’s look really insignificant. This action launches Blaze really high into the air, and damages enemies to boot. When playing as Blaze, I was able to reach tons of new level routes that I never could’ve gotten to as Sonic, and suffered far less deaths thanks to her hover ability.

The new Boost ability is an awesome addition to Sonic and Blaze’s movesets, and the accompanying Tension Gauge goes hand in hand with Sonic Rush’s design philosophy of keeping your speed. The Tension Gauge is filled by defeating enemies, passing checkpoints, and stringing together trick action combos. Once the meter is completely filled, Sonic and Blaze are given a temporary unlimited Boost, which can be kept by employing the same methods that were used to fill it. This entices the player to keep going fast and building their score, as it is really disappointing to lose your Boost energy.

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The synergy between boosting and performing tricks is a really cool design element, and is one of the best parts of the game. The game makes the player want to perform as flawlessly as possible, as taking damage lowers the energy in the Tension Gauge. Rings also scatter further and further the more times you take damage, which makes you really want to avoid getting hit. Learning level design is an absolute must to get the most out of Sonic Rush, and it’s an absolute blast returning to previously visited levels to see how fast you can go, as well as how long you can keep your Tension Gauge full.

The various stages in Sonic Rush are fun, diverse and challenging. Stages start out mostly linear, but later zones play around with alternate paths and hidden bonuses such as invincibility, shields and infinite Boost energy. In addition, each stage has their own gimmicks, which helps them stand out. Water Palace has underwater propellers and pressurized water jets, Night Carnival, (no, not Carnival Night), has buttons that turn dim lights into platforms and grind rails, and Dead Line has alternating gravity, just to name a few. Special mention to Huge Crisis, which is my favorite stage in the game.

While stages are designed primarily for speed running, they are still a ton of fun at a casual level. My only real level design criticism is that there are a few too many bottomless pits. I’m perfectly fine with the ones that are used as punishment for reckless boosting, but some are just in plain bad locations. This is, admittedly, a pretty common complaint with Dimps level design, but I feel like Sonic Rush never goes into thrown or broken DS territory with them.

Blaze Screenshot 2

Sonic Rush is all about going fast, building your score and being precise, and I feel like this design choice is exemplified pretty well by my playthroughs as Sonic and Blaze. During my first playthrough with Sonic, there were a few times where I got frustrated. Whether it was a boss fight, (quick note: I don’t like any of the bosses), a tricky level section, a bottomless pit or a straight up error in judgement on my part, some levels took quite a few of my lives.

I entered Blaze’s campaign with the knowledge and skill I gained from playing Sonic’s, and had a much more enjoyable time because of this. I felt powerful and in charge during this second playthrough, and was able to access level routes I hadn’t seen before because of Blaze’s unique abilities, and the fact that I knew which routes were faster. I know this will be a huge turn-off to some, but I personally enjoyed having to learn the levels and master the game mechanics to speed through the game. As I said before, I love games that reward players who employ skillful play.

The worst parts of Sonic Rush are the ones that force you to go slow. Previous 2D Sonic games had a handful of slower, more deliberate moments that gave the player the opportunity to explore the levels to find secret areas, power-ups and bonus stages. Sonic Rush’s more speed oriented nature doesn’t lend itself very well to this type of game design. This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have exploration elements, as their is plenty of fun to be had from experimenting with different level routes, but it’s never fun to not be going fast.

The biggest examples of going slow are the various “enemy rooms” that are found throughout the game. Sonic and Blaze are locked in a small area, and must defeat a certain amount of enemies to unlock the door and proceed. These rooms have no real reason to be here, and only serve to break the flow in an otherwise fast paced game.

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Special Stages make a return in Sonic Rush, and once again use the half pipe from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. And like most other Sonic games, completing them and collecting all 7 Chaos Emeralds is required to unlock the true ending. All 7 Sol Emeralds are also required, but they are collected simply by completing Blaze’s story. The Special Stages are fun enough, but nothing that long time Sonic fans haven’t seen before.

But I will say that I really love the method of entering the Special Stages. Each stage has spinning levers that Sonic can grab onto and activate his Boost in order to build up enough speed to open the portal, but only if he has enough energy in his meter. This is a really cool way to enter Special Stages, as it further motivates the player to keep a full Tension Gauge.

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Whether you’re a crazy best time and high score obsessed person like me, or a person who just wants a fun speedy platformer on the go, Sonic Rush is an awesome game. With a cool new character, an awesome new mechanic and a fantastic sense of flow, Sonic Rush did a great job of laying the foundation for future games, both 2D and 3D, to improve on. I’ve been playing the game for years now, and I still have a ton of fun just blowing through my favorite levels.
Have you played Sonic Rush? If not, did this review make you wanna give it a try? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me on Twitter to stay updated on all the latest posts. Thanks for reading, and make sure you have an awesome day!

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One thought on “Game Review: ‘Sonic Rush’, Right There, Ride On

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