I just had to rewrite the Sonic Adventure entry as I’d claimed it was my favourite of the 3D Sonics. In terms of memories and nostalgia it certainly is, but I’ve put every bit as much time into Sonic and the Secret Rings, and I’d have to put them about equal in my estimation (but I’ve separated them just to make it more interesting to read).
Realising that Sonic dies most when he falls off platforms you can’t judge properly, Sonic Team put the little blue chap on rails and get you to steer him from side to side, jumping and braking accordingly. It sounds much too simple but, when combined with the intelligent use of automation – Sonic happily hops onto tight spaces on his own – it makes the job of keeping him alive much less of a one-sided affair. In fact, at first you could even argue it’s too easy, as the game starts off so slow you barely have to do anything to get to the goal except hit the odd spring and avoid some spikes. But once you’ve increased your skills a bit the game starts to speed up, and you find yourself shaving thirty or more seconds from your best times.
The pace of progression is absolutely spot-on, giving you enough skills to pass the new levels whilst encouraging you to discover new elements in previously conquered stages. Even when you get to level 50 or 60 there’s new skills that let you overcome obstacles, extend your homing range or move more freely through the air. There are some who argue that the mere presence of equipping skills in a Sonic game amounts to a cardinal sin – I won’t mention Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood! – but with so little freedom in the levels there has to be some way of giving the player incentive to keep exploring, and the new abilities you unlock certainly do that. Like Sonic himself in the game’s levels, you’re always moving forward.
You’d think that learning from Sonic Heroes would put Secret Rings in everyone’s good books, but as usual it divided opinions. Personally I see it as a continuation of the Sonic Adventure and Heroes ethic: levels are essentially set pieces chained together ad infinitum, but it feels much more like you’re on a 2D plane thanks to the control system. It works because it reduces Sonic to his streamlined best, darting past danger and using the amazing Speed Break move to blast through enemies with extreme pace. It looks like Sonic Unleashed will use a similar move and build on this very strong outing for Sonic to make the hedgehog 100% healthy again.