Sonic Rivals 2
Reviewed by Jacob Spindel, December 2007
The original Sonic Rivals for PSP brought Sonic the Hedgehog’s classic 2D adventures into a 3D viewing space, providing gamers with a modernized version of Sonic’s classic, high-speed action. However, it also brought with it a few features that some gamers found frustrating. The recently released Sonic Rivals 2 overhauls many of the original’s shortcomings and ramps up the overall design and style of the game, although my testing also revealed that, unfortunately, the Frustration Factor has been “souped up” more as well.
Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow, Metal Sonic, and Silver are back from Sonic Rivals 1 as playable characters once again, and have been joined by three new playable characters: Espio, a chameleon; Rouge, a bat; and Miles “Tails” Prower, a fox who has often served as Sonic’s partner. Sonic Rivals 1’s decision not to make Tails a playable character is almost inexplicable, so Sonic Rivals 2 has definitely corrected one mistake by including him this time. As usual, the characters are battling for Chao and chaos emeralds against a plot involving the dastardly Eggman Nega (a.k.a. “Future Robotnik”), the cunning Professor Gerald (a.k.a. “Past Robotnik”), and the moderately unpleasant Dr. Eggman (a.k.a. “Malibu Robotnik” ...or something). Eggman Nega has hatched a plan to unleash a huge, destructive beast called the Ifrit that has the potential to demolish everything and everyone in its path if it isn’t stopped in time.
As in Sonic Rivals 1, each level consists of a “2.5-dimensional” race against a rival in a battle to see who can finish the level first. However, this time, instead of picking a single character to play through the game’s Story mode, you will choose one of the four available teams, each consisting of two characters, and the game will require you to switch between the two characters as the game progresses. As in Sonic Rivals 1, you can attack your rival with power-ups and (slightly reworked) signature moves, and your ultimate goal is to collect all 150 virtual trading cards, which you can earn by completing Story mode, winning in Race mode, or by finding Chao hidden in each level in a new mode called “Free Play.”
One of the most frustrating aspects of Sonic Rivals 1 was that it issued cards randomly, meaning that, any time you achieved one of its specified goals, it would provide you with a card, but it could potentially be any of the 150 available cards—including the ones you already had. This meant that you would have to complete the same challenges over and over until the randomizer finally chose whichever cards you were missing. Sonic Rivals 2 corrects this questionable decision by linking specific goals to specific cards. For example, if you need, say, card 47, you only need to complete the goal specifically linked to card 47, instead of having to complete random goal(s) over and over until 47 happens to pops up.
The new card system would’ve been a great idea, except that it has one huge problem: some of the 150 cards can only be obtained in multiplayer mode. If you don't know anyone else who has a PSP, the closest you can get to finishing the game is 136 cards out of 150. The new card system also has some additional, smaller issues; for example, some of the card challenges are also either worded incorrectly or programmed incorrectly, so you can complete an achievement that sounds like it should be enough to earn you a certain card, only to find that the game will deny you the card anyway, without any explanation. The game doesn’t give you much of an idea how close you are to earning a card or what you need to improve upon to earn it, and even just navigating back and forth between the card/challenge management screen and the actual gameplay area is a much bigger chore than it should've been.
One clever addition to Sonic Rivals 2 is the new Battle mode. Since you’ve been competing against your rival all along, it’s only logical that sooner or later, you would want a level where you just beat the tar out of each other. Specific levels (usually the second act of each zone) are designated as Battle stages, and battles come in six different types, including head-to-head Knockout and King of the Hill battles, in addition to less-combative modes like Race and Ring Battle. This is one change that works quite well, except that it can amplify a feeling that the computer characters sometimes seem to be cheating and demonstrating perfect aim, easily completing stunts that never seem to work right for human players.
The game supports multiplayer games over ad-hoc WiFi connections, which provides you with the opportunity to compete against your friends or trade cards with them. It’s certainly nice to have multiplayer as an option, but making it mandatory was almost certainly a mistake. Even people who are able to take advantage of the multiplayer mode are likely to find it easier to intentionally lose, and then have their friend return the favor, so they both earn the relevant cards, than to compete with each other seriously.
The game’s point of view still takes eye-popping twists and turns as you proceed along the two-dimensional path of each level, and the levels are still filled with detailed, colorful characters and items. The graphics were one of the most impressive aspects of the original, and they haven’t lost anything in the sequel, although they haven’t been greatly upgraded either. There are, however, some minor changes to the graphics, including the Boost Zones, which are easier to spot than the easy-to-miss zones from Sonic Rivals 1. However, the game also adds a new “counterattack indicator,” which blinks on the screen so quickly that it is almost impossible to make use of it.
The game’s audio has been given a noticeable overhaul; for example, the characters now have actual voices and speak aloud all of their dialog for the entire game, instead of only having a “chatter” sound while the words appear on screen. The characters also sometimes taunt each other verbally during the races. The voice acting is passable, although it is certainly not as fluid or entertaining as the vocals in Crash of the Titans. The game’s music, especially for the first level, has been improved upon and is somewhat more memorable than the relatively bland music of the first game. However, the enhancements to the sound also feel a bit half-baked. The music in later levels is still not very catchy, and the voices are often used as a substitute for action, describing things that are happening without actually depicting them. Also, the characters will sometimes still exclaim their “taunt” messages even in modes that don’t include a rival. When you witness something like Tails yelling “I’m gonna win!” when there isn’t anyone else around, it may lead you to wonder if Tails has bigger problems than just collecting rings.
Where The Shoe Fits, Ifrit
Overall, Sonic Rivals 2 is not quite as good as its predecessor. Still, fans of the original are likely to find most of their favorite aspects to be fully intact in the sequel. Unfortunately, Backbone has probably not done enough to satisfy those who found the original to be annoying, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the game for people who are easily frustrated. Nonetheless, if you have the patience for it, Sonic Rivals 2 will reward you with a solid gameplay experience.
-When facing the zone 2 boss, it is easier to jostle/kick the falling explosives than to try to jump on top of them.
-The easiest level for completing the “Finish a level with 300 rings” challenge is zone 1, act 3.
-The easiest level for completing the “Finish a battle with 500 rings” challenge is zone 6, act 2, using a three-minute ring battle. (It is also easy to get over 500 rings if you battle in Race mode - but the game won’t give you the card for that!)
-If you are sliding across a tightrope-like surface, in most cases, you can jump downward and through to the other side of the rope by holding the down arrow and pressing the jump button. (This is critical for finding one of the Chao in zone 3, act 1 Freeplay.)
-When you are climbing vertically, you will need to alternate pressing X and O to move upward. Probably the fastest and most comfortable way to do this is to give your thumb a break by temporarily placing your index finger on X and your middle finger on O.