The evil Dr. Robotnik has taken possession of a powerful chaos emerald. He is using it as part of a plan to... eh, even Sonic is getting tired of this story by now. That's why, this time around, Dr. Robotnik isn't the only problem: Sonic now faces a set of "rivals" who believe they can defeat the evil doctor faster than he can. The result of this competition is some seriously thrilling gameplay.
Welcome To The Two-and-a-Halfth Dimension!
Sonic and his rivals find themselves in an almost dizzying 3D atmosphere with familiar loops, twists, and turns. This time, the camera zooms and spins to follow the action. However, the characters are on a fixed track, so, although there are multiple paths through each level, the gameplay maintains a two-dimensional feel within a three-dimensional world, which makes the game feel relatively easy to control instead of the tremendous confusion that could result from full 3D movement. Sonic can still run, jump, roll, and dash - but just making it to the end of the level is no longer enough.
The set of rivals includes familiar faces like Shadow and Knuckles the echidna; in each level, you choose a character and play against a rival. To advance, you must not only finish the level, but also finish first. Several power-ups and special moves are available, which you can use to slow down your opponent or increase your own speed. Even once you've finished all the levels, this is still really just the beginning, since every level has a set of challenges to achieve. Completing challenges will earn you (virtual) cards and unlock new characters, outfits, and other special features, so this gives the levels a lot of replay value.
Previous Sonic games have always given you the ability to go fast, but they also tended to discourage using this ability by including complex stunts that were hard to perform at high speeds. Although Sonic Rivals certainly does still have subtle details for you to discover, this could be considered the first Sonic game where going at top speed is not just encouraged, but also required. The fast-paced nature of the game makes it very exciting, while it also retains the more basic platform-jumping stunts that gave the first Sonic games their charm.
The game also offers a wireless multiplayer mode, in which you can race against other games, trade cards, or wager your cards on the outcome of your competition with the other player.
One frustrating issue, though, is that challenge mode requires you to "declare" in advance which difficulty level you are attempting to complete. For example, a level might require you to earn 100 rings to complete the Easy challenge, 125 for the Medium challenge, and 150 for the hard challenge - but if you choose "Easy" and then earn 160 rings, you will still receive only the card for the Easy challenge. It would've been nice if the game awarded cards based on the performance level you actually achieved, rather than requiring you to go through each level at least three times to earn the three skill levels. This also could've decreased the number of selection menus in the game, which currently requires you to click through too many settings before the actual gameplay starts.
The graphics in Sonic Rivals are simply dazzling. The twists and turns the pathways take are some of the most impressive visual effects I've seen on PSP, and the levels are colorful and detailed, with each area having its own distinct appearance. The 2.5-D system works so well that it makes it feel like this is the way Sonic games were always meant to be, and it was only for technical reasons that earlier games weren't done in a similar way.
The audio in Sonic Rivals doesn't have a whole lot to like, but it doesn't have much to hate, either. The basic sound effects like jumps, collisions, and rings are there, along with background music that is forgettable but still serves as a suitable accompaniment to the action.
The Ring Master
The Sonic the Hedgehog series for the Sega Genesis/MegaDrive was a lot of fun, but some of the spiked one's more recent ventures into games for the GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and other, more modern systems have scored a little low in the "Not Being Terrible" category. Sonic Rivals, however, proves that Sonic's still got game, and his game is worth getting. The dazzling visuals and high-speed competition make this game an excellent effort.
-You may have noticed that your computer opponents rev up for a spin dash at the starting line and then fire when the game says "Go!" If you've tried to do the same thing yourself, you may have found that it is really hard to "fire" yourself at the right moment - but you actually don't have to. Just keep revving for a spin dash, and when the race begins, you will fire automatically.
-If your rival is tailgating you, use a power-up if you can get one; if not, leap backwards to get behind your opponent and then jostle (kick) them. Don't just let them follow you, or they will strike first.
-If you are attempting a challenge that involves collecting rings, you will need to stay in front of your rival as much as possible, since your rival will probably pick up all the rings in any area he reaches before you.