Top critical review
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Decent Racer Let Down By Dodgy AI
on 10 November 2010
On paper Sonic Rivals should be THE perfect game. It features Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest thing alive. It's a racing game. You race on foot through different levels to reach the finish line, hopefully before your opponent does. And it's an arcade styled game. Points are available depending on how well you perform. But is this game really perfect? There's only one way to find out. Read on my fellow gamer.
Storyline first. Dr.Eggman is up to no good again. This time he's invented a camera that allows him to turn animals and objects into cards. The latest edition to his card collection is Tails, and it's up to Sonic to save him. But there are others who want to get their hands on Eggman just as badly as Sonic does. There's Knuckles the Echidna, who's looking for his lost Master Emerald (seriously that Echidna is obsessed with Master Emeralds!); Silver, a white time-traveling hedgehog from the future; and Shadow, the black hedgehog who seems to be there just to make up the numbers.
The characters' rivalries and hatred towards Eggman makes up the genre that Sonic Rivals is meant to be. A racing game. The Story mode is split into six zones with three acts in each zone (except in Sky Park where it's just two acts). In the first two acts you race one-on-one with your rival. If you beat them you win a card and move onto the next act. If you lose you have to restart the act. The third act is a boss battle, again a one-on-one affair (No! Not that kind!). The first player to hit the boss six times is the winner. All of this feels old-skool Sonic, and I mean that in a good way. Anyone who grew up playing Sonic games on the SEGA MegaDrive or Master System will appreciate this style of game.
When racing your rival your performance is ranked with a grade at the end of the level, ranging from a high S down to a lowly C. The grade you get depends on how quickly you completed the level, how many rings you have, and how many speed boasts you used. But in order to get a grade you actually have to beat your opponent, and there are plenty of things you can do in order to gain victory.
There are speed boasts to help you gain extra speed. There are springs that can help you get over high obstacles; and there are power-ups you can collect. The power-ups come in several variaties, such as fire, ice, lightning, etc. They can be used offensively if you're behind or defensively if you're in front. For example: If you use a lightening power-up whilst in 2nd place you're character will shoot out a bolt of lightening, which will hopefully hit your opponent. If you use it whilst in front you'll leave behind a trail of electric rings which can zap the guy behind you. Seeing your opponent stutter and lose rings as you speed along is very satisfying.
Sonic Rivals' replay value comes in the form of card collecting, and Story mode isn't the only place where you can win them. In Challenge mode you pick a zone, an act and a difficulty level. Each of these has a series of targets to obtain, such as number of rings to collect and how quickly you need to finish the level. Each target you successfully achieve will be rewarded with a card. Some of these targets are very challenging, and to me this is the most addictive mode in the game. Cup Circuit is a series of mini tournaments, each consisting of three levels. You need to win at least two out of three races to win the cup and the card.
Then you have your multiplayer options. Two players can play against each other. You can race one another just for fun, or wager cards in winner-take-all scenarios. Or if you prefer an out of court settlement you can just trade cards. With 150 of them to collect you'll be playing this game for quite a while. Anybody else got a craving for Pokémon right now?
Sonic Rivals does have its downsides. There are only four characters to choose from with a fifth unlocked later in the game, which is not exactly a lot. There are plenty of subtitles to read during Story mode, but there's not much in the way of audio speech. It's just the occasional "Yeah!" and "Alright!"
But the biggest flaw with this game is in the rather confusing AI. The game always seems to insist on making each race a close call. Whenever you're running a perfect race, and are in the lead by a country mile, your opponent will always find an impossible burst of speed and be right on your tail in no time. At the opposite end you can be struggling and crashing into things; but then your opponent will grind to a halt and not pick up the pace until you're within striking distance. It just doesn't make any sense.
It's a shame about the AI because Sonic Rivals is such an entertaining racer with its speed and arcade elements. Hardcore Sonic fans will no doubt enjoy this game, but even they will get frustrated when their big lead gets wiped out in the time it takes to click your fingers.