Until recently, it could be argued that the Sonic franchise was in the dumps. Even one of the executives behind the franchise stepped forward and admitted that drastic changes would be needed to revitalize the dying franchise. Though two other titles coming out this year will probably improve the hedgehog's image, niether are a dedicated title solely devoted to Sonic. Sonic Rush Adventure is the second Sonic title for the Nintendo DS, but it dares to attempt to take the franchise in a different direction. Rush Adventure blends 2D and 3D gameplay along with the element of exploring an entire sea of islands (much like Phantom Hourglass) in order to produce a unique Sonic title.
This time around, Sonic and Tails crash land on a remote island in the ocean after trying to fly through a nasty storm. They're both awakened by the local troublemaker Marine, who quickly takes on the two as her subordinates in a quest to help them get off the island. Eventually they explore beyond the hub island and find out that all is not well in the region, and eventually the trio encounter Blaze, who explains that the dastardly Whisker has stolen a scepter and is wreaking havoc across the seas.
Deviating from the typical Sonic formula, players must explore the regional waters for nearby islands in order to find materials there to build better modes of transportation to reach further into the seas. There are two types of islands players can discover beyond the hub island; hidden islands which contain a single, more difficult level (albeit much shorter than normal levels), and traditional islands with two standard levels and a boss battle. Gameplay during these stages is primarily in the same vein as classic 2D Sonic titles, but there are short segments which deviate into a crude 3D mode in which Sonic or Blaze is on rails and players merely need to jump side-to-side to avoid obstacles. Boss battles are in full 3D, although the mechanics are still rooted in side-scrolling action gameplay. Players will race back and forth across the screen or around a fixed, circular path to dodge attacks and counter enemies when they expose their weak spots.
Players can select from either Sonic or Blaze, though niether really possesses an inherent advantage over the other. Collecting rings and or doing tricks in the air will charge up a guage that allows players to do a Super Boost until the meter runs out. This is advantageous in most stageous to a certain degree, but in some of the optional missions later on in the game, it is a necessity to not only master the technique, but be nearly flawless in the management of the guage. Tails and Marine aren't playable, but Tails will instruct Sonic on what materials he will need to collect in order to build the next transportation unit to progress in the game, and Marine controls your special missions.
The real variations in the gameplay come from the exploration segments. Embarking from one of several spots on the hub island, players can chart a course through the ocean exactly the same as they could in the recently released Phantom Hourglass. However, unlike Phantom Hourglass, once a course is plotted, a correction can't be made unless the transport unit is obstructed. Additionally, the actualy gameplay during while traveling is more like a stage-based experience, where players have to reach a goal. Players have the ability to take a jet ski, a floating airship, a hovercraft or a submarine, and each comes with different gameplay mechanics. The Jet Ski is an on-rails style stage where players need to use the stylus to steer and perform tricks while in the air. The airship stage focuses on a side-scrolling perspective where players must toggle between three types of weapons to defend the vessel and destroy targets. The hovercraft segment is much like the jet ski, but the hovercraft comes powered with a weapon so it involves more combat oriented gameplay. Finally the submarine segments are more like the airship, although the perspective is head-on.
Each type has limitations as to how far they can travel as well as what terrain they can cover. What these mechanics really do is open up a new type of non-linear gameplay experience not seen in a predominantly 2D Sonic game before. Initially, players are limited to how far they can go out into the sea and thus only a small amount of islands can be reached and typically in a specific order, but later in the game players will be free to explore the four corners as well as engage in a backtracking segment that gives a sense of exploration not known to the series.
Mixed in with the main single-player mode are various side quests, such as completing every special mission unlocked by talking to characters, racing a character named Johnny on the jet ski, or competing in time attacks and score attacks. The last two modes are also available with WiFi functionality, so players can compare their times and scores to others around the world. There's also the quests to collect all the Chaos and Sol gems, which each unlock special features once they're all gathered.
Sonic's 2D based visuals are some of the best, with blinding speed preserved with an excellent framerate and lots of interaction with the environments possible. The 3D visuals aren't as spectacular, easily outshined by other products on the market for the Nintendo DS, but they're still fairly good. The models of characters and enemies aren't as crisp as seen in other titles, and the environments in these 3D segments also are somewhat lacking. The game map itself is also lackluster, although the hub island's visuals are pretty good.
The game retains the same style of sound first introduced to players in the original Sonic Rush for the Game Boy Advance. The music isn't overtly rock-inspired like the more recent 3D sonic titles, or the classical style of the original Genesis titles, but rather more hip-hop inspired with a few lyrics here and there. The game is a bit off-beat with its seafaring theme, so the music's departure from the norm seems like an adept fit. Fans of the 3D or classic 2D titles may be a bit dissapointed, then, with the audio in the game.
Sonic Rush Adventure is a bit on the easy side, especially for a Sonic title, but has a decent length. Some might complain that the core Sonic gameplay is reduced to 2 levels and a boss battle, much like the original Genesis titles, and that there should have been at least 3 levels per island to increase the length. The dual screen makes for more impressive level layouts, and rarely interferes with the gameplay. Hardcore fans will enjoy the missions opened up and the ability to compare fastest times with other players, as well as trying to collect all the Sol and Chaos emeralds. The story and presentation may be a bit on the immature side of things, appealing to a younger audience, and the exploration factor may be a bit too much, especially being released in the wake of Phantom Hourglass, but this is a solid Sonic title and a decent attempt at trying to do things a bit differently with the franchise. Though at times, it feels like the new elements feel a bit out-of-place next to the traditional elements.
Final Verdict - 7/10
While the standard levels are classic fast-paced Sonic action, some of the standard adventure mode elements are a mixed bag. The game is over too soon and the game is to fragmented.