Like tuna and jam, Sonic and the third dimension donâ€™t mix well. Sonic Adventure scored highly when first released, but arguably because we didn’t know any better back then. Sonic Heroes was ruined by uncontrollable but essential homing attacks, while Shadow the Hedgehog was just plain wrong. Yet it wasn’t always this way – Sonic R from Travellerâ€™s Tales did the blue hog proud, with a camera that worked and solid controls. Sonic and the Secret Rings is a spiritual successor of sorts, albeit a platformer in design.
But not totally, as if you’ve played Excite Truck or one of the other Wii racers then you’ll be familiar with the notion of holding the Wii remote like a bicycle handle bar. Tilting forward makes Sonic run, tilting it back makes him walk backwards. Slowly. Like a lorry.
The vibrant and flamboyant levels are on rails, which removes all chance of exploration, but you do need to turn the remote left and right to pick up rings and move out of harmâ€™s way. There are also slow sections that require a bit of patience.
So far so good. The catch lies with jumping – like in a Tony Hawk game, how long the button is held determines how high the hog jumps. Itâ€™s completely unnatural, and when starting out it can lead to some unavoidable deaths. Things do improve the more you play though, as Sonic earns experience points and new skills which can be assigned to special rings. These include smoother handling and gliding, plus being able to start a level with five rings in Sonic’s back pocket.
The plot and setting are very different and certainly unexpected, using the Arabian Nights novels as source material. Tails appears as Ali Baba; later Knuckles appears as Sinbad. This means that there are no traditional Green Hill zones of yore, although a dinosaur world does provide some nostalgic pangs. The way things have been designed is anything but traditional, requiring you to revisit previously completed worlds to take on new challenges and missions. Many of these are contained within just a small segment, rather than featuring the whole level to rally around in.
When well accustomed with the level layouts itâ€™s possible to leap, grind and sprint with style and grace â€“ which is definitely a sight to behold. To get this good takes a fair bit of trial and error, as itâ€™s simply not as fluid as it should be. Four player mini-games, which are actually structured with a Mario Party-style board, are a nice extra if needlessly longwinded, but we still need more convincing that Sega are able to get Sonic running around in 3D the same way Nintendo did with Mario in Super Mario 64.