But first, let’s have the usual bite of data. Co-developed by the Sonic Team and Dimps and released in 2005 in all regions, Sonic Rush was the first Sonic instalment to grace the DS, and it was exclusive to the system. At that time, the DS was still brand-new, having been released barely a year before in Japan; and yet, the developers managed to get the most out of the console and to craft an amazingly polished game that could pretty well pass for a late-lifetime release. Without further ado, let’s now explore the adrenaline-filled awesomeness of Sonic Rush!
The name says it all
Indeed, the mention of the word rush in the title of that game is no mere coincidence: Sonic Rush is the first Sonic entry that puts speed at the heart of the gameplay. I’ve already established in my post about Sonic Classic Collection that if speed was undoubtedly an inner characteristic of the Blue Blur, the early instalments of the series featured a gameplay based rather on careful exploration and quicksilver reflexes, with bursts of speed acting as a well-deserved reward between lengthy segments of focused platforming. This template was abandoned in Rush and replaced by a brand-new one in which momentum must be built up and maintained in order to progress as smoothly as possible. The upper routes can be reached only through clever use of speed, as opposed to the 16-bit instalments in which they could be reached through careful platforming, and it is sometimes mandatory to muster and maintain the maximum speed in order to avoid obstacles and survive. (Think of the boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark and you’ll get a good idea of what these obstacles could be.) Talking about mustering speed, this is done through the use of the “Tension Gauge”, a meter that stores momentum and empties itself as you use said momentum. This gauge can be filled by using special items, killing enemies and, last but certainly not least, by performing acrobatics while your character is being projected in the air by one of the many contraptions present in the game. On top of being useful, these acrobatics are a treat to pull out, and they replace the speed of old as the reward factor: they pleasantly break the game’s high-octane pace to offer the player a few seconds of giddy, silly fun. It is hard not to feel a thrill of pleasure and a feeling of contentment as you watch Sonic or Blaze twirl gracefully in the air in a flurry of swift motions.
That game also manages the tour de force to introduce an awesome ally. The Sonic series is fairly known for not exactly mastering the art of creating secondary characters and for harbouring a couple of epic failures in that department. I won’t quote any name to avoid offending anyone’s sensibilities, but I think it is safe to say that the sidequick business went a tad astray after Sonic3&Knuckles. Not so with Rush’s resident ally, however. Not only is Blaze a great character in her own right, with her cat-like poise, fiery aura and ever-swishing tail that make her mesmerizing to look at, but she is also a completely viable alternative to Sonic instead of being a watered-down version of the Blue Blur: albeit a tad slower than Sonic, she has a handful of exclusive abilities than are well implemented and pleasant to use. Last but not certainly not least, her relationship with Sonic is incredibly well-crafted and is undoubtedly the narrative highlight of the game.
Said relationship is actually a revival of sorts of Sonic and Knuckles’ one: starting off as opponents on the basis of a misunderstanding, they occasionally interact and let the tension build up until a major showdown takes place, after what they realise that they ultimately strive for the same goal and decide to join forces. Rush reuses the formula and hons it successfully, managing to erase the disappointing parts of the Sonic/Knuckles relationship in the process. This is especially true regarding the epic showdown, which went from an anticlimactic, low-key fight in Sonic3&Knuckles to a frantic and intense confrontation in Rush. This fight takes place at the end of the seventh zone, Dead Line, and the way to it is conveniently paved by subtle yet effective means. For one thing, Dead Line is a conveniently difficult level that is bound to keep you on your toes and raise your blood pressure, making you all frayed and edgy by the time you reach the end of the stage. For another, the respective musical themes of Sonic and Blaze, which up until then only showed subtle variations, are now much more blatantly different from one another; this showcases the paroxysmal opposition between the two characters, soon to be resolved through that ultimate fight. Both Sonic and Blaze are tough nuts to crack, and the confrontation is backed up by a gorgeous décor and a frenzied, adrenaline-popping musical theme. This fight is a masterpiece and delivers in all departments, unlike the disappointing one against Knuckles in S3K.
To close that list of goodness, a word must be said about the music. Composed by Hideki Naganuma, it incorporates vocal samples and can be a hard sell at first: it is definitely not your classic Sonic soundtrack and is bound to be divisive because of that. However, it boasts an undeniable originality factor and most importantly, it suits the game like a glove: it is hard to imagine a soundtrack that could better emphasize the feverish, nearly manic pace of Sonic Rush.
Still needs polish
Of course, no game can ever be deemed perfect, and Sonic Rush is no exception. It actually has a couple of flaws that are quite noticeable, albeit not to the point of becoming deal-breakers. However, they are still worth mentioning, if only for information’s sake.
The most blatant one is the general shallowness of the level-design. The game’s emphasis on speed undoubtedly forced the developers to craft significantly less intricate levels than in the 16-bit instalments. Gone are the many secrets passageways, moving platforms and booby traps that acted as obstructions in the first entries; in their place come loop-de-loops, endless slopes and propelling devices that accommodate Rush’s faster gameplay and allow for the building-up of speed. The collateral damage of such a design choice is that levels feel a trifle too streamlined and simple. Crossing them at full speed remains highly enjoyable, that much is sure, but it is also hard to deny that they feel just a little too empty and linear for their own good.
Another irritating flaw is the general mediocrity of the boss battles. These fights that should be moments of tension and epicness play the part visually, featuring humongous mechas and gorgeous backgrounds; however, they turn out to be quite tedious and clunky gameplay-wise. For one, they are incredibly repetitive. Apart from the deliciously inventive bosses of Mirage Road and Night Carnival and the epic showdown between Sonic and Blaze, all the battles unfold in the exact same way: Eggman tries to crush your frail rodent or feline body with a part of its giant contraption before retreating in the background to fire at you; rinse and repeat. This becomes old very quickly. The fights are further marred by hitbox issues: the mechas have a single sensitive spot that must be hit to hurt them, and it can be incredibly hard to aim precisely at the said spot, especially as it tends to become smaller and smaller as the boss fights unfold. (The boss of Altitude Limit is probably the worst offender, with its slippery head that seems to deflect blows.) As for the final showdown in space while sporting your super-form, it really doesn’t deliver. Instead of being the climax of the game, it turns out to be a long, boring and tedious fight in which landing a hit is way too difficult and random. Be prepared to cringe and shatter the time limit more than once before you manage to master the mechanics of that confrontation.
On a more personal note, I resent Rush for being the first 2D Sonic entry to have introduced a ranking system. I loathe trophies, achievements and ranking systems with a passion, and it is supremely annoying to have a crappy rank slapped across my forehead after I enjoyed myself immensely while clearing a level—call me childish, but it does ruin my fun. It doesn’t serve any real purpose in the context of that particular game and seems to be nothing more than a thoughtless concession to current gaming trends, which makes it even more galling.