A lot of people are not convinced that the Sonic formula works anymore. But even if it’s possible to make a great Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Rivals isn’t it.
Time and time again, we’ve seen Sega release a plethora of Sonic games that have done nothing but disappoint fans of the series. Maybe the premise behind this games (moving left to right and pushing the jump button now and then) is so simplistic that it doesn’t allow for a compelling game anymore, but new developers are usually eager to prove us wrong. But even if it’s possible to make a great Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Rivals isn’t it. Despite having some fresh ideas, this is a simplistic and repetitive game that will disappoint both fans of the Sonic series and casual players all over again.
This is what you should know in terms of story: a mysterious island appears in the middle of nowhere and Sonic the Hedgehog and his best friend Tails go to the place to unveil the mystery behind the floating landmass. Apparently, Eggman’s behind this, since the evil man has created and new device that allowed him to turn Amy Rose into a digital card. Little by little, Eggman starts capturing all of Sonic friends and transforming them into cards and to bring them back, the blue hedgehog needs to win a series of races.
Unlike most Sonic the Hedgehog games, Rivals isn’t a platformer but a racing game. In races, you collect rings, pick up power-ups, attack nearby enemies and so on. There are several races to participate in which are located in classic maps from the Sonic franchise, including Forest Falls, Coliseum Highway, Sky Park, Crystal Mountain, Death Yard and Meteor Base. Most races are a matter of pressing the right button and jumping from time to time. To be fair, this has been the case since the original Sonic the Hedgehog came out for the Sega Genesis, but this doesn’t make Rivals any less simplistic. There are other mechanics to consider: picking up power-ups, attacking enemies and destroying certain obstacles that block your path. But at its core, Sonic Rivals is a mindless racing game that adds nothing new to the series and to the genre.
But mindless or not, Rivals manages to be quite entertaining from time to time. The game intends to add a more competitive aspect to what used to be a single-player experience (to be clear, there’s a single-player campaign, but you always compete with bots) and including fast-paced races is a terrific idea. Things can become too hectic though and at times, you’ll have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going. The only thing you do know is that you have to push that right button as hard as you can just in case. Since most players won’t be familiar with Rivals’ peculiar level design, it’s really difficult to memorize the tracks in one or two tries. As a consequence, you’ll find yourself trying to beat levels through trial-and-error which can be frustrating, but it’s the most effective way to finish most levels.
Although linear, levels are diverse and some of them are so over the top, that they definitely are fun to play. The loops and turns popularized by Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast are here and the camera often rotates, adding to the flashy and spectacular nature of the Sonic series. As you would expect, sometimes you have no idea where you are in relation to the environments, since everything’s happening at such a rapid pace, but that’s definitely one of the most beloved parts about Sonic, so it’s hard to complain about it.
Another new element involves collecting cards, which unfortunately, adds nothing new to the series. As you progress through the game, you unlock more and more cards, but these are just used for collecting purposes. So unless you enjoy watching your collection or trading those cards with friends, there’s nothing peculiar about the collectible card system. There are 150 cards to collect and you unlock more and more of them as you complete different objectives and some of them give you access to secret costumes, but their purpose is cosmetic and don’t affect the gameplay is any way.
The single-player campaign is a little on the short side, since it takes you five hours to complete the main storyline. As a way of making up for its short length, you can play as four different characters and their storylines have some minor differences, but ultimately, this feels like an excuse to disguise the fact that the game’s so short. There’s also a challenge mode, a cup circuit, unlockable characters and dozens of cards to unlock, but I didn’t feel the need to keep playing after finishing the campaign once.
Apart from the single-player campaign, there are other modes available. As its name suggests, challenge mode lets you complete a series of challenges (collect 50 rings, hit your opponent with power-ups two times, reach the finish line in less than two minutes and so on.) There’s also a multiplayer mode where you can race for fun or wager some of the cards you’ve unlocked in the campaign.
Sonic Rivals lacks pizzazz and creativity. I feel like the developer didn’t take a lot of risks creating this title, since Sonic Rivals doesn’t innovate in any aspect. If we take into account that the series has grown stale after the Sega Genesis era, this certainly isn’t the game to revitalize the classic franchise.