Sonic fans need to Rush out and buy this one.
Born on the Sega Genesis in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog has stood the test of time. He's survived countless run-ins with the evil Dr. Eggman (a.k.a. Robotnik), all sorts of spin-off games, and has even outlasted Sega's consoles themselves. With Sonic Rush, developers Dimps and Sonic Team mix 2-D and 3-D elements with excellent results. Huge, dizzying levels, multiple characters, cool bosses, and a lengthy adventure make Sonic Rush possibly the best entry in this storied franchise.
The story begins with Sonic discovering a tear in the space-time continuum, and Dr. Eggman (or in this case, a mysterious Eggman clone calling himself "Eggman Nega") seems to be responsible. It's up to Sonic and his friends to figure out what's going on. A new character, Blaze the Cat, is unlockable and can be used to play through the game in a slightly different order. Both the Sonic and Blaze storylines feature unique cut-scenes, and both weave an intriguing little tale that has them crossing paths more than once.
Sonic and Blaze have the same basic controls, with the only difference being slightly varying attacks. Jumping is the most basic attack, but you can also execute a slide attack (holding down and pressing B) and a mid-air attack (jumping and pressing the R button). Y is the "Dash" button, which executes a forward attack that lasts as long as you have energy in your dash meter on the left-hand side of the screen. The meter is filled by getting power-ups, destroying enemies, or performing "tricks" (done by repeatedly pressing B after being launched into the air). The stylus is used primarily in the game's special stages, which have Sonic running through a half-pipe collecting rings. The stylus control gets difficult in later stages, but they're over quickly and never become tedious.
There is also a "Look" function. Depending on where you are in a level, you can hold up or down on the D-Pad and move the camera up or down a screen to see what's above or below you. This feature is a godsend in the game's later levels. There are many times when you'll be stuck on a platform in the middle of a large empty room with no idea where to locate solid ground. Without this ability you'd have many leaps of faith and many cheap deaths to go along with them. You'll still get burned by unwittingly falling into empty space, but it doesn’t happen nearly as much as it would without the ability to examine your surroundings.
The main game is divided into seven zones of three areas each (two regular levels and a boss battle). The object of each level is simple: collect as many rings as you can and make it to the end as quickly as possible. Each level spans both of the DS's screens, opening the door for some larger-than-life level designs and serious speed. There are loop-de-loops, steep declines, pinball bumpers, corkscrews, rails, and a vast array of other devices that make it easy to pull off lengthy high-speed runs. As you gain speed, you also gain the power to take out enemies, which eliminates the worry of running into off-screen enemies that plagued earlier games.
At the end of each level, you're graded and awarded scoring bonuses based on your performance in several categories: Time, Trick (how many mid-air tricks you were able to pull off), Ring (how many rings you collected), and Speed (how fast you crossed the finish line at the end of the level). Your scores are saved, and once a level is beaten, you can play them over again to try to get a better rating. Since the levels are so much fun and you can attack them individually, it's actually worthwhile to replay them. Besides, there are always areas just off the beaten path that you probably missed your first time through.
From a visual standpoint, Sonic Rush is a perfect example of 2-D/3-D combination done right. Game levels are 2-D and best described as "16-bit on steroids". There are a few special effects here and there (such as some background water distortion in the underwater levels), but things are kept simple for the most part. There's some slowdown, but it happens only occasionally and doesn't interfere with gameplay. Sonic and Blaze themselves are fully 3-D, and they're often moved towards and away from the camera during gameplay. For example, in one level Sonic grabs a crane hook, and the crane swings him into the foreground and back again – very cool. Boss battles are fully 3-D, featuring excellently designed boss creatures with inventive attacks. The camera angles can be a little weird in these battles, but overall they're very well done. Sonic Rush is one slick visual package.
Audio is equally well-done. Level tunes have a definite hip-hop/electronica flavor with vocal samples galore, and the special stages have a Brit-Pop hook that's so catchy it'll be in your head for days. The music perfectly matches the frantic pace of the game. Sound effects are standard fare, drawing on the canon of Sonic sound effects that fans are accustomed to. The music and sound is great overall, staying true to the series while raising the bar for future editions.
There is also a wireless multiplayer mode. Using any level unlocked in the single-player game, you compete against another player to run through a level in the quickest time possible. It's a cool diversion that uses the game's core appeal, its speed, to great advantage.
Sonic Rush is an excellent pick-up-and-play title that's as addictive as any in the series, and has better graphics, sound, and presentation than any title before it. It features huge, challenging levels, really cool bosses, and a great mixture of 2-D and 3-D action. Toss in a decent multiplayer mode and the ability to play through as multiple characters, and you've got a winner. Sonic fans should definitely pick it up, and newcomers couldn't pick a better introduction to the series.