We've all been there before: a new relationship is going well, sweet nothings are being whispered at a regular basis into each other's ears, and talk of new toothbrush-storing arrangements hangs heavy in the air. And then you meet the parents and the friends and you wonder how someone you thought of so highly could have such terrible taste in companions.
Welcome to the nightmare that is being a Sonic The hedgehog fan.
Everyone loved Sonic back in 1991. He might have had a slightly smarmy air about him but his 2D platform antics were the only quality alternative to Super Mario, with a game that looked and played differently to anything Nintendo could offer. The first few sequels were good too… and then came everything else.
To be fair portables have probably had the best of it in recent years, with Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush in particular being the most palatable of the modern day spin-offs. This is something different though: an honest-to-goodness Japanese style role-playing game featuring Sonic and his mammoth cast of hangers-on.
Not only is it a genre-first for the blue speedster, but Sega has got none other than BioWare, makers of home computer and console classics like Baldur's Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect to develop it. What could go wrong? Alas quite a bit, although relatively little of it necessarily seems like BioWare's fault.
The first issue is the fact that a role-playing game depends almost entirely on a large cast of interesting characters - which is exactly the thing Sonic has been lacking for the last ten years. Any hope that someone has managed to make Big the Cat and Vector the Crocodile seem anything less than an embarrassment are quickly dashed once you begin to endure the insipid dialogue.
To be fair it's not all bad, but the few attempts at knowing humour fall flat on their face. Not least because the game lets you be rude to characters as an optional dialogue choice but, unlike BioWare's other games, never lets them remember the transgression and form a grudge. The story does fare better, although it only really becomes interesting several hours in.
The next problem is the turn-based combat, which in direct contrast to Sonic's usual speedy MO seems to go on for an interminably long time as enemies constantly revive themselves and more than half your attacks seem to miss. Once you start to get into the rhythm of it though you find there's some considerable depth to it, with special POW moves needed to do real damage to fast or well-armoured enemies.
Speaking of rhythm, POW attacks are initiated, and guarded against, via some simple touchscreen mini-games shamelessly ripped off from Elite Beat Agents.
Although you learn to forgive the combat system, its long-windedness (in part because there are no random battles) and the game in general, it's all rather too easy. Even if your character does get knocked out health items are so easy to come by that you have an almost inexhaustible supply within the first hour.
Battles are portrayed in a fairly high quality 3D though and the rest of the gameworld uses some pretty painted backdrops - even if the art style doesn't seem very Sonic-esque and the attempts to convey 3D depth don't always work. The characters don't seem to be drawn quite right either, whether it's their portraits or the occasional CGI cut scene.
Everything in the game is controlled via the touchscreen and this does work extremely well, as you switch between four characters at a time to use their respective powers to navigate the game world. Depending on the character this includes such party tricks as flight, climbing, and wielding a giant mallet. You're also often called upon to control all four at once in various, usually pressure pad-related, puzzles.
The problem with the game is that it plays to none of Sonic's strengths while simultaneously underlining all of the franchise's most famous faults. You're ultimately left with the conclusion that actually a Sonic The Hedgehog role-playing game probably isn't a very good idea. That said, BioWare has done the best it could with a difficult brief. Those looking for an amiable timewaster or a bit of Sonic fan service will find little to complain about - even if there's equally little to applaud.
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