Sonic and the Secret Rings


“Secret rings” is the first Sonic the hedgehog game made exclusively for the Wii, and the first in what Sonic Team have dubbed “The Sonic Storybook series”. In this iteration, Sonic has been sucked into the book of Arabian Nights by an Evil Genie, and he must traverse 8 dangerous worlds to reclaim the power rings that will enable him to leave the book.

The game differs from the usual Sonic fare as the standard “get from A to B stupidly fast” approach is replaced with a sort of mission-based gameplay. Rather than trying to traverse a level itself you will more often than not be asked to collect a certain number of rings, or to survive an area of a level without getting hurt. Furthermore, the control scheme is entirely different to what you may expect. Sonic runs into the screen automatically, and you only have the option to steer him left, right or to jump.

If you’re starting to fear that this isn’t really a Sonic game then you will have come to the right conclusion. However, whilst it certainly is a massive deviation from the usual hedgehog experience that’s not to say it’s all bad.

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The game is presented fairly well. All of the music is very much Arabian and makes things feel very authentic (although I do miss the days of Crush 40…), and the navigation menu of the entire game is laid out like a huge book. Every new stage is a new page, as such (hey, that rhymes!).

The one player mode has Sonic completing missions over 8 different stages to collect the power ring that governs that particular area of the story. If Sonic collects all 8, then he can battle the evil Genie that brought him there in the first place and thus escape. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and you’ll find yourself having to do a vast number of tedious missions just to open up the next level.

Take, for example, the opening mission of the first stage (i.e. after you’ve just fired up the game for the first time). Sonic will run full pelt round around a beautiful Arabian desert, jumping over obstacles as hitting baddies as you direct him. After a perilous five minutes, you reach the end of the level, feeling as though you have played a Sonic game with a bit of a twist on the controls, but nothing more. After this, you are returned to the main menu, on the screen of the same stage, where you would have opened up a “collect 100 rings!” mission. Upon entering this, you will be put back into the same level, following the exact same path that only ends after you collect 100 rings. Repetitive much?

Unfortunately, much of the game follows this pattern. The initial missions of each stage has Sonic getting from A to B, and this feels fun, this feels like Sonic. Everything in between is a bit of a pain. Some stages take absolutely ages to unlock, and by the time you’ve done 6 or 7 dull missions on the previous level it becomes hard to care about opening up the next. What’s worse is that these missions take place in the same areas of levels that you’ve already done, so none of it feels new or fresh despite the fact that you will be doing something completely different.

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The new-fangled controls can, at times make the game incredibly hard to play. When Sonic is running at full pelt, he is a dream to control. The Wiimote is held on its side, and is tilted left and right to make Sonic move so. Jumps are mapped to flicking the remote up, and bad guys are attacked by thrusting the remote forward. It feels good. However, to slow Sonic down, you have to turn the remote upwards and towards you. Now this wouldn’t be particularly bad if it wasn’t so horribly unresponsive. Sonic very rarely reacts to this command and it gets very frustrating. What makes things worse is that, by holding the remote in that position, Sonic will walk backwards slowly, without the camera turning around to where you are walking to. So if you need to retrace your steps, you will be doing it completely blind. Not fun. Especially considering that some of the missions necessitate you backtracking to a very particular area to “pick something up”. Bad move.

As you progress through the missions, you earn experience points, which are used to purchase new abilities for Sonic, RPG style. While this is another massive deviation, it actually works pretty well. It’s an incentive to get as high a grade as possible in each mission (the faster you complete a mission, the better your grade and the more EXP you get), and makes things more interesting. To begin with, Sonic runs at about half the speed of what he would in any other game, but by the end, he’ll be hurtling so far into the distance that you won’t even see him anymore, purely because of the speed levels you can unlock throughout. You also get the abilities to slow down and speed up time, which makes some of the later levels very interesting indeed.

I played the one player mode to the end and whilst I enjoyed it overall, I don’t ever think I’ll be playing it through again. There was far too much grinding in comparison to the good stuff, which is rather disappointing because what Secret rings does right it does very right. Some of the later levels are fantastically designed; both in appearance and gameplay, and some areas are on an epic scale. One particular level has you crossing a city in the sky, and it’s quite a sight to behold.

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If you tire of the one player then there is a pretty decent multiplayer mode with a wealth of mini games to play. If you’ve got three friends and a bunch of Wii remotes then you can have a very Mario-Party-esque night in. All the mini games revolve around using the remote in some way. A favourite of mine included sitting in a kayak and using the remote as a paddle to swim up a fast stream. It’s a bit of good old fashioned fun that’s a nice addition to the one player mode.

Secret Rings is a tough one to call, because it’s good fun but it has an awful lot of flaws that are hard to look past. The laborious missions are too many and the “fun” ones too few, and the controls at times can be horrendous. However, when at full speed, and when playing some of the later, tougher stages, the game really comes into its own and, despite not really being a Sonic game; it feels unique in its’ own right.

Hi-Score –  Very well presented, good EXP system, several excellent moments, neat multiplayer.

Lo-Score –  Controls are frustratingly bad when Sonic is going slow, majority of missions are more of a chore than anything, no real replay value.

Final score –  6 out of 10

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