What do you get when you cross a magic carpet, a genie, and an Arabian myth with the world’s fastest blue hero?
Why, Sonic and the Secret Rings of course!
In this first installment in the Sonic Storybook Series, and the first installment on the Wii, Sonic fans will find themselves immersed into a unique gaming experience using the Wiimote in place of the Gamecube controller. However, with the bizarre idea of Sonic entering the tales of the Arabian Nights, and the new control scheme of swinging the Wii remote around to control the speedy blue guy, just exactly how does game work?
Read on to find out if Sonic and the Secret Rings is a boost or bummer to the franchise.
As Sonic lays sleeping in his house, he is suddenly awakened by a genie named Shahra who tells him the world of Arabian Nights is being destroyed by the evil Erazor Djinn. Sonic agrees to help her and enters this book-world, meeting many familiar faces and new enemies along the way.
As Sonic’s quest progresses, he learns that Erazor is after something known as the seven World Rings that will give him ultimate power to become the ruler of the Arabian Nights. Just as the two begin their quest to find these rings before the evil genie does, Erazor appears and casts a curse on Sonic that causes a flame to sprout from his chest. Sonic’s fate ultimately becomes tied to the flame. When it dies, his life will die with it. Then Erazor challenges Sonic to a heart-rending decision: bring the seven World Rings to him, or refuse and die along with the flame in his chest.
The bond between Sonic and Shahra is strong. These two are good friends willing to sacrifice everything for each other. Sonic takes a heinous curse meant for Shahra at the beginning of the game and continually gives his genie friend aid in every way possible.
Sonic serves as a good role model. Though continually threatened with death due to the curse, he keeps an optimistic, smiling attitude and appears more concerned about Shahra’s welfare than his own. Though he knows he may die, Sonic is certain that everything will turn out alright and that Shahra will smile by the time their adventure is through. Sonic is determined to never give up, even when the situation seems entirely hopeless.
*SPOILER WARNING* At the end of the game, Shahra repays Sonic for his friendship and sacrifice by giving her life to save him from Erazor’s sword. In a touching scene, she dies alongside her master, Sonic, but is eventually brought back to life at the end of the game. *END OF SPOILERS*
I was shocked by the amount of spiritual content in this game. With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog for Xbox 360 and PS3, I was aware that Sonic games had suddenly taken a very religious turn, but I was still surprised by what I found in Sonic and the Secret Rings.
On the “lighter” side of the spiritual content comes the stereotypical magic carpets, genies, and general Arabian Nights fanfare. Some of the enemies are walking skeletons. The bad genies in the game are referred to as “evil spirits,” but this is more of a title than anything else. They merely float around and harm you if you run into them or get hit by their attacks. One character is cursed by Erazor to look like a floating skeleton. Sonic is hit by the “arrow of flame” and suddenly his life becomes connected to the flame that sprouts from his chest (as mentioned in the “storyline” section).
However, there is a deeper side to all this spiritual content, and it’s all relayed through the main game’s storyline. In the most strikingly “spiritual” scene, Erazor Djinn utters a ritualistic chant in order to summon the Ifrit–an evil fire spirit. During the chant, Erazor mutters words in a foreign tongue and mentions the “condemned of Iblis.” Iblis is the Arabic version of the devil. Though this is shown as an evil action (and Sonic and Shahra never duplicate anything similar) I still thought this scene was a little overboard. If you’re a parent, talk to your younger gamers about this scene. It could be a great “discussion-starter.”
The power of the World Rings is immense. Each ring appears to be filled with a different power that reflects the stories of the Arabian Nights. One ring is said to be “prayer.” After gathering several of these rings, Sonic wonders at their power and exclaims, “…they might even open up the gates of hell!” Though the rings don’t really “open up the gates of hell,” I thought this was worth mentioning.
*SPOILER WARNING* As Sonic’s quest progresses, he learns that the gatherer of the seven World Rings must be “offered up in sacrifice” in order for another person to use the power of the rings. In this case, he would be the gatherer and his life would have to be taken before the power of the Rings could be used. At the game’s end, Erazor attempts to “sacrifice” Sonic with a swipe of his sword, but Shahra takes the blow, fulfilling the requirement of sacrifice.
At the game’s end, Erazor uses the power of the Rings to transform into a terrible creature who is bent on rebuilding the world in “[his] own image.” Sonic, taken over by the sorrow of Shahra’s death, uses the negative powers of the rings and transforms into a rather evil-looking character himself named Darkspine Sonic. The scene in which these two transform is chaotic and both characters scream in rage/pain during the process. *END OF SPOILERS*
Cutscene Violence. Though the violence in the cutscenes is minimal and censored, the cutscenes are quite intense for an E-rated game. Sonic and Shahra are almost always in peril and Sonic is constantly being threatened with death. At times, scenes can be quite emotional–too much so for a sensitive 7 year-old. Sonic and the Secret Rings probably could have gotten an E+10 if the gameplay violence had been more severe, simply because of the intense cutscenes.
*SPOILER WARNING* The most violent scene in the game is the one in which Shahra is killed. It’s quite obvious that she is cut with Erazor’s blade, but the scene is censored nicely and there is no blood at all. Shahra does die on-screen, but it is shown as quite a peaceful passing. *END OF SPOILERS*
Gameplay Violence. Gameplay violence shouldn’t be an issue. The only way Sonic can attack a foe is the famous “jump-dash” attack. When a small enemy is hit, it flies off the screen in a cartoony fashion. If a skeleton is hit, it crumples to the ground in a pile of bones. One boss sprays a bit of green slime/blood when you hit its eye, but it’s fake and almost pixilated-looking. Some may not even notice it.
Sonic uses “dang” and “heck” a couple of times in the cutscenes. “What the-!?” is left unfinished. “Hell” is used once, but not in a swearing way, as already mentioned in the “spiritual content” section.
There is a suggestion that Erazor and Shahra had/have a love interest in each other, but it’s so subtle that many, especially younger gamers, probably won’t even notice.
Other Negative Content
As already mentioned, some of the cutscenes can be very intense for under-aged gamers. There are also some frightening images that might scare younger players like the skeletal form of King Solomon, for example.
*SPOILER WARNING-AGAIN!* Perhaps I’m being a bit nit-picky here, but as a person who loves the whole “good-VS-evil” thing, I have to bring it up. The fact that you save the world by having Sonic turn into an evil form all seemed a bit strange to me. It was almost like “evil VS very-evil,” or something like that. Though Sonic isn’t really “evil” in this form (he wouldn’t try to take over the world or harm a friend of his), he is shown as defeating Erazor with an almost revengeful mindset. *END OF SPOILERS*
Unfortunately, the gameplay can be a bit of a chore. The player controls Sonic by holding the Wiimote sideways and tilting it from side-to-side to steer the blue guy left or right. This part works fairly well.
To jump, the player simply swings the control up and swings it forward to do a “homing attack.” The frustrating thing is that if you don’t put quite enough force behind this final swing, Sonic doesn’t do the homing attack, and the player retains some serious ring-losses or plummets down some bottomless pit.
Did I mention that Sonic is constantly moving forward? Unlike all of the previous games, the player cannot control when Sonic moves. Don’t get me wrong here, you can make Sonic stop, but he stops very slowly, often causing the player to miss the ledge, enemy (etc.) that they were aiming at. Then you have to go through the tedious process of moving backwards, running forward, and trying again. At times, I found myself repeating this process twice or more before I had any success. Another frustration is the on-rail movement. It’s fast and difficult for inpatient gamers. If a player wants to switch rails to avoid that giant spike-ball on the path ahead, Sonic may or may not switch, depending and how the player tilts the Wiimote and such.
A great add-on to Sonic and the Secret Rings is the multiplayer mode in which gamers can battle in Mario Party-styled mini-games and tournaments. Though some of these games are a lot of fun, others are frustrating and the Wiimote simply refuses to work with them. Still, you’ll get quite a few smiles and laughs from many of these mini-games. Shooting Knuckles off of a giant crossbow, anyone?.
Various rewards such as images, storyboards, and music will encourage the player to replay all of the old levels, and bonus missions will keep them going for quite some time. These missions aren’t easy, and they pose quite a challenge to even an experienced gamer.
Players are apt to blame every failed “homing attack” and “rail switch” on a glitch. It’s not a glitch; it’s the controls-trust me. I didn’t notice any glitches in the gameplay.
Considering the graphical capabilities of the Wii console, Sonic and the Secret Rings boasts of some beautiful levels and CGI sequences. For the most part, the color scheme is drab and flat surfaces appear textured, however, so many of the levels look almost “hazy.” The cutscenes in the game are mostly two-dimensional, comicbook-styled sequences which some fans like and others hate. Though it does lend a new dramatic side to the series, many fans will like the fully animated sequences better. Sadly, there are only two of those in the entire game.
Though a lot of the music has an Arabian flair to it, a large majority is nothing more than typical Sonic fanfare, including rock songs, upbeat rap-styled tracks, and general instrumentals. Cutscene music is done nicely and defiantly helps to set the mood for the tone the scene.
The voice acting in this game, especially for Sonic, was a big improvement from many of the latest games. Characters sound appropriate for the most part… until you get to Erazor Djinn. Unfortunately, he was the one voice that made me wince a bit. Though his tone is good, his accent is almost American and sounds awkward when paired with an Arabian genie.
Sonic and the Secret Rings is a unique idea. Surprisingly, the concept of Sonic entering the ancient tales of the Arabian Nights worked out rather smoothly. The ending was good and left me with a smile on my face, but I was also disappointed at the same time because the game didn’t answer some big plot questions. What ever happened to Solomon? Who was the “murmur” guy?
Though some gamers may despise the whole Sonic Storybook series, those that come with an open mind and patience will have fun with it. Gameplay can definitely test your patience, so if you’re a gamer who flies off the handle easily, perhaps you should rent before you decide to buy (or get it really, really cheap).
So, is Sonic and the Secret Rings a boost or a bummer to the whole franchise? Really, it depends upon how you look at it. It certainly isn’t the ground-breaking, award-winning Sonic title we’ve all dreamed of, but it is unique in its own way, and players diving feet-first into this high-speed ride may just find a gem or two buried under all that Arabian sand.
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