SO! In one word? Excellent. It is an excellent Sonic game and will probably become my favourite secondary Sonic platformer thus far. I'll start by saying that I never disliked Sonic Rush, it's always been good fun, but I always felt it was a bit overrated, and not without faults, particularly regarding its level design and frustration factor, in initial play. I would say that almost all of these problems have been fixed for its sequel, and while its frantic flowing style of gameplay is still very present, there is an absolute tonne in here that separates the two games very significantly.
Rather than a traditional menu, all of the game modes can be accessed within the hub map of Windmill Island, and within the map, small RPG style rooms and docks that Sonic can walk around in, and talk to people such as Tails, Blaze, new character Marine, and her various Koala-based friends that the team meet along the way. Great to see new NPC's that aren't humans, even if they do all have to be the same animal. It would seem that the powers that be are determined to make RPG style gameplay work alongside Sonic's usual running and jumping shenanigans, to help freshen the series. There will always be those that are dead set against it - the annoying, bitching type of people that never want Sonic to do anything that he didn't do prior to 1995, and I admit I was eager to plough through the initial ten minutes of story scenes and training sequences to get to the action. But after that, I think those two main modes, and the sailing (which I'll get to in a minute) gel quite well together to form a neat little adventure, and the game certainly feels deeper and longer as a result.
Seven levels, two acts and a 3D boss each, and all very similar to how things were done in the first game, but there are many notable differences that any discerning Sonicologist will be able to spot, and to me, just about all of them are for the better - Except perhaps for the control system. It's the same basic thing, but the X button is now unused, and B is used to perform combo tricks while in the air, although the R button still does tricks while grinding and dashing across or up, aswell. It's a bit fiddly and confusing at first, but you get used to it. Thankfully the pinpoint tight movement controls of your character remain the same.
The wonderful level design more than makes up for that. Their locations are more original, with bright colours and the environments are full of stuff, compared to the slightly empty feeling I got in the first installment. Speed is still of the essence, and I felt that my bursts of speed flowed a bit better, and for longer. There are more level-specific objects ("gimmicks", if you prefer), and loads more occasions where Sonic's 3D model is used to great effect, popping in and out of the layout, and even indulging in the occasional, completely 3D segment, such as hopping between adjacent grinding rails. There are so many new, innovative moments that I think most fans will enjoy. The focus on enemies is back to being just right, with almost no health bars in sight, and none of those areas where you have to beat a group of them to pass through.
Perhaps most importantly, someone over there at Sega or Dimps or wherever has finally said "Hey, yanno what.. there's too many death drops these days, lets do something about it".. hallelujah. They're still there, but occur much less frequently, particularly in the earlier levels, and even later on, I still felt that their inclusion was reasonably fair. As a result however, the game does feel alot easier, probably quite a bit too easy, in fact, and most of the levels feel at least a minute too short too. While they're still very entertaining and keep you on your toes, and I infinitely prefer too easy to having challenges that are just too difficult, there just weren't as many particularly tricky bits for me to get stuck on for a little while as I would have liked. I never actually got a Game Over - something I was getting all the time in SR1, and if the levels were played one by one, with nothing in between, you could probably race through, even on your first time, in little more than an hour or even less. I beat all levels and the final boss by the end of my first day.
What's more, I don't think I even lost a life on any of the bosses, and that was definately not the case for the bosses in SR1, whose dodgy ring loss system made me want to throw the damn DS out the window in unbelievable frustration. That problem is fortunately very much fixed, and the bosses actually have both an easy and normal difficulty setting in the options. Mine was on easy so that might have explained it. Still, they remain very interesting challenges that really break the boundaries of anything we've seen before in Sonic bosses. Multiple routes in the levels are of a similar style to original. Plenty of places where you can see separations, but I don't think many of them last all that long, but I'm sure there's plenty more for me to explore yet.
The sailing was an area that I thought might not have been fully refined, but as it turns out, it's just as well implemented. Four very different crafts lead to significantly different methods of play, from Special-Stage-like moving and ring collecting, to firing at enemies by touching them with the stylus, and they all travel for different maximum lengths and over different surfaces, etc. They're necessary for travel to the different islands that house the levels, and Tails builds the crafts one by one from different amounts of materials that you can gather by completing each act. You often end up needing more than what one playthrough of any level will give you though, so you must either do the level again (which is something I would do anyway, but there was something about the fact that the story seemed to force you to do it that didn't quite sit right with me), or you can explore many of the hidden islands on the great, sea map. These contain small, fresh chunks of level that are either of a special seaside location, or based on the appearance of one of the full levels. This is a great addition that helps to make up for the lack of the length in them, and some of them are actually quite a bit harder too. The whole thing reminds me alot of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker actually, which is also a great game.
Story scenes are numerous and mostly take place using images of the characters and text, like in Sonic Rush, but this time 3D sequences are also used to convey any significant action. Marine is the new Raccoon girl and she certainly has alot of life in her, decorating her many sentences with a barrage of crazy Australian phrases (some of which I've never heard in my life, so they possibly may have been made up entirely). For anyone who was wondering why this game was given an age rating of 12 for bad language, it's because Marine uses the word "bugger" on four different occasions. Probably intended to be perfectly innocent, but of course over here in Britain, it's something of a mild swear word, which Americans may not be aware of. It's rather funny that probably that one word caused the whole game to be inaccessible to anyone below the age of 12 without their parents handy. Anyway, Marine's childish naivity, bossiness and excitability ceratinly makes the other characters seem quite a bit less interesting, but it doesn't take long for her to get on your nerves.
Beyond the main story, there's more extra stuff to do than in any previous 2D Sonic game. On top of the hidden islands, you also get 100 extra missions to complete (containing all the usual suspects), and Chaos Emeralds and Sol Emeralds to collect, which seem to open up the inevitable extra boss encounter (which I haven't unlocked yet). No Special Stages this time though, Sol Emeralds are collected by beating harder versions of the bosses as Blaze, and Chaos Emeralds are won by beating "Johnny", the simplistically-named torpedo robot, at jet ski races. Incidentally, Blaze does not have her own story, she joins the others when they meet her in storymode, and from then on, you can simply choose to play as either Sonic or Blaze. Good news for me - I hardly ever play as Blaze in Sonic Rush.
What else..? Oh yeah. Good soundtrack. Not amazing, but good, and better than Sonic Rush's very unorthodox one. This is from the same sort of vein, but features much more traditional, catchy Sonic style tracks. Good to see that each act has a different variation of the same tune aswell, rather than just a separate one for each character. The way it should be.
This is a bit of a historic week in Sonic history, as it marks his first official foray into proper online gaming, but I can't believe Sonic 2 on XBox Live Arcade pipped this game to the post by merely 2 days! Unbelievable, but regardless, the online competition in SRA is perfect. I've had a few races and there's been no lag whatsoever (unlike for Tails in Sonic 2), and I'm thrilled that it's even here - I was honestly expecting it to not make an appearance in the end. You know how Sonic Team are with letting us down on the little things. I'm returning to Uni tomorrow where there isn't a wireless connection, so if you want to play against me before then, be quick and enter my ID: 1007-7113-9238-4000, for when I can find the time to play for a bit, and whenever I'm home.
Overall, Sonic Rush Adventure is a superb game, that, at least on initial play, is way better than its predecessor in my opinion. However, what's important to me is its lasting appeal over the months and years that I'll return to it now and then for a play, at which point it can be properly compared to the other games of the series. It's a shame the levels are so short and easy, in fact I dare say this could be the easiest Sonic platformer we've ever seen, and it remains to be seen if this will impact much on its lasting appeal. That doesn't mean for a second though that it isn't a fun, innovative and highly enjoyable experience that is deepened tremendously by its sailing aspect and a not-too-overwhelmining smidgen of RPG. It's all so well thought out and the developers have really softened every corner, which is a sight for sore eyes in these modern times. Dimps may have kicked off for us the start of Sonic's return to the top, or at least a more comfortable alcove on the mountain of gaming.
By the way, Hill Top Zone isn't far off completion now. More people are flocking to this place to find out Sonic 2 info for its XBLA version, so I'll try to build it up as quickly as I can.