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PSP  header logo

Sonic Rivals 2

For: PSP

Cute but prickly

Product: Sonic Rivals 2 | Developer: Backbone Entertainment | Publisher: Sega | Format: PSP | Genre: Adventure | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Sonic Rivals 2 PSP, thumbnail 1
Anyone who's ever heard Victoria Aitken trying to rap, seen Davina McCall hosting a chat show or Gyles Brandreth talking politics will understand the wisdom of the motto 'stick to what you know'. It's advice Sega should also heed if it wants to get the most from Sonic The Hedgehog going forward.

Of course, the temptation to refine, tweak and overhaul must be overpowering, especially given that Sonic is now 16 years old, but there are certain elements in Sonic Rivals 2 that just don't work.

Structurally, the Story Mode is a traditional level-by-level dash through classic Sonic territory. You have familiar themed zones such as Blue Coast, Neon Palace and Sunset Forrest, but there are also some excellent additions like Frontier Canyon (a Wild West-style area). However, interspersed throughout these race events are some generally banal boss fights and infuriating beat-'em-up-inspired duels.

While these additional elements are not so intrusive as to ruin the experience, you'll get a horrible sinking feeling whenever one of them turns up. Worst of all, you can't even progress in Story mode until you've endured five to ten minutes of button mashing or annoying arena battling.

The duels are by far the worst, consisting of random jumping and kicking until a knockout is achieved. Because the characters are so small and nimble it's hard to develop any particular attack or defence strategy. Finding and unleashing power-ups, then going in for the kill is generally the best method but wins are mostly achieved with a combination of pain and luck.

The boss stages are only marginally better, with banality replacing frustration. Bosses do their usual thing: charge around the screen attempting to knock rings out of you and then pause for a breather. In classic Sonic fashion, you then need to find the chink in the armour and score a hit. It's all very predictable and unnecessarily long.

But let's not dwell on the game's weaker levels too much as they only comprise around 15 per cent of the whole experience. Particularly when the rest is classic Sonic, with every stage a breathless and wonderful dash to victory.

It's in these races where Sonic Rivals 2 excels. In an event against one of several opponents (depending on the story arc) you'll need to negotiate loop the loops, speed burns, hidden tunnels, rail slides and bumpers to get to the finish line first. The sense of speed is exceptional and the inclusion of a rival definitely adds greater impetus to the contests.

Every level has been designed with great care and once you begin to spot shortcuts and secret areas you'll be hooked on trying to bring your stage time down. Another excellent addition is the power-ups you can collect and unleash on your opponent to scupper their progress. These include the ability to freeze your rival in a block of ice or whirl them around with a mini tornado. But your rivals are always quick to get their revenge.

And the range of opponents is extensive. When the blue hedgehog started out he was an independent spirit, kept himself to himself and knew only one thing: his nemesis was Dr Robotnik. Now he's got so many hangers on it's hard to keep up. Playable rivals include Tails, Rouge, Knuckles, Silver, Espio, Metal Sonic and Shadow, all with their very own special abilities. Take Tails through a level, for instance, and he'll be able to access hard to reach areas with his nifty helicopter tail.

Thankfully, once you've reached a race stage you can enjoy it in Free Play mode without having to endure the duels or boss levels. This adds tonnes of replay to the package and enables you to either beat your best time or locate a number of Chao to unlock even more features. Indeed, there are 150 collectable cards to discover: a strangely addictive pursuit given that they are included merely for vanity in the Options menu.

All the rivalry is expertly managed in the Story mode but there's also a solid ad-hoc multiplayer feature so you can test your skills against human opposition. Although only focussing on Single Event and Circuit Mode races (which are the fun bits anyway), the frame-rate remains smooth and the action intense.

Sonic Rivals 2 is a definite improvement over the PSP original, offering more character variety and route options within each stage. While the plot is absolutely abysmal (something we've now come to expect from the series) you won't care as you unleash Sonic's special power, break the sound barrier and loop the loop on your way to victory.

Sure, the boss battles and duel levels are a misjudgement but when Sonic is doing what he does best this is blisteringly good fun. Anyone will tell you Sonic is not FPS or beat-'em-up material, so let's hope Sega realises this and sticks to pure, unadulterated Sonic speed next time around.
Sonic Rivals 2
Reviewer photo
Mark Walbank | 5 December 2007
Despite a few irritating stages, this remains a blisteringly fast and entertaining Sonic outing
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