Quite why Sonic's creator chose a hedgehog to be 'The Fastest Thing Alive' is lost of the mists of time. His mother obviously never told him about Mrs Tiggy-Winkle – clearly the tales of Beatrix Potter don't translate into Japanese.
Anyway, 44 million game sales later, we just have to roll with the accepted wisdom that all the blue hedgehog wants to do is run fast across levels full of bouncing platforms, corkscrew paths and spiky obstacles. And with a lovely widescreen at his disposal for his PSP debut, Sonic Rivals, he's certainly got the ideal aspect ratio in terms of horizontal velocity to vertical jumpability.
One level of the game was playable on Sony's E3 stand, and even assuming a certain modesty on the part of the gamemaker (it was tagged as being only 20 per cent complete – clearly an underestimate), it played as smooth and looked as gorgeous as you'd hope.
Cleverly, Sonic Rivals mixes 3D graphics within what's basically a 2D control system, something labelled '2.5D'. But whatever you want to call it, it does make the controls easy to handle, while bumping up the immersion of the graphics.
Designed as a racing game, albeit with some combat elements, there are four major playable characters on offer, each of which has their own storyline: hedgehogs Sonic, Shadow, Silver, as well as Knuckles the echidna (or spiny anteater to you and me).
In each level, two of the characters get to race off, with the option of a head-to-head multiplayer mode via adhoc wi-fi or single player, with the game's artificial intelligence taking control of your opponent.
As for the speed element of Sonic Rivals, it's pretty sweet. The PSP's widescreen gives you enough warning of what's coming up on the level, so you can avoid obstacles or jump on the correct launching platform to take you into the skies. There's also plenty of routes in the levels, with bonus areas to storm through, as well as cinematic 'on-rails' moments.
The combat part of the game comes with power-ups, both defensive and offensive, such as firing freezing ice or triggering speed boosts. You can get physical and trip or shove your opponent too, with one nice consequence being the ability to limit the number of golden rings they can pick up if you're in the lead. You'll need as many rings as possible as there are plenty of environmental traps and enemies to overcome.
But such fisticuffs aside, the main goal is to cross the finishing line first, so you'll have to decide when it makes sense to run off into the distance, and when it's a better tactical decision to slow down and administer a bashing.
It was hard to work out exactly how this balance will play out from the E3 demo. My opponent, Knuckles, had a tendency to slow down when I was too far behind (it's what's called 'elastic-banding' in the industry), so while I did manage to win the race – over a massive track that took around three minutes to complete – I really shouldn't have.
Still, there's should be plenty of time for such issues to be cleared up as Sonic Rivals isn't due for release until the end of the year.