Sonic, a name that has become synonymous with speed, rings and absurd boss battles. Back in the early nineties Sonic took the world by storm, not since Mario had we seen platforming so crisp, smooth and gorgeous, yet Sonic offered more with amazing level design that channelled his immense speed so fluidly that you’d constantly be on the edge of your seat to see what was coming next. The genres of platforming and RPG rarely mix, Mario RPG proved it could be done extremely well and now Bioware bring us Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood for Nintendo DS.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of the blue hedgehog, ever since I was old enough to hold a controller the sonic games were always there so to me the surprise of having a full fledged Sonic RPG both excited and alarmed me. I knew Bioware were very competent at making RPG’s, Mass Effect and the Knights of the Old Republic games are all masterpieces in their own right and KOTOR stays true to the content of the original source material, but sonic hasn’t faired well these past few generations, with a few mediocre titles on 360 and Wii it seemed that all hope was lost for Sega’s once great mascot.
The game begins with our hero being informed by Tails that Knuckles and the chaos emeralds have vanished. In a standard RPG all text is generally shown in a box at the bottom of the screen but in this case the dialogue is split across two screens, in the scenario above an image of Tails appears on the top screen and what he says appears in a box below the image on that screen, Sonic however is on the bottom screen as is his text, separating the text like this avoids any confusion as to who is speaking. The traditional style may not be much of an issue with seasoned RPG players who instinctively look at the name of the player talking in the box to know whose talking but for new players or even children it could become confusing so having it spread over two screens shows us that Bioware know the audience they are trying to cater for.
Before I go on I’d like to take a moment to talk about the conversation system a little more. In conversations you get different options when talking, much like Mass Effect. You can choose to ask questions to gain greater background knowledge of the story or you can simply choose to ignore them and continue with the game. It also offers different types of responses much like Mass Effect in that you can agree or disagree with what a character says, unlike Mass Effect it doesn’t seem to effect the out come of a conversation as a character will simply dismiss what you say if it’s negative.
After the quick chat you enter a small tutorial that explains basic functions of the game, how to interact with the surroundings and so forth, it also shows you with a little movie clip in case you accidentally skipped the tutorial text screen. Now you have control of Sonic with the stylus, how close the stylus is to the character determines the speed. So say you have the stylus right next to sonic he’ll walk in that direction but if you put it to the edge of the screen he’ll dart at a much faster pace.
Interacting with objects/scenery/anything is done by tapping little boxes that appear above the object, this controls everything from opening boxes to making sonic loop the loop which makes the control feel very distant as if you merely an observer who is only allowed to watch and not participate. Bioware have tried to spice it up by making obstacles that only certain characters can activate which helps when you don’t want to reveal the entire map right away, you just make an obstacle that cannot be overcome by the current characters in the party. This method of limited interaction wouldn’t be so bad but all actions are done this way and when you need to back track for missions it can be such a pain selecting the right character to get over an obstacle because only that character can fly or break boxes etc.