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Previews

Sonic and the Secret Rings

Preview: Hands-on with Sonic's Wii debut

Sonic has struggled to make the jump to 3D and live up to the glory days when his 2D sprint-offs were among the best games around.

His 3D 'adventure' games failed to merge his supersonic speed with 3D environments without being plagued by glitches and gameplay issues. But that's where Sonic and the Secret Rings on Wii aims to be different because, although modelled in 3D, it's unique gameplay locks you onto a set path - essentially on rails - almost mimicking the fixed, set-path gameplay of the 2D games.

Sonic runs automatically and, holding the Wii Remote horizontally, you tilt the Remote left to steer himc past obstacles while hitting the 2 buttons to jump. It works a bit like a Star Fox game - you can guide Sonic left and right on the screen but he is otherwise fixed to a set path that he cannot escape. You can also use Sonic's lock-on attack to take out mid-air enemies by shoving the Remote forward.

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This simplifies the whole experience, as Sonic zooms through intricate sections of the various environments automatically, which may sound like you're barely playing the game, but each level contains set pieces that occasionally slow down the action for some enemy-killing and platforming challenges.

Just like the Adventure games, you'll encounter large open chasms that force you to lock-on attack several enemies to get across, or you'll find your path blocked by a closed gate that can only be opened by pressing a switch - which is often accessible only after you've killed all the enemies in the area.

Even better, special action scenes will see Sonic racing to escape bigger hazards, like stampeding rhinos or rockets shot from attacking enemy airships. In one of our favourite parts of the game, he rode on a giant bullet through the air, and you control the bullet's flight by tilting the Remote in an extreme, high-speed flying section.

Mixing things up even further are mission objectives that challenge you not only to get though the levels, but to complete various tasks as you do so, like getting a specified number of Rings by the end of the stage, or killing a certain number of enemies without dying. And completing these missions lets you unlock a shockingly huge selection of extra abilities and performance-enhancing options.

This is where the 'Secret Ring' comes into play. At the start of the game Sonic is given a magical ring that can boost his abilities - but they have to be unlocked first. As you work your way through the game literally dozens of performance boosting options are unlocked, that do everything from boosting Sonic's top speed, allowing him to boost in mid-air, boost when he lands, accelerate faster and absolutely dozens more.

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As you unlock his new abilities, they appear on a large list and you have to activate them by assigning them to Sonic's Ring. But the Ring restricts the number of abilities that can be assigned to it, cleverly adding a strategy element to the game, forcing you to modify every aspect of Sonic's abilities to best suit the level you're about to play and the objective you've been set.

So if you know the level ahead is long, wide and fast, or your mission is to get through a stage quickly, you'll want to activate all of the speed-boosting abilities. Whereas if a stage consists of thin paths and intricate plat forming sections, making Sonic too fast will make these sections difficult so you instead might want to enhance Sonic's jumping height and mid-air control.

Sonic and the Secret Rings is a unique Sonic experience that tries to take the mascot back to his simplistic, high-speed platforming roots. Our major concerns are that the controls, although simplified in principle, don't feel as comfortable and immediately intuitive as you would imagine. Sonic's movement is still uncontrollably sporadic like his other 3D games, and we found ourselves fighting with the controls to get Sonic to do the simplest of actions.

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