In other news, I've finally gone and bought myself a PSP this week. Don't know if they're still doing it, but I took advantage of a fantastic bundle offer from HMV, which consisted of a PSP Slim and Lite, with Sonic Rivals, Sega Megadrive Collection and Virtua Tennis 3 for only £150. That's basically two full priced games for free, so if you've been meaning to get hold of a PSP, that's the offer to go for, I'd say. This of course also means that Sonic Rivals is finally mine, and therefore, my Sonic game collection is now once again fully complete. Phew. You know what, it's actually a better game than I was expecting it to be too. Not that I thought it was going to be rubbish, but I guess I was just a bit put off by its slightly ugly and simplistic graphics, and the fact that it's a relatively simple Sonic platformer too, certainly compared to the DS's recent Rush Adventure. Relative to the full 3D console games, screenshots and movies of Sonic Rivals have always made it seem to me almost like the 3D equivalent of the Game Gear/Mastersystem counterparts to the Megadrive games, i.e. much, much less pretty. When I saw it running on the PSP screen however, it suddenly all makes alot more sense.
It carries a racing theme, and I was surprised to learn that, like Secret Rings, it also abolishes lives, checkpoints and total ring loss in its levels, with re-spawn points occuring regularly to keep both competitors very much in the action. While Secret Rings levels were still a struggle even without that stuff though, the challenge in Rivals isn't about getting through the levels and bosses, it's about doing it before your opponent does, and you do get beaten quite a bit from start to finish in the story, although perhaps not so much in the middle, for some reason. It's a shame all the characters play exactly the same apart from their one special move, when an item is obtained, but handling isn't bad once you're used to it, and it certainly feels totally different from the Advance/Rush strand of the series.
The levels are better designed than I thought, with quite a range of obstacles and features, both common and level-specific, and some stages change their appearance by quite a surprising degree as you venture through each act. A few, like the rollercoaster-styled Sky Park Zone, my favourite, feature an altered appearance for each act - something from S3&K that I've since been absolutely dying to see again in a 2D platformer. I wonder if the fact that Act 2 looking quite a bit like Sonic CD's Stardust Speedway Zone 3, where you also raced against Metal Sonic, is intentional. On a final, soundtrack based note, the extremely mediocre, repetative and uninspiring level music seems to be alot more bearable when you're actually playing, I must admit, but I still say it's one of Sonic's worst soundtracks for a platformer. I mean, it's not awful, but Sonic music simply must be at a mich higher standard by default.
I suppose 3D graphics on a 2D control plane is the exact opposite to Sonic 3D, which was 2D sprites in 3D controls, making both of them difficult to categorise in either the "2D" or "3D" folders that most people like to use for the series. But as I predicted before even playing, 2D controls in 3D visuals is an idea that works really well for Sonic, I think. The great thing about Sonic in 3D is the more dynamic camera angles you get while whizzing through stuff, and this is certainly used to the full extent in Rivals, yet the simplistic 2D controls remain. I really think that Sonic Team's next big move should be to translate this in some way into their next primary, console-based Sonic platformer. It keeps it 3D and up to date, but retains the simplistic Sonic controls that we all know and love and if done with enough pure, brilliant content and interesting little ideas, I think it could prove a big hit. In the meantime however, I'll continue anticipating Sonic Rivals 2 - especially that lovely new Wild West style level. Why we've never really had one of those until now, I'll never know.
Sorry about the 10 month late review there, but once you get me talking, it's hard to shut me up. Unfortunately that hasn't yet happened for Mystic Cave Zone however, as I've not really had the time to do anything other than re-reading and editing what I had already written for it. I know, I'm sorry, but as I said last time, I'm pretty busy at the moment, with about seven different other projects floating around in my head, so you'll have to sit tight for the moment. I'm sure you can manage.
Oh, and the Sonic Site Awards are closing in a couple of days, so if you've not yet voted for Zone: 0, go and do it now! Go on, quick!