Monday, October 29, 2007

The Christmas Gaming Gift Guide Part 1: Must Have titles

Greetings! I'm taking a bit of a break from my recent review marathon for a three part feature on the games that you won't want to miss this Christmas season. Maybe you're looking for an idea of what to buy for a gaming friend, or you'd like some inspiration of what to ask for? Well look no further. I've divided the games into three sections - must have titles which shouldn't be missed, and those that are worth a look if you have any spare cash left over after buying the games in the first category. Today we're looking at the games that you shouldn't be without (in my opinion of course).

The Orange Box - PC, Xbox 360, PS3 - out now

I'm not really a great lover of the FPS genre, and it takes something extra special for me to take notice and actually go out and buy the thing. The Orange Box is just such as thing as it contains one of the finest FPS games the world has ever seen in the form of Half-Life 2, together with Episode 1 and 2, and tops it all off with the sublime puzzle-FPS Portal and the frantic multiplayer deathmatch game Team Fortress 2. An absolute bargain that will keep you playing for ages.

Project Gotham Racing 4 - Xbox 360 - out now

PGR3 was one of the best launch titles for the Xbox 360 and now Bizarre Creations have managed to better it with PGR4. As well as new additions such as motorbikes and dynamic weather, there's also a fully reworked and extended Career mode, and the challenges which used to make up the career can now be found under the Arcade section. The could well be the last game in the series that Bizzarre is involved with as the company now belongs to Activision.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - Wii - out now

The Metroid Prime trilogy comes to an explosive end as Samus goes up against her evil nemesis Dark Samus as well as long term enemies the Space Pirates and Ridley. The motion controls work extremely well, and the epic boss battles are both challenging and extremely exciting. Will this be the last we see of the Bounty Hunter? I hope not, these games have been favourites of mine for the last few years.

Super Mario Galaxy - Wii - out 16/11/07

This is easily my most eagerly anticipated game of the year. Super Mario Sunshine was OK a few years back on the Gamecube, but, Galaxy looks like it's going to take a slight step back to the charm of Super Mario 64 whilst still managing to bring plenty of original ideas to the able. Mario will be able to transform into a bee, a boo and spring to name just three new abilities, and from what I've seen the graphics will be amazing.

Mass Effect - Xbox 360 - out 23/11/07

The Xbox 360 is finally starting to build up a decent collection of RPG's. Enchanted Arms was OK but nothing spectacular, which is exactly what Mass Effect promises to be. Developed by Bioware, the developers of KOTOR and Jade Empire, Mass Effect promises to deliver an epic space saga with more freedom and emphasis on character customisation than has ever been possible before. Definitely one to watch.

Halo 3 - Xbox 360 - out now

Of course, many people out there will already own a copy of Halo 3, but many also won't be getting their own Xbox 360 to play it on until Christmas, so expect another sales surge towards the end of the year. While picking up a copy personally isn't my highest priority, I will get around to it eventually and I look foward to trying out the new additions such as the video replay mode, the bubble shield and the Forge level editor.

Eternal Sonata - Xbox 360 - out now

For those who prefer a traditional Japanese style RPG rather than the western approach taken by Mass Effect, Eternal Sonata will do nicely. The game centres around the composer Chopin as he lies on his death bed, and takes place in his dreams. At various points in the game the player is given more details of the real Chopin and his musical compositions, which is a strange contrast to rest of the game but fascinating nonetheless.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - DS - out now

Last winter it was Twilight Princess, this time it's Phantom Hourglass. The touch screen controls, which include drawing the path for your boomering or steering your boat, are perfectly implemented and when you see the game running for the first time you won't believe your eyes as Nintendo have managed to capture the style of The Wind Waker on the DS to great effect.

Bioshock - Xbox 360 - out now

The spirtitual successor to the classic PC shooter/chiller System Shock 2, BioShock has been out for a while now, but if you haven't already bought it I'd recommend putting it on your Christmas list. You can genetically modify your character so that they can perform telekenis, shoot fire or even a swarm of bees from their arms, and you also have to decide whether to save or sacrifice the Little Sisters, who look like young girls but are actually something more sinister.

Hellgate: London - PC - out 02/11/07

Members of the original team behind Diablo and Diablo 2 return to create a game that shares many similarities but also many differences. The hellish theme and the random generated content will be familiar to fans of the hack and slash RPG series, but the fast paced action and the London Underground settting will be new. As well as offering an in depth single player campaign, Hellgate: London also promises a fully developed multiplayer mode.

So, those are the ten games I would consider over and above all of the hundrens of titles that are coming out this Christmas period, but they aren't the only ones I'm intersted in. Next week I will list my the top ten games that I am keeping tabs on, but will only pick up if time and money permit,

Monday, October 22, 2007

Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball review

This week I'm going to try something a little different, as this will be my first pinball table review. The categories will mostly be the same, although they are in a different context. Presentation takes the places of the Graphics and Sound & Music categories and includes the imagery on the PinLED display, the artwork on the table itself and the sound and music samples. The layout of the table is considered in Game Mechanics and also to a certain extent in Innovation & Cleverness. Value and Replayability will consider how much the machine would likely cost you today and whether you're likely to get bored, or if the table is packed with things to discover and do. The first game I'm going to cover in this little experiment is Star Trek: The Next Generation, part of the widebody SuperPin series by Williams and released in 1993.

Format: Pinball ("SuperPin" Widebody)
Manufacturer: Williams
Year Released: 1993
Estimated Price: £750-£1000

Presentation: 9 out of 10
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a very attractive table to look at. As well as the artwork which is based on the actual likenesses of the actors from the program (see the image of the back glass above) the computer style readouts feature across the table, and there are also very authentic replicas of a Romulan Warbird, a Klingon fighter and a Borg ship which come to play in various modes. The PinLED screen is also used to very good effect for the many different missions and events that can take place - for example you will see the Borg and their ship appear on the view screen, or the Ferengi begging for Duranium spheres. Where quick reactions are needed (steering the shuttle through caverns for example) the game doesn't let the player down and the screen remains in sync with your flipper control.

What really makes ST:TNG the authentic experience it is though, is the audio. All of the principal actors from the television series as well as some supporting characters (such as Q) make an appearance and they are all played by the proper actors. Neat little touches such as Picard saying "Prepare for multiball" or being able to cut of that annoying android with "Thank you Mr Data" by pressing a flipper button when he's pointing out how crap you are really draw you into the game. All in all, Star Trek fans won't be disappointed, and to be honest neither will pinball fans.

Here you can see detail from the lower playfield, including two guns that can be used to launch a probe or shoot targets in the Battle Simulation mission.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
What really makes ST:TNG smarter than your average pinball table are the missions. There are seven standard missions which can be triggered either by choosing to do so when you launch a ball, getting the ball in the Launch Mission hole, or the Command Decision hole when lit. These vary from shooting down asteroids, going through time rifts and rescuing people in the shuttle. Success in the missions gives you an artifact, which come into play in the final mission, only available when you've finished (but not necessarily completed) all the others. In the Final Frontier, six balls are launched at once, and each artifact you've managed to collect increases the value of every shot in this mode. The most I've managed so far is three artifacts, which means each shot was worth 100 million. Now, imagine how crazy it must get when you have six ball pinging around all over the table - your score will very quickly shoot into the billions!

Supporting the standard missions are various other modes, including the Holodeck video modes and numerous multiball modes, including Romulan, Cardassian, Ferengi and the Borg. Romulans and Cardassians are two ball multiballs, Ferengi is up to four and the Borg is three. As you lock each ball, you will get little updates on the Borg, from there being a strange shape on the view screen to there being a full scale attack. If you have a ball locked in the right place when Borg multiball begins, then the Borg ship will fire one of the balls straight at your flippers. In this mode, you have to fire shots into the central Launch Mission hole to destroy parts of the Borg ship before your shields are taken down - if they are, you have to get them back up by going through the spinner.

ST:TNG is also one of the few tables I've seen which lets you continue, up to three times. It also has multiple scoreboards, and which one you end up on depends on various factors. If you use more than one continue, you are limited to the Officers Club, if you use one or none at all and score under 10 Billion, you are on the Honor Roll, and if you score over 10 Billion without continuing, you will be on the Q Continuum. I haven't managed it yet, but if you somehow manage to get to the Final Frontier with the maximum 10 artifacts I can imagine it would be more than possible.

Here you can see the model of the Romulan Warbird, along with the Advance in Rank hole which when lit you can use to progress from Ensign through to Captain and beyond.

Innovation and Cleverness:
9 out of 10
While ST:TNG probably wasn't the first table to have missions, continues, 6 ball multiballs or have a wide body, all of these things together combined with the sound, music and design make for a very smart table indeed. You will be playing for quite some time before you see everything the table has to offer, and it will take longer still before you start getting good enough to get a score on the Q Continuum board. While my knowledge of pinball tables is quite limited, I can still tell this is one of the finest tables you can find, at least without spending several thousand pounds.

Value and Replayability:
9 out of 10
When I was checking ebay prior to writing this review, I managed to find an ST:TNG table for £750, which may sound like a lot of money, but is actually very reasonable for a table of this stature. Of course, it does depend of the condition of the table, so I do recommend that you try and see and play the table you're going to purchase without just buying blind, or you could end up with technical problems that will cost you considerable amounts of money, especially as the electronics in a table like this are very sophisticated.

As for the replayability, the missions and all the other hidden events mean you will keep coming back to the game time and time again.

Overall: 9 out of 10
While there may just be better tables out there, ST: TNG is one of the best you can buy for under £1000. Star Trek fans will be in heaven as they here the characters saying various catchphrases, and pinball fans will enjoy the deep and varied gameplay that the missions and modes offer. If you have a love of pinball and Star Trek and you've always wanted your own machine, then go ahead - make it so!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Metal Slug Anthology review

The original Metal Slug was released in 1996 for both the arcade and home version of the Neo Geo hardware, and was developed by the small company Nazca. SNK liked what they saw, and so they bought both the company and the Metal Slug brand name. The franchise is still going strong (with Metal Slug 7 slated for a DS release), despite several less than stellar games including Metal Slug 4 (more on this later) and the poor attempt to move the series into 3D on the PS2. Metal Slug Anthology came out last year for the PSP, Wii and PS2, and is a collection of Metal Slug 1-6 as well as the remix of 2 known as Metal Slug X. We're taking a look at the PSP version today, because it's perfectly suited to the portable format. It seems that we're also trying to win a record for the most times we can put the words "Metal Slug" into a review at the same time...

Format: PSP
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: SNK PlayMore/Nazca
Genre: Run & Gun Shooter
Region: Europe (runs on any PSP)
Price: £29.99 RRP, can be found for £10-£15

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The cartoon style visuals and extremely fluid animations that are packed with incidental details are one of the hallmarks of the Metal Slug series. Most of the games, with the exception of 4, have imaginatively designed levels that each have their own twist - be it a unique vehicle, weapon, enemy or other special event. This is one of the things that keeps you playing on, so that you can see exactly what weird and wonderful stuff the developers can come up with next. Highlights include a camel with machine guns attached, mummies and zombies that you can be turned into (the zombie has a fantastic blood-spewing special attack) and becoming fat if you pick up too many food bonuses. The boss battles are also fantastic and frequently fill the entire screen, as do the many bullets and missiles they spew at you. There is a bit of an issue with slowdown in Metal Slug 2, but this seems to be a problem with the game code rather than the PSP, as it's fixed from Metal Slug X onwards. It just goes to show how powerful the Neo Geo was, and how ahead of it's time the series was also, because they compare remarkably well against the 2D games of today.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
The music of the earlier games is definitely in the 16-bit style - a bit tinny and synthetic, but well composed. By the time you get to 6, the music has been completely remastered and the familiar tunes from the early games have been given a new lease of life. There's a fair bit of speech in the games, mostly announcing which weapon you've picked up as well as the "Thank you!" when you free a POW, and again in the earlier games it's a bit fuzzy but by the later entries it's nice and clear. The sounds you will be hearing most frequently however, are the sounds of bullets and explosions. The Metal Slug games are completely manic, never sitting still for a second and the sound reflects this.

Here you can see the Metal Slug tank itself battling against a giant armoured crab with cannons attached from the third game in the series.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
If you are familiar with run and gun shooters such as the Contra series, Alien Hominid or perhaps Treasure's Gunstar Heroes, you should know where the Metal Slug series is coming from. Basically, you (and a friend if you know someone with a PSP and their own copy of the game) take control of a soldier up against insurmountable odds - be it against an evil Nazi style army, the undead, aliens from outer space, tribesmen or even nastier aliens from outer space. There are many different weapon to pick up and you can fire in any direction, which is handy as your enemies can appear from any direction as well. These weapons include the Heavy Machine Gun, Rocket Launcher, Laser Gun, Flamethrower and many more, and they all cause their own unique death animation when used on your enemies. There are also a wide variety of vehicles to pilot, from the super deformed Metal Slug tank of the title, to the camel, to helicopters and planes. These vehicles having their own energy bar which can be refilled by collecting fuel canisters. If they take too much damage they will explode, so it's best to jump out before that happens.

Scattered throughout all the levels are many POW's who need rescuing, and doing so will cause them to drop either a weapon or an bonus item for you to collect. Upon completing a level you are given bonus points depending on how many POW's you managed to rescue, but each time you die the number is reset - and you will die often, believe me. Each of the games in the collection have 5-6 levels and they are all fairly short (it takes just over an hour to complete each one). Chances are you will replay them however as apart from the first game in the series, there are 4-6 characters to choose from each with their own abilities and weapons.

Here is the tooled-up death camel facing off against another of the bosses - Jeff Minter would be proud!

Innovation and Cleverness: 8 out of 10
Although the run and gun niche genre was already well established by the time Metal Slug came along, it took things to a whole new level with all the hidden features that were packed into each game. What's more, each game (again with the exception of 4) features very well designed levels with fiendish boss battles that will test your reactions to the max. Why am I giving 4 such a hard time? Lack of imagination basically. It was the first game not to be developed by the original team and instead of featuring all the wacky enemy types we'd become accustomed to and giant bosses, it just kept on reusing the same old Nazi-esque baddies from the first game and nearly every level featured a battle with the same helicopter. The games either side - 3 and 5, are probably the best in the series, with 5 being my personal favourite because instead of the alien invasion that features in the other games, it instead focuses on some tribesmen who discover a possessed hockey mask and then go on a kill rampage. It's then up to you to stop their evil plans, of course!

Value and Replayability: 9 out of 10
Metal Slug Anthology can be picked up for about £15 brand new from most places these days, which considering you're getting 7 games is very good value for money. There's also a Gallery option in the game which includes Wallpapers, Music and an Interview for you to unlock, which requires tokens that you obtain from beating the games, so it'll take a while to unlock everything.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Metal Slug Anthology is an excellent package, featuring (almost) perfect emulation. The 7 games may be quite brief, but the level of detail and the multiple characters ensure that you won't have seen everything in one play through. The brevity of the games also suits the PSP format perfectly, as you can pick up the game whenever you have a few minutes of downtime and play a level or two. The games are very tough but you don't have to worry about not being able to finish them as you are allowed infinite continues (purists can also turn this off). All in all, this is an excellent collection which further establishes the PSP as the console to own for retro fans.

This boss battle is quite a memorable one as you're chased up a tower by a giant metal snake.

Monday, October 08, 2007

FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage review

The FlatOut series started life on the original Xbox, with the original game being a fun but flawed off-road racer. The sequel beefed up the graphics and refined the gameplay, but came just a little too late in the system's life to sell in decent amounts. The developers, Bugbear, have based Ultimate Carnage on FlatOut 2, but used the extra power that the 360 offers to deliver vastly improved graphics and gameplay. What's more, the game is considerably cheaper than most new 360 releases. Is it a worthy alternative to the Burnout series, of just worthless scrap? Let's see...

Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Bugbear
Genre: Arcade Racing
Region: Europe
Price: £39.99

Graphics: 9 out 10
Seriously, FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is one of the best looking games I've seen on the 360 so far. Maybe not up there with the very latest games like BioShock but seriously impressive none the less. The tracks are excellently designed with tons of debris and destructible objects to plough through, as well as having many different routes with split and converge throughout. The amount of chaos that can be going on at any one time is huge, and I've never seen the game slow down once. The only thing that really lets the side down with the graphics is the slightly dodgy clipping. This is most noticeable in the Stunt mode where your drive will get stuck half way through a solid object, but can also occur in the racing mode when a garage door or some other object becomes embedded in your car. It's not a game-breaking glitch but it does spoil the sense of immersion somewhat.

Sound and Music: 6 out of 10
This category is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Maybe if you enjoy your crappy American teen rock you may enjoy the soundtrack featured here, but to me it just got annoying fast and that wasn't helped by the fact that there's only a handful of songs to begin with and they repeat ad nauseum. Thank god for the 360's Custom Soundtrack feature, it's a life saver. The game fares slightly better from a sound effect point of view. The smashes and crashes all sound pleasantly weighty and the comedy screams as your driver flies through the windscreen always raises a chuckle. My recommendation is put a half dozen or so of your favourite albums on the hard drive, leave the sound effects as they are, and enjoy (this may work better with more upbeat stuff - Enja might not go quite so well).

Your car becomes increasingly battered as the race goes on. This doesn't effect handling but if you do incur too much punishment you will be "wrecked" and out of the race. This is especially embarrassing in online races, unless you do it to someone else, of course.

This game won't be rated for Plot & Character because it's not relevant.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
There are three different styles of gameplay to be found in FlatOut: UC, all based around the same physics engine. The first is racing, which pits you against 15 other computer controlled drivers, or up to 7 real life drivers over Xbox Live. As well as trying to finish in first place and progress through the various championships, there are also a variety of other awards that you can receive, which vary from causing the most damage to the other drivers, obtaining the fastest lap of the race, completely wrecking another car, and more. You will earn money for achieving these as well as unlocking some achievements if you do them enough times.

When you first start playing FlatOut mode, which is the main single player career, you will have to start in one of the slowest cars and to start with you'll have a hard time finishing in the top slots. So you have to cause as much carnage as you can instead, earning cash while doing so, and then upgrade your chosen car. Gradually, as you increase your top speed, acceleration, handling as so on, you will become much more competitive and start to win. You start off in the Derby class of car but when you get enough cash you can move up to the Race and Street classes, where the cars get faster but are less resilient as a result.

As well as racing, there's also Stunt mode, which consists of twelve different mini games that all involve launching your driver through the windscreen and on to some kind of target. The games include Bowling, Stone Skipping (where you have to press the A button as the poor sod hits the water to keep him bouncing along), and guiding the bloke through rings of fire. These are all good fun but a bit repetitive as they are all really variations of the same thing. They can be played both locally with friends or over Xbox Live.

Finally, there are the Deathmatch Derbys. If you ever played Destruction Derby on the PlayStation, you will remember the bowl stages where you and all the other drivers smash each other to the death. There are a variety of different stages, including the classic bowls as well as car parks, the top of a skyscraper and a figure eight circuit.

In addition to the FlatOut mode, there's another single player campaign known as Carnage mode. Instead of championships, there are various levels of individual challenges which could be a race, a Deathmatch Derby or a Stunt. You can earn Gold, Silver or Bronze, and earning all Gold gets you another achievement.

The achievements in FlatOut: UC walk the line between easy and challenging quite nicely. You will unlock your first few within hours of starting the game, while others such as 25 online race wins will take considerably longer. There's no nasty nigh-on impossible achievements like the ones in Ridge Racer 5, which is a relief. The other modes are Live, where you'll find the usually player or ranked options for each of the three game types, and Party, which is where you go to play the Stunt mini games with your friend.

This poor rag doll chap will meet his demise in many amusing and grisly ways, including getting burned to a crisp when fired through burning hoops.

Innovation and Cleverness: 4 out of 10
Because this game is the third in a franchise, and a remake of the second game at that, I can't give it a high score in this category. There's no doubt that when the rag doll man mini games made their first appearance in the original game they were both clever and innovative, but this is the third time they've been used now.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
There is a nice range of things to do in this game. Just the FlatOut mode itself will take a significant amount of time to complete, especially if you want to get gold medals in all the events. Then you have Carnage mode, which is also pretty extensive, and when you've finished with that there's almost limitless replayability to be found from the multi player modes, both online and off. There was also no shortage of people to play online, even just after the release of Halo 3.

Overall: 9 out 10
FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is pure digital fun. Never mind the small flaws, at it's core is a highly-polished, solidly designed piece of entertainment and is a welcome antidote to the serious, stuffy racers like Forza Motorsport 2. The Burnout series may be the more well known of the two, but FlatOut is just as good - better than the more recent offerings in fact because if you want pure racing without all of the other nonsense you can have it with the FlatOut mode, and if you want stupid mini games you can have those too.

Should somebody drive into one of the petrol stations that are scattered around the tracks you will certainly know about it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sonic Rush Adventure review

Well, talk about a miracle, but here I am with another post barely a week after my last! I hope I can keep this up for a while, I have a few games I would like to write about. This time it's the turn of Sonic Rush Adventure, the brand new hedgehog based platformer from Sega for the Nintendo DS. The original took Sonic back to his high speed 2D roots and was very well received, so does the sequel make any improvements? Let's see...

Format: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Sega
Developer: DIMPS
Genre: 2D Platformer
Region: Europe
Price: £29.99

When Sonic Rush was released shortly before Christmas a few years ago, it was a welcome return to form for the ageing mammal. It fused the high speed retro flavoured gameplay we all knew and loved from the Megadrive games, with a funked up soundtrack and some nifty graphical tricks. Rather than trying to force Sonic into 3D like Sega had done on the home consoles (to mediocre effect), they decided to stick with what they do best and it paid off. Now, with the follow up, the word Adventure has crept into the title - but don't let that concern you do much. There is a bit of light exploration to do but at it's heart this is still the classic style platforming action that fans want.

Graphics: 9 out of 10
On the ultra bright screen of my DS Lite, the graphics of Sonic Rush Adventure look absolutely fantastic. The game like it's predecessor makes use of the "2.5D" technique where 3D polygons are viewed side on for classic 2D gameplay with modern 3D presentation, and because Sonic is so small you can hardly tell the difference between the polygonal model and the old 2D sprites of yesteryear. Highlights include the Coral Canyon levels, with it's nice blue/purple colour scheme and shimmery undersea lighting effects, and the bosses. These bosses, while not particularly challenging to beat (at least not on the default setting) are very impressive to look at, and include a robotic T-Rex, a robotic whale, and a robotic pirate. Noticing a theme here? The boss battles take place over both screens of the DS and you will often need to jump from the bottom screen to the top and vice versa. There are also some 3D vehicular mini games and these look OK, but not as good as the rest of the game in my opinion.

Of course good looks would be nothing in a Sonic game without the most important factor - speed. I'm happy to say that SRA moves along at a tremendous pace. This can be irritating in later stages when there are sudden drops into oblivion but when you know the stages you will know when to take care and avoid this.

The loops and spirals which the series is famous for stretch over both screens on the DS to impressive effect.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
The first Sonic Rush featured a very funky soundtrack that has been compared to that of Jet Set Radio, and SRA continues this new tradition with aplomb. The beat box style lyrics may irk some players but I didn't mind it too much. The boss music in particular is very exciting and when you have depleted half of the bosses energy bar the music goes into overdrive and can cause you to panic if you don't have any rings left. Otherwise, you can expect the famous chime as Sonic collects rings, and all the other noises, like the "wub-wub" sound when Sonic is drowning and he pops a much needed air bubble.

Plot and Character: 3 out of 10
SRA tries to be deeper than the average Sonic game by having lots of cut scenes and story interludes in between the stages, but it fails pretty miserably by all accounts. There isn't really much of a plot apart from "stop evil cat pirate thing" and "collect Chaos Emeralds and Sol Crystals" but Sega felt the need to try and shoe-horn one in anyway. To exacerbate things further, they also continued the trend of adding one annoying extra character per game which started with Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. This time it's a Racoon named Marine, who is cursed with the most god-awful cliched faux Australian accent you'll have ever read. At times she is amusing but for the most part she is incredibly irritating. Thank god you can skip the story scenes. Ironically, if SRA had no plot at all it would have gained a better score in this category, because a Sonic game doesn't really need one.

This is the island base that Sonic and chums use to build new vehicles and plan their next move. A bit like Thunderbirds - but with anthropomorphic animals.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
When SRA sticks to what Sonic games do really well (i.e. really fast, exciting platform stages) then it's great fun. When it goes off on it's various tangents it gets into trouble. These include the afore-mentioned excruciating story sequences, but also to a lesser degree include the vehicular mini games and the amount of repetition involved. You see, Tails being the qualified mechanic that he is, can build a range of new vehicles each with their own corresponding mini game and each able to go slightly farther than the last. The downside of this is that he need a certain number of materials before he can build a new vehicle, which you gain from completing the stages. The better your Rank for a given stage the more materials you will obtain, with a C earning 1 material and an A earning 3. So chances are you will have to replay many of the stages at least once before you can build the next vehicle and journey to the next island, which can get rather boring after a while.

The vehicle mini games are OK... just OK. The touch screen controls work well enough, and the games are mercifully brief, but personally I just wanted to get on with the next platform stage as they are by far the best thing about this game.

Innovation & Cleverness: 6 out of 10
One thing that SRA does do well is the introduction of new worlds to explore. For all too long the Sonic games have been stuck in a loop of the same old Casino worlds, underwater stages, etc. but at least this time DIMPS have shaken things up a bit with a Ghost Ship for example. The other "innovations" like the touch screen mini games I've already mentioned really add very little to your enjoyment of the game and I'd rather they were left out personally.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10

The main story mode of the game is quite easy and fairly brief, but it's really only the beginning of the game. Once it's done, you still have to find and earn all of the Chaos Emeralds and Sol Crystals, plus there are 100 Missions to try and clear if you so wish. As well as the main levels there are also quite a few hidden islands to seek out so to do everything in the game will take a fair old while and it lasts a considerable time longer than the original Sonic Rush. You can also play as Blaze the Cat who has a slightly different move set and has to face tougher versions of the bosses.

Overall: 7 out of 10
When you take every aspect into consideration, Sonic Rush Adventure actually feels like a step back compared to the last game, which is a shame because the heart of the game - the platforming and the bosses, is actually an improvement. By cramming in a needless plot, a stupid and annoying Racoon and pointless vehicular mini games, Sega have managed to spoil what would've been one of the best DS games of the year. Well done!