In Depth: Sonic Chronicles Hands-On Impressions

In Depth: Sonic Chronicles Hands-On Impressions

by September 29, 2008

Tristan takes the Finished Game for a Test Drive in NYC

(This is part two of a four part series detailing the Sonic Chronicles launch day at New York City’s Nintendo World.)

In some respects, actually purchasing the game wasn’t half the fun of Sonic Chronicles‘s official launch.  Most gamers who purchase the latest and greatest to play have to get back home in order to truly experience what they have their hands on.  Such is not the case for DS holders.  Because it’s portable, many who went in quickly unpacked the game, header over to the DS bar, and went to town–grabbing their Chao and all.

I was one of the few who was unprepared for this mass diving into the deep end.  But just because my copy remained shrinkwrapped through the experience didn’t mean I was out of luck with playing it.

All kiosks on the first floor were completely fitted with Chronicles.  No matter where you went, that’s all they had to offer.  It was one of the rare moments where Pokémon wasn’t the game of choice at the center pod.

Nintendo World limits players to an hour of game time, usually.  That was more than enough for me to get my hands dirty in the game.

Easily one of the first things anyone will notice is the game’s spectacular 2D art direction.  I put “2D” in bold for a very good reason.  The team at Bioware did an excellent job with with flat artwork.  I don’t think I’ve seen a DS game this pretty to look at in some time.

That said, what nearly cancels this beauty out is how blocky Sonic and friends look in their 3D form.  Were the environment not 3D I would have much preferred sprite based characters, much in the same realm as the environments themselves.  I know the DS is very capable of producing polygon outputs that make a game look closer to 2008, rather than the 1998 this almost feels like.

Almost as uneasy for me were the controls.  This game is almost entirely stylus controlled, and for someone like me who’s used to a mix between stylus and D-pad, it can be frustrating to constantly control your main character with the swoop of a pen.  Most gamers will get used to it, but it may be a burden for a few.  Adding some insult to injury: Sonic can only jump on platform with the stylus.  He can only head through loops with the pen’s touch.  There’s a lot of “click this” to do a lot of classic Sonic moves.  It’s far different from a traditional Sonic platformer, but also much more restrictive than other RPGs I’ve seen.

The battle system in Chronicles is also a bit different from other RPGs I’ve seen.  In each round, you’ll select the moves for each member in your party, and watch as they attack, defend, heal, and perhaps POW.  When you’re done, sit back and watch as the characters duke it out.  If both parties survive, another round is played, until someone drops.  Occasionally you’ll be caught off guard as your enemy tries to flee.  That’s where you’ll enter a mini-game where you need to avoid crates and hit those speed ramps to catch up.  And, there will be times where you’ll need to flee, and doing so will require similar circumstances.  I do not profess to know a lot about RPGs, with Super Mario RPG being the most advanced one I’ve ever played, but the battle system in Chronicles is…different.  Not better than what I’m used to, nor worse.  Just different.

The game’s difficulty and learning curve isn’t anything to sneeze at either.  Enemies will sometimes be relentless in their attacks, so it’s a good thing players will usually get a healing item after playing–at least, in the early stage I played.

The only major annoyance from the system was in its sound effects.  The almost cartoon-like effects don’t fit for a Sonic game that has been heralded with trumpets and subtle orchestration on the Web by Bioware itself.  With it, one also gets the sensation that Bioware is attempting to cater to both Sonic faithful and a new generation of fans–the kids who did litter the landscape increasingly as my time went on in Nintendo World.  An RPG with such a backstory simply should have skipped the kid stuff.

Sonic Chronicles, on the whole, left a lasting impression as I left the DS kiosk to catch up with the Samba de Amigo tournament upstairs.  There’s been a lot of debate as to the quality of Bioware’s latest on community boards, and a lot of that is based on a leaked ROM that, for some, isn’t even working.  When the game is in hand, some of the reserved (and perhaps deserved) pessimism should subside.  It won’t completely be eradicated, but diving in deeper should provide a satisfying experience.

Of course, I haven’t dived in deep at all.  That’s Ryan Bloom’s job, and he will have his review of Sonic Chronicles in due course.  In the meantime, I’m off to see how many will shake their Samba upstairs at Nintendo World, in part three of this series, which is forthcoming.