Secret Rings is the series first venture on the Nintendo Wii and it plays with a lot of the systems features. Motion Controls, the Wii’s graphical abilities, a vocal-heavy soundtrack, and an impressive storybook style that the series never tried out before.
This release not unlike Sonic Rush, signified a major change for the Sonic series and it is a precursor to the Modern Style we see with Unleashed and Colors latter on.
With Secret Rings celebrating it’s ten year anniversary, I figured it would be fun to revisit this lost book in Sonic’s long history. Lets rock the place and explore the Arabian nights with a blue hedgehog.
The Index – History of the Secret Rings
A long time ago, Sega wanted to release a version of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) on Nintendo’s upcoming Wii console and they split Sonic Team in half; one half making 06 with Naka leading the team and the other half trying to port the game to Nintendo’s under powered console.
The development team faced a number of issues getting it to work on the Wii hardware and decided to retool the game into a new original release. When they did this, the team learned about the Wii Remote and how it was motion controlled. After playing with the controller, they decided that this is going to be a motion controlled Sonic game. It was code named Wild Fire during development due to the fire on Sonic’s chest.
This name lasted for a long time and it was the name the game was under for its E3 showing in 2006. But latter on, it adopted the name Secret Rings to fit with the Storybook story a bit better.
While all this was happening, Sonic Team lost Naka and a large amount of it’s developers. This lead to the 06 team lagging behind badly and forcing the Secret Rings team to work even harder to get the game out the door.
What happened in the end is that we got two rushed games instead of one solid game across both systems……not the best situation for Sonic Team and showed how mismanaged the studio was after internal shake ups.
The game finally came out February 2007 for the Nintendo Wii in North American markets. I got the game very close to launch and critics were kinder to it then they were to Sonic 06.They enjoyed the polished presentation and called it a fun experience despite it’s problems. It was one of the first ‘major’ third party releases for the Wii post launch as well, so that alone helped the game get more attention.
The Wild Fire – Gameplay & Design
Gameplay in Secret Rings is split up into two modes, with Sonic Team making the Story mode while a Party Mode designed around multiplayer motion controlled fun was made by another studio. This mode offers a collection of over 50 mini games and you can even unlock more Sonic characters as you collect Fire Souls in the main campaign.
Going back to the main gameplay for this high sped adventure, its the Mach Speed Sections of 06 brought to a logical conclusion. Sonic moves forward on his own with tilting left/right making Sonic move in that direction, with the 1 button planting him in place and the 2 button making Sonic jump (holding it charges the jump for a high one, tapping it is a simple ‘hop’).
You tilt backwards to make Sonic move backward and you shake the controller in the air to air dash and preform the iconic homing attack. Sonic also gets two more moves after beating the Evil Foundry stage; Speed Break and Time Break. Speed Break is Sonic’s Boost ability from Rush, brought into 3D for the first time. Time Break is Sonic slowing down time for more specific control (slows down spinning springs, etc). Very helpful skills that are tied to a gauge on the right side of the screen, which increases the more Soul Energy you collect (the fire orbs) in the levels.
This sounds like a mess but it really isn’t….at least at first. The levels are built for very linear level design and it works with the motion controls well enough. Levels like Sand Oasis and Evil Foundry do a great job with this as you never have to backtrack as all you do is go forward most of the time.
Other levels sadly aren’t designed like this, as stages like Pirate Storm all have moments where you have to go backwards and play with awkward gimmicks that control badly.
That sounds unplayable but that really isn’t the complete case; the controls get better the more you play. Sonic levels up as you play stages and as you get more levels/complete levels, you unlock more moves that make your control better. This is a strange design choice, as having better controls for a game with issues in that area is a bit dumb honestly.
The gameplay could be better honestly as even with a simple concept of Sonic only running forward, it could work well with motion controls. Sadly due to odd design choices and level design that isn’t always consistant, the game suffers as a result.
In many cases, Secret Rings controls worse then games like Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic the Hedgehog (06) just because the motion controls do not offer the same input that a traditional controller will provide.
Reading Through a Few Chapters – The Story
Sonic is sleeping in Tails House or his house finds a magic ring on this table. He touches it and magically a gene appears and ask Sonic to help her save the book she lives in.
He agrees to help her out and both hop into the book, finding Erazor Djin destroying the worlds pages hunting for the Chaos Emer….I mean Secret Rings. He expects Sonic to find them and while he is confused shoots a fire arrow on his chest. If he doesn’t collect the seven world rings, he dies.
So its a race against the clock to find the seven world rings and repair the world around him. Sonic runs into Storybook versions of Eggman, Tails, and Knuckles across the adventure as well. The story is cheesy, the voice acting is silly at points and it has some dumb moments. But after one of the more serious games of the franchise released, it was great to see this again in the series; Sonic works best when you blend serious moments and humor, not fully embrace one side over the other.
I want to also give credit to Jason Griffin, voice of Sonic the Hedgehog during 2005-Early 2010. He started getting better voicing the character at this point in the series history and it shows in Secret Rings. He emotes well when action happens on screen and when things get emotional, they have impact and that id due to his voice acting. Even when he cracks a joke, it sounds natural instead of forced.
Shara was great as well and seeing her connect with Sonic across the game was enjoyable. Erazor Dijin is monster villain number 103809 at this point in the series but he is fun to fight. He is cocky to Sonic,calls him a rodent, and is a major threat to the blue blur. The final boss between him and Sonic is very enjoyable just because of the emotions prefacing the fight; you feel the anger and frustration Sonic is dealing with when fighting Erazor in his final form.
Story is a major improvement over recent games during this time period. It understands that Sonic is a cartoon character and by knowing that, places the blue hedgehog in a situation where he can thrive within.
Sonic is his lovable campy self and when paired with decent voice acting, it results in a strong experience that you can connect with. This story is far from the series best work, but for what it offers, you can really appreciate it.
Blast Processing – The Presentation
Sonic & The Secret Rings is a looker on the Nintendo Wii for a number of reasons. It runs at a locked frame rate, features bright and vivid colors, animations being lively and the world having a lot of detailed textures to it. Places like Sand Oasis, Night Palace, Evil Foundry and Skeleton Domain look great and really go back to the outlandish level tropes we saw with the 2D games and Sonic Heroes.
The music on offer here is one of my favorite 3D Sonic soundtracks personally. The soundtrack for this game is amazing, with it being rocking and really catchy. Lyrics try telling a story for the level you are run through, so each level has vocal elements to it which gives the game a unique identity compared to the other Sonic games.
Such great tracks and they are really enjoyable to listen too. Night Palace is a personal favorite due to offering such a haunting melody and hammering home the idea that “This is the home stretch Sonic”.
Sonic and the Secret Rings is in many cases one of the weaker games of the franchise. It’s core gameplay has to many problems and it’s odd controls hinder what could be a fun experience. However if you look past the issues, you will find a game having the Sonic Spirit.
I know that doesn’t mean much, when other games in the series like the Adventure titles and the Classic series offers that in spades. But when Secret Rings released, it was right off the heels of one of the weakest games in the franchise for many; it was refreshing to see Sonic be himself again. Even if you cannot stand motion controls, I recommend you consider giving this a shot to understand it’s importance in the franchise’s history.