|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
He says he's the fastest hedgehog alive, but can Sonic prove his claim? Sega's mascot races for the gold in Sonic R, for the Sega Saturn.
Sonic R is a racing title that includes five courses and five selectable characters, with more drivers available as the game progresses. Unlike Mario Kart, the racers do not enter the fray in vehicles, but participate in a foot race across various terrain, from green valleys to futuristic cities. The courses are anything but straight; they curve, weave, and offer multiple branches and shortcuts at every turn. Rings, plentifully scattered throughout the courses, offer opportunities to speed up or access hidden areas. The few other power-up items are not offensive in nature.
The control takes a bit of getting used to, at first sending the racers wildly across the course. The fine touch necessary to move Sonic and company about is quickly acquired, but precise turns always seem an impossibility. The jump button is useful for getting to hard-to-reach areas, and for some characters (such as Tails and Knuckles), can be used to fly or glide short distances. Those with analog control sticks will appreciate them playing this game.
Sonic R's graphics are a true pleasure. Since this is not a realistic automobile game, the racing environment is allowed to be a colorful world of fantastic scenarios. The limited camera angles from which to race are a disappointment. Also, the two-player mode suffers incredibly, since the graphics are only drawn half as far ahead as they normally are. Gamers won't know where they're headed until they're there, leaving little time to prepare for a turn. Another two-player mode requires the acquisition of balloons scattered throughout the course, promoting exploration rather than fast laps. This method of play is more fun.
A good soundtrack is always a plus in racing games, and Sonic R is no exception. The song tracks are vocalized tunes with actual words. This is odd to find in a game of this genre, but they are great to hear nonetheless. The vocals can be disabled for an instrumental version of the soundtrack. Sound effects are sufficient, from the increasingly-rapid footfalls to the collection of coins.
The challenge level varies on the goal. Simply coming in first place is easy once the layout of the course becomes familiar. A true victory comes from finding all the hidden Chaos Emeralds on each level, and their acquisition is for naught unless a pole position is achieved. Doing all that, and then again on the "hard" difficulty setting, can make for a very tough game.
Overall, there's little to complain about in Sonic R. A good soundtrack, variable challenge, and other positives outweigh the iffy control and a less-than-spectacular two-player mode. Sonic and friends might not be the fastest racers in the competitive market, but they're hard to catch up to.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 05-Jan-98