For a while we thought Sonic was a goner, a blue hedgehog-shaped smear on the tarmac of gaming history. With Sonic Team’s every attempted step forward, his scores plummeted down. Multiple characters exploring 3D environments? Big the Cat? Sonic with guns? With Secret Rings, the team has finally realized that the only way forwards is backwards. At breakneck speeds.
Filter him down into his purest form - the original Sonic on Genesis - and you’ll find little more than the urge to move forwards. Speedily moving from the left of the screen to the right, Sonic was about distance covered and little else. In Secret Rings this purity of motivation has been gloriously rediscovered, with Sonic sent zipping along, jumping obstacles and bopping the occasional baddie on the head like it was 1991.
Despite the 3D expanses visible in these screenshots, the game dictates how you progress with an invisible racing line that Sonic doggedly, or hedgehoggedly, adheres to. At first this is slightly befuddling. Preparing for incoming landscape only to see the blue bullet veer off in a new direction makes you feel a bit helpless, and with control largely limited to tilting the remote to steer, a few suspicions are raised of how much actual game playing is going on.
Spend some time in Sonic’s well-worn boots and these suspicions are unfounded. Any developer trying to capture speed has no choice but to take some freedom out of the player’s hands; left to our own devices it’s unlikely we’d find the most aesthetically pleasing or challenging route through the landscapes - and this is what Sonic Team achieves by putting the game on the rails.