At least some people realize how to make this franchise work. After way too many lackluster 3D adventure games, Sonic Rush returns the series to its side-scrolling glory days by focusing on speed. The levels are designed to rocket you forward as fast as possible at all times, and even with recognizable areas like a giant casino, lush green forest and a floating airship, they’re crazy enough you'll forgive the retread.
Sonic (or unnecessary newcomer Blaze the Cat) can start screaming down the track so quickly it's easy to make a mistake. As you’re skimming the surface of a lake or running through massive loops, jump pads launch you from the top to bottom DS screen and back again. It’s a pretty cool effect and gets the sense of speed across, but you’ll have to memorize the level to stop repeatedly careening into the same perfectly placed pit.
Rush's trick system balances the frustration of the relentless level design. Busting a few mid-air poses gives you an extra vertical or horizontal boost, an integral part of surviving its winding worlds. To pull off these moves your Tension meter must stay healthy; the faster you rip through enemies and speed across the level, the fresher the meter stays. Once you get in the dashing groove, grinding through the latticework world becomes second nature.
The levels play out as traditional side-scrollers, but boss battles throw in a little 3D for visual kicks. Sending these guys to the scrap heap, however, can take as long as an entire stage does to complete. It's just a matter of pattern memorization and becomes quickly tiring. The fact that Blaze handles the same bosses and levels makes fighting them again only more of a chore.
The slim multiplayer options don't add much either; the one-on-one races play exactly like the solo game sprinkled with a few power-ups. The touch screen powered, half-pipe bonus levels would have made a much more interesting versus mode.
Even if linking up with friends is a toss, hitting the single-player with Sonic or Blaze is more than enough pandemonium for one person. Though you'll have to play almost every level twice to see the whole game, the infectious soundtrack offers a little extra incentive to keep playing. You can thank the mind behind cult-classic Jet Set Radio Future for that, and thank developer Sonic Team for proving this hedgehog hasn't lost his way.