Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood - first look

There’s a hint of madness to Bioware’s Sonic outing. Just how can an RPG - the most patient genre this side of Microsoft Hedge Simulator - capture the jittery, tarmac-shredding ways of Sega’s blue blur? Sonic’s the Sunny Delight of gaming mascots; RPGs are the stomping grounds McDonald's Milkshakes. The only grinding he’s heard of involves skateboarding, and XP is merely an emoticon for showing disgust. Spend time with Chronicles, however, and disgust is the last thing on your mind.

Entering Chronicles for the first time you’re struck by two things: stunning hand-drawn backgrounds and an overwhelming sense of Sonic-ness. It may not be labeled as such, but this is Green Hill Zone. The checkered rock, the palm trees, the giant loop-the-loop rising from the ground like a bendy Ayers Rock. It’s as if someone booted up the original Genesis Sonics and saw not ‘levels’ to be played, but ‘locations’ that the characters would be happily living in if they weren’t fighting off Robotnik every bleedin’ hour of the day.

And they’re not just aesthetic nods to Sonic’s roots; movement within them is retro-flavoured, too. Not control-wise, mind. This is a thoroughly modern stylus-only job: point and Sonic follows. No, the hint of old seeps from context-sensitive level furniture. See a platform? Tap the icon that appears and Sonic hops up. See a spring? Another tap sends you flying with a ‘ba-doing’ noise with 1991 written all over it. Tap the icon next to the loop-the-loop and, yes, Sonic speeds round it like the last 17 years haven’t happened.

While it’s easy to imagine the constant tap-tap-tap as counterintuitive to the movement flow it attempts to inject, it works surprisingly well. We’ve certainly not seen an RPG with such physicality before. These real-time actions also contribute some nice brain-teasing moments. Each character has unique abilities so swapping between them is necessary to activate the context-sensitive icons around the map.