It's been a pretty sad anniversary for Sonic the Hedgehog. Nearly every game carrying the "15 years of proud service" badge has been a steaming pile (by our count, only Sonic Rush is worth the cash), and the latest title, the 3D adventure game on PS3 and 360, is the worst yet. Thus, it's a little hard to expect much out of a simple, side-scrolling racer featuring Sonic and his fleet footed pals.
But ironically, it's Sonic Rivals' simplicity that makes the best Sonic game in a year. With nothing to do but run through loops, corkscrews, catapults and icicle-spewing caverns, the focus is totally on sweat-dripping gameplay. No crazy side missions, no hard-to-navigate worlds, none of that junk. Just you, your spiky-haired rival and the rollercoaster course laid before you.
Rivals plays just like the classic Genesis titles (or the Game Boy Advance ones, if you're a little younger). Just run, run, run to the end of each act as fast as possible, grabbing power-ups, rings and soaking in the sights of Sonic's colorful world. The twist here is that now you've gotta do it before someone else makes it there first. It's such a stupidly minute addition, really, but knowing Knuckles, Shadow or Silver is coming up on your tail really makes you want to step on it. And with multiple paths to the finish line, there are plenty of opportunities to cut ahead of your rival racer or dish out some fist-in-face punishment from behind. A wide range of offensive and defensive power-ups make the back-and-forth racing even more intense - too bad they couldn't be a bit more diverse.