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April 10, 2015

Sonic and the Secret Rings (Part 1)

I think mine was different from those. Or maybe it's just not
pictured here... I think it was the blue one, at the bottom.
Once, when I was a kid, I went to McDonalds' with my parents. I got the Happy Meal, ate my chicken nuggets, and found the toy. It was a little Sonic the Hedgehog toy, like a portable electronic game. It had three buttons: an On/Off switch, and two others, one on each side. When you turned the game on, Sonic appeared at the bottom of the little screen, and gigantic cannonballs came towards him – unless it was Sonic speeding up... Anyway, the idea was to press the left or right buttons to move Sonic so that he avoided the incoming obstacles. What does this childhood memory have to do with Sonic and the Secret Rings? Well, Secret Rings is basically the same thing, albeit more complex. Way more complex.

It makes perfect sense! You tilt the Wii remote left or right to move Sonic in either direction, and you must avoid the obstacles. Except after that, we add the jump feature (obviously), the spindash feature, the enemy lock-on feature... and then we have the dozens of missions, the odd unlocking pattern, the back step, the Ring abilities (including Fire, Wind and Dark abilities), wall shuffling, edge grinding, air launching, medals, the ability to slow down or speed up time, the Fire Rings, the boss battles... Holy wow! I'm gonna have a lot to talk about...

Sonic and the Secret Rings is part of a miniature “spin-off” series of games in the Sonic franchise, called the Storybook Series. As far as I know, there were only two games in this spin-off series: This one, and Sonic and the Black Knight. In each, Sonic gets sent to a fantasy world based on a famous work of literature (in Secret Rings, the Arabian Nights; in Black Knight, the legends of King Arthur), and ends up having to save that world from an evil entity. Good idea on paper, but considering the Sonic series' continuity, we can't treat these games as anything else but non-canon. Or maybe they are, but you need some Marvel or DC level of retcon to make it work. What's more, the Storybook games and Sonic Unleashed decided to play around with Sonic the Hedgehog, trying different things: In Secret Rings, we get the odd control scheme (which, by the way, I have no problem with). In Black Knight, we get sword-wielding Sonic (That, however, I had plenty of problems with). And in Unleashed, we had normal, speedy Sonic, and powerful, brawny werehog Sonic. I'll be looking at all three games over time, but this month I'm only covering Secret Rings and Sonic Colors. That should be enough for now.

The main menu has four sections: Adventure Mode (which we'll look at right now), Party Mode (which I'll study last), Special Book (where you can see everything you've unlocked), and Options. How about we start with the Adventure Mode?

Sonic is seen snoozing, with a book on his eyes. Wait, Sonic reads? I always thought he was, you know... not stupid, but illiterate? I just don't see him as someone who reads. The book he has just finished reading is the Arabian Nights, AKA One Thousand And One Nights. There's an old legend about that book, saying that whoever reads it in its entirety will fall prey to madness. That would explain so much....

So what if I don't help? It's just a book, right?
Sonic gets awoken by a floating lady that came from the book's pages. She introduces herself as Shahra, a genie who lives in the Arabian Nights. She urges him to look at the pages: the text is disappearing! She says there's an ancient evil threatening to erase her world, and thus she needs Sonic to save it. To accomplish this, Shahra decides to become Sonic's genie, and takes residence into a ring, which Sonic then puts on his finger. He wastes a wish on handkerchiefs, but at least he accepts to help save the Arabian Nights. Shahra summons a flying carpet, and the two get transported into the book...

Into the book!
Let's try again!
Whooooosh! Into another world!

We start in the Lost Prologue, a tutorial world that takes place between Sonic's world and Shahra's. There, Sonic learns all the basics: Moving left and right, jumping, air-dashing, enemy targeting... the regular Sonic stuff that he should know by now, since it's in all of his games. However, you kinda need to learn it all over again since this game's controls are much different from every other Sonic game out there Sonic also learns to use the Ring abilities. See, when you select a mission in this game, you're brought to a screen about Ring customization. You can have up to four customized Rings at once. You customize a ring by selecting particular abilities and adding them to the ring. There's also a level-up system in the game; whenever you complete a mission, you get experience points based on your performance. Not hit once through the level? More EXP! Lots of rings? More EXP! You often get special Ring abilities by completing story-relevant levels, but you unlock most Ring abilities by leveling up. Other Ring abilities are earned by getting medals. Full levels will usually give you more EXP, but some missions here and there also give a lot of EXP.

There are 104 ring skills and it's impossible to equip all the highest skills
at once. You must choose... but choose wisely.

The mission selection screen.
Talking about missions, the 7 non-tutorial worlds in this game have 12 to 14 missions, but Lost Prologue has 21. On every single mission, you can also earn Bronze, Silver or Gold medals based on your time when you complete the level. The ideal would be for you to complete every single level at least once, and then get the Gold medal on every single level... but that's not all there is to get in this game. The first time you play, some missions have three dashes near the Medal circle. Those are for Fire Rings. Levels with them always have 3 Fire Rings hidden around the level, and you need to look for them. When you get Fire Rings, you earn EXP. Also, when you find a number of Fire Rings, you unlock bonus minigames in Party Mode. However, all the Fire Rings you catch never come back in that save file. Phew! That's a lot of things to discuss in every mission!

It's too early for a boss fight against the main villain,
don't you think? Stop buirning the steps, Erazor!
So, Sonic completes the basic missions in Lost Prologue (I seriously hope Shahra doesn't turn out to be the Navi of the Sonic series), and as he's about to move on to the first actual world, he encounters none other than the main villain, Erazor Djinn! Well, that was fast. In the ensuing fight-and-discussion, Erazor Djinn claims he has already erased a tenth of the entire story, and asks Shahra if she has brought him the “Seven World Rings”. Seven what now? Why do I get a feeling that these two genies know each other, or used to? When Shahra answers no to Erazor's question, he tries to attack her with an odd flame attack, but Sonic gets in front of her and takes the bullet. Now he's got some kind of flame on his chest, and it keeps on burning. Hey, a handy little flame to burn marshmallows anywhere, anytime! Wait, that's slowly killing Sonic? Oh crap. Djinn leaves, mentioning the next character on his death list is King Shahryar, the main character of the Arabian Nights.

Cursed by the villain at the start of the game. This doesn't sound good.

Just a pretty picture.
Um... no. Shahryar is the villain of the Arabian Nights. Perhaps a villainous protagonist, at best, but definitely a villain. In the original story, he issued an order to kill – or capture, the versions differ, after all this is an ages-old tale – every woman he spent a night with, while issuing a challenge that he would keep the one who would spend a thousands and one nights with him (and in some versions, he would subsequently free the captured women). In comes Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter and the true protagonist of the book(s). She spends the first night with Shahryar telling him a story, and stops just before it gets interesting. Curious, Shahryar decides to keep her alive one more day so that he can hear the rest. Scheherazade then continues her story on Night 2, and stops just before a good moment, so she gets to Night 3, and so on and so forth. (There's also something about Scheherazade's sister getting in their room while they're consummating their marriage and stays around to hear the story, but I won't mention that any more because ewwwwww.) Scheherazade's tales get more complex every time, with stories within stories within stories. Meanwhile, in some versions, she helps free the women who had been captured. Scheherazade manages to spend a thousand and one nights doing this, constantly telling stories and ending just at the best moments so that Shahryar leaves her alive, out of interest for the story. After Night 1,001, Shahryar finds himself forced to abide by his own rule. And that's the basic story. Hell, it should have been made obvious that Shahryar is the villain; he's portrayed by friggin' EGGMAN in this game!

That also explains my surprise at Sonic reading that book, considering such a story would probably be longer than the entire Harry Potter series.

By the way, while I'm discussing the plot, I have to mention that pretty much all the cutscenes in this game are done in a parchment style, with mostly still images and very little animation, which gives the whole thing a rather unique and special feel that fits with the “book” theme. I suppose that was simpler than creating actual cutscenes, and besides, this time around, the voice actors don't have to worry about following the characters' lip movements!

I'm punching myself for leaving my camera at home!
Sonic and Shahra wind up in Sand Oasis, the simply GORGEOUS first world of this game. Seriously, look at the place. It's beautiful. And it's a HUGE world too! Basically, for every world past the Lost Prologue, the first mission is a full level taking place in that world, and the rest are portions of that level with parts changed here and there to create different missions and goals for Sonic to achieve. Add a few spike balls here, a few rings there, maybe a couple more floating enemy djinns... So, Sonic runs through Sand Oasis and eventually finds and saves King Shahryar... yes, played by Eggman in this alternate universe. I feel it's not that big of a stretch, actually. Sonic instantly smells trouble, but Egg-Shahryar can't do much, since his men ran away at the sight of those evil djinns. Before Shahryar can explain anything else, he gets kidnapped by a flying dinosaur driven by Erazor Djinn.

Besides, who wouldn't want to
kidnap a man like this?

While running through Sand Oasis to reach Erazor, Sonic finds and saves Ali Baba... who's portrayed here by Tails. For some reason. How are the Forty Thieves doing? Still thieving? Is Open Sesame still a safe password? Anyway, Ali Baba offers his help to Sonic. Well, I guess that's another Sonic character that just fits within this universe...

"No, you're Tails! You got the two tails, you got the whiskers, and the yellow
fur, and the shoes..."
"Well, this is not a name I go by, but it could serve as an alias for the next time I
encounter the forty thieves. Not like it will happen, they're all dead."

This thing has more eyes than Eggman has meals every day!
Complete a few more missions around Sand Oasis and you'll unlock the first real boss fight... and it's against a gigantic scorpion with way more eyes than any genetician with morals would ever put on a creature. Turns out those eyes are its weakness, too! How convenient! Sonic defeats the giant beast, which is easier said than done since it always manages to keep a safe distance from Sonic until it attempts to attack with one of its eyed tails. Upon defeating it, Sonic earns a larger ring... a World Ring. Oh right, Erazor Djinn mentioned those before... So there's one per world, right? And they're hidden in the missions, right? I suppose we need to collect them while traveling around the many worlds of the Arabian Nights? A-Okay. Anything to stay in this beautiful imaginary world!

Whoa! That's too big for me to eat! Let's go look for
Sonic and Shahra move on to the second location, Dinosaur Jungle. Eeyup, it's a sudden trip through time, before mankind. Or, well, it sure feels like it. Sonic finds himself running through a world filled with dangerous dinosaurs and dastardly decorative djinns. I should have brought along my Fossil Fighter kit... No, forget that, I should have brought my Jurassic Park Survival Kit. It's kinda dated, but they're supposed to issue a new version this year. Sonic has to chase Erazor Djinn's Pretosaur through the long level. Sonic manages to save King Shahryar just in time, and the King tells them that the pterosaur flew towards a giant castle... The Evil Foundry! ...I don't like the name of that place. It sounds like there's something mean waiting for us in there...

You can tell Sonic is reluctant to save a guy who looks like his worst enemy.

Anyway, Sonic completes a few missions, and THEN he can go to the Evil Foundry. I'll start discussing that world next Monday. Right now, I'll just say that Dinosaur Jungle contains a few of the more annoying missions in the game, including one in which you are racing against the wind spirit Uhu (who is as fast as Sonic when Sonic starts the game, so unless you're extremely lucky you won't be able to beat Uhu until you get Ring abilities that increase your maximum speed), and one where Sonic has to deliver dinosaur eggs scattered around a level into the proper nests, a mission that is extremely long and tedious... But it could be worse. There's another mission where Sonic has to smash 5 genie eggs. At the end of that mission, he gets another World Ring! Before going on, Sonic asks Shahra whether or not she can take out that Judgment Flame out of him or something. Apparently, she can't. Sonic doesn't mind, though, saying it just adds more challenge to the adventure. Yeah. If that's what ends up killing you, Sonic, I think you'll bite yourself for accepting that additional "challenge"... The two characters move on to the Evil Foundry.

Watch out, Sonic. Power drives people mad.

See you Monday for Part 2!