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April 20, 2015

Sonic and the Secret Rings (Part 4)

Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

We've seen everything there was to talk about in the main game. Now we take a look at the Party Mode in Sonic and the Secret Rings! Yep, there's an entire Party Mode, with multiple modes, a lot of minigames, playable characters... How about we take a look at it?

Before it starts, you select the number of human players. After that, each player selects a character. If you have collected zero Fire Souls, you only have access to Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy. However, if you're collecting Fire Souls, you unlock, in that order: Shadow, Cream, Silver and Blaze. In the end, you have 8 characters to choose from. You can also pick Random if you prefer.

The Party Mode's world map. Bonus points for actually being,
you know... on a map.
We see a parchment unravel and locations appearing, and we are greeted by... Omochao. Damn. For those who don't know, Omochao is frequently at the top when fans list what they think are the most annoying things in the Sonic series. It manages to beat everything else that could be considered annoying, even Princess Elise, Charmy Bee, Cubot's real voice, “Get A Load Of This” and “IT'S NO USE”. Not only that; no matter the extreme amount of abuse you can inflict on Omochao, he's always back, like a harmless Terminator who just wants to state rules. Thankfully, he's not too bad here, since he just hosts the Party Mode. You won't hear him much.

Kill it with fire?
...He'll just come back.

There are six options here: World Bazaar, Tournament Palace, Genie's Lair, World Library, Treasure Hunt and Pirate's Coast. The last option is to exit Party Mode. I'll take a look at all six modes, one at a time.

The characters are at the bazaar (duh). Each turn, a minigame is played, and all four characters get rings based on how well they performed. After each minigame, a carpet will be put on sale at the bazaar. One at a time, each character says whether or not they want the carpet. The character with the most rings who wants the carpet wins the carpet. At the end of the mode (where you can play for 10, 15 or 20 minigames), each character gets a score based on the number and score of the carpets (there are seven different carpet designs), and the character with the highest score wins. A random element you can include is the King's Choice; at the end of the game, the “King” will pick a type of carpet he likes, and those who have bought that type of carpet will gain extra points. Only one question remains: Is it King Shahryar who makes these decisions? We all know Eggman has no taste when it comes to decorations. In Sonic Boom, he kidnaps Amy so that she'll decorate his lair for him!

The four characters battle for the top spot! For this, the players will battle in 1-on-1 minigames. Each time, the winner goes a floor higher. There's a first round where all four characters play, two at a time, and then a second round to decide who between the two winners deserve the #1 place, and who between the two losers deserves the #3 place. You can change the settings so that 1, 2 or 3 victories against the opponent are necessary, and you can also decide not to see the COM-vs.-COM match. The one in first place gets to the top, while the one in last place comically crashes to the ground below. Don't show them any sympathy, losers don't deserve it! Even if that loser is Shadow.

Opening a treasure chest has never been this scary. ...Well,
there was that one time in a RPG, with a chest monster...
All the players are in a cave with 20 treasure chests. They play a minigame, and the winner gets to open as many treasure chests as they want. However, there's a trick; some chests have been booby-trapped. If they are not careful, they could open a trapped chest... which means they'll lose all the money they found during that turn. That's the dangerous thing: Should you take the risk and open more chests, or open only one and hope it isn't trapped? At the end of the match, after all the chests have been opened, whoever has found the most money wins. Seriously though, I hate those goddamn djinns. With my bad luck, I frequently end up picking the chests that contain them.

Wait, wait, wait. A minigame where you play the violin?
This sounds great! But it could suck in so many ways...
Play all 40 minigames at your leisure. There are other options that separate the minigames by type (Record games, the ones in which you can beat the record; Survival games, the last player standing wins; Point games, whoever has the most points wins; Racing games, the first one reaching the finish line wins). There's also the Rankings section, where you can see your high score on each minigame, as well as the Character Records, which detail how many victories each character had, how often each character was used, how many points each character collected in first, second, third or fourth place, how many records each character has beaten in a row, which character scored the most victories in the party games... The last mode is Final X Adventure, unlocked after you've unlocked all the minigames; the point is to win as many minigames in a row as possible. Obviously, that's a 1-Player Mode. I don't last very long in that mode...

Soon we'll be running around this board on the search for a
certain valuable artefact. Aren't they all valuable, anyway?
The most Mario Party-esque mode in here, the characters play minigames and then move a number of spaces depending on their rank in the minigame they just played. They move around a large board with blue and red spaces (though here, that's mostly for decoration). The point is to look for treasure chests and to open then. Omochao sets one particular treasure to look for, and the characters have to search for it by exploring the board and opening chests. When a player finds the treasure demanded by Omochao, he gets said treasure and another kind of treasure is demanded. Whoever collects three different treasures wins. Thankfully, there's not an awful lot of random here like there is in the Mario Party series, since the treasures' contents don't change every time one picks up a treasure. Just remember where each item is and hurry to get there before the others!

Ready to face the elements! The sea is a harsh mistress.
It's a race to reach a huge loot! All four characters play a minigame, and then move a number of spaces based on their rank in the minigame. The better they performed, the more spaces they move. Unlike Treasure Hunt, where the spaces don't have any effects, here, the space you land on can contain an effect that might or might not help you. Also, unlike Treasure Hunt, this is a fully linear mode, you never have to pick a direction. All that counts is to be the first at the finish line! Personally, I hate that one because my bad luck keeps putting crappy obstacles in my way, which either force me to skip a turn or move back some spaces. That's the most annoying part of this mode. The rest is fine, the minigames are always the same, the surroundings are gorgeous... And if I didn't have a streak of bad luck, I would probably love playing this one.

They are playing the violin! They really are! What a glorious
day for high-crow music! ... ... ...OW, MY EARS!
There's a total of 40 minigames in Sonic and the Secret Rings' Party Mode. You might think that's relatively small, but then again, keep in mind that the Party Mode isn't the main draw of this game. It's just an enjoyable bonus that they happened to add. And to reinforce this dynamic, multiple things can be unlocked in Party Mode, and the only way yo unlock these things is to collect Fire Souls in the Adventure Mode. I already mentioned Shadow, Cream, Silver and Blaze being unlockable characters. If you collect all the Fire Souls, you unlock Final X Adventure, which I discussed a little higher; it's the final option in the World Library. The World Bazaar has to be unlocked this way (not that I complain; it IS one of my favorite modes, after all). Same for the Extreme difficulty setting for the opponents, which is unlocked once you've collected 114 Fire Souls. Last but not least, there are 10 minigames you unlock, and the last one is unlocked with 96 Fire Souls. This still means that about one fourth of all the minigames is unlocked through playing the Adventure Mode.

Now, tying it all together is the Special Book, once more. I mentioned there being a section in the Special Book called “Rank Name”. It's actually random achievements represented by medals. There's one for beating Erazor (not Alf) under Level 25. There are many of these achievements that involve the Party Mode:
-Celebrity (Play attractions a total of 35 times)
-Champion (Reach 1st Place in 120 Party Games – that one must take serious dedication)
-Dealer, Explorer, Pirate, Thief, Trier (All earned by winning one Party game 7 times – you can guess which achievement goes to which mode)
-Record Buster (Beat the Record in every minigame that has a set record)
-Sonic Freak (Use Sonic 30 times in Party games)
-Star (play 200 minigames)
And I think that's all, for a total of 10 achievements related to the Party Mode... or about one third of all the achievements. Eeyup. I hope you don't mind party games, because you'll be playing them for a while.

Fruit Catch, one of my favorite minigames. It's also the best
indicator of the intelligence of each character, depending
on the difficulty. The lower difficulties miss almost all of the
fruit, while the higher difficulties get most, if not all, of them.
So, um... I guess I can wrap this up. Is this a great Party game? Well, yes and no. It's definitely fun, don't get me wrong (Not like there's a lot of things I don't find fun, anyway). It's great to be able to use eight Sonic characters and participate in five fun modes (plus being able to play minigames one at a time thanks to the World Library). What's more, the Sonic Team didn't go the Mario Party route, and kept it to simpler modes, ones that differ from the normal Mario Party gameplay. They'd probably be called plagiarists if they followed the exact same formula... I guess they learned valuable lessons from Sonic Shuffle. As a result, the Party Mode of Sonic and the Secret Rings is its own thing. I also quite enjoy that all the modes and minigames are played solely with the Wii remote. No Nunchuk necessary, neat!

Sadly, it's not all perfect. Here are some of the problems I have with this Party Mode:
-No Practice Mode. Mario Party always offers the player a Practice mode before a minigame, so that first-time players can at least understand the minigame before getting into it.
-The racing minigames end when one player wins, not when at least three out of four characters reach the Finish line. I suppose the game just evaluates the other character' score based on how far they are to the finish line. Racing games do not work that way.
-Some minigames have a few control issues. For the most part, it's not really a problem, but there are some minigames for which the controls aren't quite clear. Even worse, sometimes you can't be sure what exactly has to be done. The canoe minigames come to my mind, because rowing is a pain; you have to spin the Wii remote held horizontally, on a side or another. It's very difficult to get right.
-There are other cases where the description of the task in some minigames isn't clear enough. You won’t get what the minigame is about until you try it and fail miserably. Or maybe you won’t get what’s demanded. Making minigames too complicated will result in issues for the gamer.
-The COM characters on the Hard difficulty level are too good. Combine that with my previous critique, and you get COM characters with a very unfair advantage, since they already know how every minigame works... Just imagine those on Expert difficulty! On the opposite end, the COM characters on Easy difficulty are, most of the time, very (if not too) easy to defeat. You'll often see them do nothing to try and win in some minigames.

Another minigame I like. All things considered, I like a lot of
minigames in this one. Maybe, in the future, I'll make a Bottom
12 list and a Top 12 list.
As well as the individual problems I have with some modes, though many of them can be attributed to my horrible luck, which makes me even more critical than I should be: There are too many genies hidden in the chests of Genie's Lair. The effects that you can fall victim to in Pirate's Coast are VERY annoying (how fine it is to skip a turn when there's only 62 spaces on the entire board and characters can move up to 10 spaces at once, given they reach first place in the previous minigame!). I don’t really have any problem with the World Bazaar and Treasure Hunt modes, though. That makes them my favorite modes.

No fair! Amy has an advantage in this one!
She always uses hammers!
Well, all in all, I think it’s already great that we get a surprise Party Mode in a game that didn’t need it at all, so in the end, I really don’t see a reason to complain. It’s got flaws, because Sonic Team doesn’t have the formula that gives Nintendo big bucks thanks to Mario Party (seriously, Mario Party has got over 12 installments!!!), but they get points for trying. And the end result really isn’t that bad. Sure, I complain and whine like I always do to party games, though it’s almost always my comically low luck that sink these party games down. When I set my own bias aside and consider the game for what it is – a honest attempt at giving gamers a mode to have plain old fun, I can’t help but notice that most party games are actually decent. This one doesn’t have the motherflippin’ board layouts of Mario Party 2, or the goddarned mechanics of Pop-Up Pursuit, so that gives it a few good points. But then again, it’s clear they wanted to keep it fun and not veer into “so frustratingly hard it’s enraging” territory (like Pop-Up Pursuit), and they did okay. They should have tuned the COM difficulties a little better and checked the controls so that some minigames would be less annoying, but outside of those complaints we have here something good enough for a gaming party. If you’re playing alone, its longevity may be decreased, but it’s a fun game to play with friends.

And this concludes my review of Sonic and the Secret Rings. Boy that was a LONG one, wasn’t it? I never thought I’d fill four parts discussing this game! Oh well. Guess I’ll just make the next one shorter. Which is it? Oh hey, it’s Sonic Colors! Awesome. Tune in this Friday!