Sonic Rivals
Sonic Rivals was published in 2006.
Platform: PSP
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Backbone Vancouver
Format: UMD
Sonic Rivals was a racing-platformer hybrid Sonic the Hedgehog game, exclusively for the PSP. Although structured pretty much like past Sonic games in turns of side-scrolling platforming, running fast, and encountering different enemies/zones, the focus this time was on the racing aspect. Each player could choose from Sonic or a variety of his friends/villians, and passing each level requires winning the race.

(If nothing else, the game owes some inspiration to the SNES classic Uniracers, which arguably created the modern scrolling racer.)

Development

I joined Backbone virtually in a parachute – the game was approaching the ship date but still needed a lot of work to make it out on time. The timing was great considering my rapidly expiring US work visa, but it pretty much meant joining a project in crunch as soon as I got off the plane.

Since I joined the project so late, I can’t speak to most of the development difficulties except to say that (a) most of the level work was done in a 3D modelling package, and (b) many of the design decisions were decided or approved by Sega’s Sonic management team themselves (particularly Mr. Iizuka) – they are very much involved with any Sonic game, internal or external. It seems that Backbone was primarily responsible for getting the “feel” level to their approval. I believe all of the bosses are original creations as well (obviously Eggman is always inspired).

My work on the game was primarily to get the bosses into working order, and then to help test the game. The bosses were classic Sonic-style fights with circular tracks, relying on you to play it like a platformer that constantly moves in circles. Many sneaky bugs plagued the development of Sonic Rivals; one particularly interesting one involved the development kit, which suffered from performance issues  on the Test Kit (meant for game testers) but not the Dev Kit (meant for game programmers). Memory limitations were ruled out, and so was the bug once we realized it had no effect on retail hardware.

Cards

The weirdest feature on Sonic Rivals was clearly the Card Collection. By defeating tracks or opponents with certain times, you could earn collectible, virtual trading cards, which would then go into a collection menu. There were 150 of the cards, covering the entirety of Sonic lore, including such bizarre and unlikely characters as “The President”, a fictional US president from the Dreamcast title Sonic Adventure.

For all of that work, however, the feature comes off as pretty empty. There’s no reward that I can remember for having all of the cards, and none of them have any historical text to read. It’s a collectible feature without any context to support it.

Aftermath

Sonic shipped late, and by the time it came out the reviews were mixed. Players enjoyed the speed and the 2.5D re-envisioning of Sonic, but the gameplay was too trial-and-error as a platformer. Sales were a small success, however; Rivals was added to the Greatest Hits discount label in 2009, PSN in 2010, eventually leading to a sequel.