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Joystiq impressions: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

Zack Stern

A turn-based RPG, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood moves the speedy Sega characters into a role-playing world. After a big, "Huh?" I gave this DS-only game a shot at the Nintendo Media Summit. But especially with Bioware behind the project, I came away thinking it could be a fun game for kids and even adult RPG players. And forget Sonic; the deep game mechanics, dialogue options, and great-looking world could combine into a portable RPG favorite.

Gallery: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood | 8 Photos

The game features Sonic and his band of friends, but I never thought that these mascots got in the way of the game. I didn't get far enough into the story to see how dialogue snippets and character customization define my own world, but Bioware says Sonic Chronicles has lots of choices.

Before wandering through the world, I picked a team of Sonic and three other characters, building my own party. Each character -- about 11 will be in the final version -- has unique abilities and attacks that are needed to beat certain areas. Like other RPGs, characters can be outfitted with equipment to make them faster, stronger, or otherwise improved. And most characters team up with another specific member for a combined attack.

I tapped the stylus onto the game world, leading Sonic around the map. Rings act as currency, although I didn't spend any I collected. The world looked great, with the backgrounds all drawn from scratch -- no repeating tiles -- and settings from the old Sonic games recast in an angled, overhead view. I even tapped a loop, and Sonic raced through the stunt.

After getting a general sense of the simple, screen-tapping controls, I faced off in a battle. The turn-based combat pits the player's team against many enemy types; roughly 40 to 50 should be in the final game. And while the combat relies on player stats, Bioware added some DS flourishes to the fighting. Certain attacks succeed or fail with a player's timing; I tapped, Elite Beat Agents-style, on closing circles to activate a simple offense. More difficult moves rely on well-timed, circular stylus swings or accurately tracing the path of a line.

I liked these mechanics because they gave me more control over the turn-based outcome. The ones I sampled felt well-executed, although I'm cautious-but-hopeful about other touch-screen moments in the game. (I was told about a way to hack computers by tapping the screen quickly in the same place. I didn't get to try that, but it sounds less interesting than the other moves.)

Bioware says the Fall, DS-only game will include a detailed, player-driven adventure. With the engaging combat, great-looking worlds, and intuitive control, the story is the final piece to the game. I get nervous when a big franchise is loaned to another company, wondering how much control Sega is retaining. Hopefully Bioware has been trusted to have its run of the Sonic universe.

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