When I saw those first screenshots of Sonic Rivals, I thought, "that looks like a Nintendo DS game."
So I decided to check the game out while visiting Sega's booth at E3, just to see if it is indeed that ugly.
It's not. In fact, it looks pretty good.
The one environment I saw, based on the Green Hill Zone, is loaded down with leafy trees, waterfalls, and various jungle acoutrements (flowers, butterflies, etc.). Contrary to the rectangular hills and muddy textures shown in those early screens, this hills in this build are rounded and the textures show much more detail.
Everything is drawn with 3D polygons and textures, but gameplay is totally 2-D (like the Sonic we're used to). If you're familiar with Klonoa, it's the same sort of thing. There are spots where Sonic will take a turn around a mountain road or get sucked into the background, which give the game a semblance of 3-D movement, but, by and large, this game is all about running to the right as fast as possible.
Of course, the big twist with Sonic Rivals is that it's a platform-based racing game. Like the Sonics of old, players have to run to the right, spin through enemies, and collect rings. While doing that stuff though, Sonic also has to try and reach the finish line before his opponents do.
I didn't spend a ton of time with the game, just one race, against a CPU-controlled Shadow. It definitely felt like a true Sonic game though. There are bumpers, trampolines, and loops all over the place, and there are many spots where you can choose between multiple paths. Sonic's spin-dash transforms robotic enemies into rings, which, when collected, increase his rate of speed. His spin-dash can also be used to knock down the opponent for a moment or two. Another new feature is the ability to get and use weapons, which have offense and defense capabilities. If you're in 1st place, for example, the ice ability will leave a slippery puddle behind you. However, if you're tailing an opponent, it'll launch a cold blast ahead of Sonic.
The final game will include a story mode, a championship mode, and an ad hoc multiplayer mode. Four different characters will be available, including Sonic, Shadow, Knuckles, and Silver. I was told that each character will have their own unique story and levels in the story mode.
Like I said, I didn't put a ton of time into the game. Mainly, I checked it out just to see if it looked as bad as the early screens suggested. It doesn't. It looks just about as good as any of the 3-D Sonic games that were put out for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.
We'll definitely upload nicer screens once Sega gives us new ones. Until then, don't give those old ones much merit.
Sonic Rivals for the PSP is due out this fall.