Hands-On With BioWare’s Suprisingly Dark ‘Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood’

I still don’t know what to think about BioWare’s attempt to re-legitimize Sega’s blue creature. Sonic has struggled for relevancy in a post-“Sonic Adventure” world, and while I’m more than confident in BioWare’s ability to make an RPG, the game is so…dark.

It didn’t work for “Shadow the Hedgehog,” of which I played a good amount. At Nintendo’s Media Summit late last week, however, I spent a little more than 15 minutes checking out — and playing — early bits from “Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.”

While the characters are rendered in 3D, the environments are made up of sprawling, beautiful bits of hand-drawn artwork. I’m told the BioWare offices are filled with gigantic versions of these Sonic worlds. I recommend they release some as desktop wallpapers.

With any luck, they will, but let me tell about how the game actually plays.

While I waited for my turn for a guided tour of the game, someone from Sega marketing asked for some feedback. I expressed some hesitation about the bleak setting, based on my experiences with the more recent Sonic games, but if Square Enix could make a semi-serious RPG out of Mario, why couldn’t BioWare make one out of Sonic?

The isometric view means Sonic can’t pull off his trademark moves without a little assistance, which comes in the form of clickable icons. You don’t actually control Sonic as he does a loop-de-loop, but that’s not what this game is really about, anyway.

With that in mind, an early build of the game was placed in my hands. The difficulty had been turned way down to avoid any problems in combat. Before the demo, Forbes reporter Mary Jane Irwin and I joked about “Sonic Chronicles” having BioWare’s distinctive branching dialogue trees. “No way,” I laughed.

I guessed wrong.

“Sonic Chronicles” does feature branching, multi-tiered dialogue trees that apparently amount to more than 50,000 words, when it’s all said and done. Don’t get the wrong impression, though. The choices aren’t deep, but allow you a chance to play it straight or show a little Sonic “attitude.” I rolled my eyes a bit, but knowing BioWare’s pedigree, I’ll wait until really sitting down with “Sonic Chronicles” before drawing a verdict.

Enemies are visible on the screen, so they’re almost always avoidable. Once engaged, however, “Sonic Chronicles” doesn’t look much different from your average console-style RPG. There are options for attacks, “Chrono Trigger”-esque team ups, item use, etc. Not-so-standard, however, is incorporating the stylus into combat. One stylus attack required tapping different icons, another forced the player to outline a circle.

Unfortunately, perhaps the most interesting draw for this game — a BioWare-scribed Sonic the Hedgehog epic — wasn’t something I could really appreciate in a short demo. One representative told me the game takes a dark turn “about halfway through.”

I’m still not convinced I want to spend much time in a dark Sonic world, but it’s BioWare, right? Good choice, Sega. On BioWare’s name alone, I’m willing to take a leap of faith.

Have a hot tip? Is there a topic that Multiplayer should be covering and isn’t? Maybe you think a dark Sonic can be done right. Drop me an e-mail.