Sonic Wild Fire

Hogging the remote.

"Oh good," a rather pungent gentleman a couple of seats over remarked as Sonic sprinted across the screen behind Reggie. "Another rubbish Sonic Adventure game."

Given what Sonic Heroes and particularly Shadow the Hedgehog were like, you can see where he's coming from (if not you could always smell where he was coming from). Even Sonic Adventure 2 Battle - one of the Cube's best selling launch titles - was basically, given a bit of revisionist hindsight, a bit cack.

I'm not here to tell you Sonic Wild Fire's brilliant, like - but it's worth making it clear that it's not a Sonic Adventure title.

We've been here before, obviously. I remember listening to people droning on at E3 a few years ago about how Heroes wasn't an Adventure game either. But in this case it really is just a superficial comparison: Sonic Wild Fire's more of a tunnel racing game, where the idea's to maintain speed, steer with the Wii remote and jump over obstacles, occasionally diverging into a bit of ledge-sidling to avoid some spikes.

Held a bit like a steering wheel, the Wii remote handles Sonic's movement left and right along his pre-ordained path through, for some reason, a SEGA-made vision of Arabian Nights. Pressing the "2" button has Sonic jump, which is handy because, what with all the collapsing pillars and bridges and spikes and rubble flying around, Sonic Wild Fire's like pyramid tours by Rube Goldberg.

You can tap the button to do a simple hop to evade some falling horror, and as you go you collect fiery pick-ups along with the requisite rings, and said pick-ups contribute to a sort of boost bar, which gives you a burst of speed at the flick of the remote whenever you need it - handy if something's about to fall on top of you and you haven't got any rings to hand to stop it killing you outright.

Along with the hop and the boost, Sonic can also jump a bit higher by holding the 2 button to charge a bigger jump - useful, presumably, for reaching aerial pick-ups and finding alternate routes, although that wasn't given much elaboration during our demo session. We were shown, though, how Sonic can do his age-old trick of leaping into the air and doing a dash attack on nearby enemies by flicking the controller in their direction - and with a restricted range of movement the blue bastard doesn't just fly off into an abyss all the time either. Welcome.

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Don't point that thing at me.

As mentioned, this isn't all Sonic gets up to as he also winds up sidling along ledges. This appears to work by tilting the controller too, and sees him timing his shuffles to evade jutting spike-traps and the like. At no point during our demo though did SEGA's spiky hero start roaming around freely.

Which, in a slightly perverse way given the intro, is actually a bit of a shame because Wild Fire's easily one of the prettiest Wii games we've seen. Like Monkey Ball, it's second only to Nintendo's home-made stuff in terms of visual detail, with huge draw distances, no hint of slowdown and a heavy, sandy sort of atmospheric complexion that looked far nicer than any of his recent Adventure engines and, frankly, a bit of an improvement on the tech-demo sterility of his PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 outing - of which more another time.

The Arabian Nights thing is quite deliberate, says SEGA - Sonic's trying to find the last few pages for some hopefully not-Tails-related reason - and along with the one-player mode we're also told to expect various mini-games to be played with friends - naturally taking advantage of the various handy things the Wii remote can do and sense.

The only slightly frustrating thing about the whole affair was the lack of screenshots to illustrate all this with. For some reason, all we have is this handsome picture of Sonic grasping the Wii remote. Presumably proper shots will follow in due course. In the meantime, take our word for it: Sonic Wild Fire looks nice, and comes across pretty naturally as you settle into scooting through it. How it'll do over a whole game is something we won't know for a while, but with the game due out next year, it's safe to bet SEGA's got a few more tricks up its spiky sleeve. We'll let you know how things progress.

Sonic Wild Fire (working title) is due out exclusively on Nintendo Wii in 2007.

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