Sonic Shuffle Dreamcast Review

Publisher: SEGA  Developer: Sonic Team, Hudson Soft  Genre: Strategy, Party  Players: 1-4

Age Rating: 3+  Other console/handheld formats: N/A

Mario Party was released to positive reviews back in 1998 and its focus on multiplayer fun and popularity, and subsequent success, meant that many developers jumped on the party game band wagon and released versions of their own. SEGA also released their own party game starring their blue hedgehog mascot Sonic, in the rather underwhelming Sonic Shuffle for the Dreamcast in 2000.

You can’t see other players cards, even your own, on-screen. Your own cards would appear on the VM Unit in your controller.

The biggest mistake Sonic Shuffle makes is that it attempts to tell some sort of story that really wasn’t necessary. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy are transported to Maginary World, a dreamworld that is made up of the many different dreams of people from many different dimensions. The guardian of Maginary World is Illumina – the protector of these dreams – and, along with her fellow assistant, Lumina Flowlight, they both protect the Perfect Precious Stone from destruction. However, a dark creature called Void succeeds in shattering the Perfect Precious Stone into smaller gems (Precious Stones) and causing chaos in the far reaches of the universe, and it is up to Sonic and his gang to put everything right.

Just like Mario Party, in Sonic Shuffle you choose a character, manoeuvring them around a virtual game board with the goal being to collect as many Precious Stones as you can and beat the other players, those being other people (locally) or against the adjustable AI. Many aspects of Sonic’s universe has been added, including defeating enemies (that are not robots), collecting rings, bounce pads and avoiding attempts by the notorious Eggman to hinder your progress to save the dream dimension.

There are a total of 5 game boards, each with a total of 7 Precious Stones that the four heroes have to collect, with the goal being the one to collect the most to win. You can play as either Sonic, Tails, Amy or Knuckles, with four other characters that can be unlocked. Unlike Mario Party, which has a time limit to each game, the length of the gameplay here depends on how long it takes for all the Precious Stones to be collected, so a session could pass by quickly, or could go on for a number of hours which some may find tiring.

At times a random ‘accident’ will happen. This is a mini game with the goal being to collect rings and Force Jewels. Not sure why they are accidents though.

To break up gameplay there are mini-games and mini-events. Mini-games are also very much Mario Party-inspired, and you can play 4vs4, 1vs3, or 2vs2. The mini-games are certainly good for a chuckle as they see Sonic and friends performing a musical number onstage, playing chicken or attempting to take a photo in a Zero-G environment. However, as fun as they can be, some mini-games could have been a bit more creative and some are rather overused, showing up multiple times during one playthrough. Mini-games last only a few minutes, a couple at most, and Sonic fans will still enjoy seeing the characters in unusual situations. However, in order to play a mini-game, you have to land exactly on the space, meaning you could play an entire board without playing a mini-game whatsoever.

Mini-events are short stories that will give you multiple options for the outcome, with your answer resulting in either something good, bad or neutral happening, be it losing or gaining Rings, receiving a Force Jewel or two, or maybe nothing at all will happen. A mini-event can see a character entering a game-show hosted by Eggman, or simply deciding whether or not to pet a Unicorn, amongst others. The mini-events don’t have any link to the main story and can seem rather random, but given that Sonic and his friends are in a dreamworld, then it makes sense that at times these mini-events seem out of place, as dreams tend to be. The reason for these mini-games and events is to reward you Rings or Force Jewels, or even take them away, and this can impact your playing strategy and overall winning position.

The one area in which Sonic Shuffle does slightly improve on is that you are allowed to move spaces of your own accord instead of having the game move for you. The fact that the aim of the game also isn’t simply to ‘get to the end’ and sees you collecting a number of Precious Stones means that the boards feel less linear, giving you more freedom to go in whichever direction you would like towards the current available Precious Stone. This makes Sonic Shuffle feel much more like a board game, handing over more more control to the player rather than feeling as though the game is playing for you.

An issue with reaching the Precious Stone is that you need to choose the right cards to land exactly on the space. It can be frustrating but tense if others are closing in…

You move spaces by choosing from a set of cards; these are shuffled and handed out to you at random. Cards range from 1-6, with there also being three special S cards – this used to activate your characters special abilities on the board – and with one of the characters gaining an Eggman card instead. To move, you can choose a card from your own hand or you can push your luck and steal a random card from your opponents if your own hand is lacking, and you can then move the number of spaces on the chosen card.

Cards have other uses, such as during boss battles in which you must choose a card that is equal to or greater than the card shown by the enemy. Upon choosing a card, it will rotate quikly and you have to time when to push the button to land on a number, this adding a bit of tension as you hope to fall on the right number. If you lose there’s not much in the way of consequence – you’ll simply be placed back on the board, with less rings, if you had them going into the battle. If you beat the enemy though, you can gain Force Jewels, which come in handy on the board.

Force Jewels are gems that give players more special abilities, though there aren’t many that are of much use. Some can increase the amount of spaces you can move in one turn, teleport you to a random space on the board; there is some tact to be had when you decide to use one of these gems. You can force players to move a space, destroy your opponents Force Jewels, swap cards, reduce or increase space on the roulette wheel (this appearing when it’s time to steal rings off another player, when choosing something bad to happen to another player, or when using the Eggman card). Using them at the right time could work in your favour. Or not.

The overall winner is the player with the most Precious Stones and if you draw with another player, it’s the player with the most rings as well as the most Precious Stones which is the deciding factor. You aren’t really rewarded for all your hard work, other than you get to gloat that you were the best player if playing with friends.

Sonic Shuffle is a game that isn’t played as straight-forward as Mario Party, though I can see why there was much criticism on its original release. The story is cheesy and unnecessary and the length of gameplay will make some players groan, even more so if you are playing alone, as it is here when gameplay does feel very repetitive. The lack of simplicity in the rules will also put a lot of players off, but despite some questionable elements, the area where Sonic Shuffle wins is when it comes to putting gameplay in your hands, and especially when played with friends, which is how this game is best played.

Sonic’s Room is where you can view certain unlockables.

There’s plenty of decision-making that players need to do here and Sonic Shuffle has been created in a way that you need to play tactically and strategise your next moves in order to win – I suppose it could even be described as a strategy game as opposed to a party game. Mario Party is linear with a clear goal and is all about luck and the roll of the dice, with emphasis placed on innocent fun. Sonic Shuffle, however, places more decisions in your own hands and any consequences will be as a result of your own choices, good or bad, and so you feel any gains or losses because it was all down to you – you choose the cards to use, you choose when to use Force Jewels, you choose which direction you go in on the board. You choose to push your luck or play it safe.

Sonic Shuffle pretty much rewards your ego for making decisions that work in your favour and crushing your opponents, and isn’t that really the point of any board game anyway (looking at you Monopoly)? Whilst that might make Sonic Shuffle seem rather mean-spirited, it is still a board game, albeit a virtual one, with the goal being to win, meaning it sets out to do what a board-game is intended to do – make you feel bad for losing, or smug for winning.