Sonic Shuffle ( ソニックシャッフル)

Does the thought of your family descending on you for Christmas send a chill down your spine? Are you dreading your dad making a drunken fool of himself again, the in-laws who are always giving you helpful ‘advice’, or the nephews and nieces who proceed to wreck your house? Well why not keep them quiet with a party game on your beloved Sega Dreamcast? 

Ho Ho Ho, 'tis the season to play tons of video games!

A game which might suit such a purpose is Sonic Shuffle, a party/board video game released for the Dreamcast at the tail end of the systems life cycle. The game was intended as Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s popular party game, Mario Party, and was actually co-developed by Hudson Soft the company behind the original Mario Party. You get to play as Sonic himself, along with Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, E-102 Gamma (didn’t he die?),Super Sonic, a Chao and even Big the Cat. Instead of King Kooper you get Dr. Eggman, or Dr. Robotnik in his Western name, and instead of coins you collect rings, and it’s not stars but “Precious Stones”, but apart from that the bare bones of the game are the same.

Not one of the better Sonic game covers

What distinguishes Sonic Shuffle from other party games is that instead of rolling a dice, each player is given a series of numbered cards and takes turns in drawing a card  (you can pick from your cards or your opponents' although they’re hidden), you then move as many spaces as the card dictates, collecting rings and trying to avoid landing on the squares which set off a mini- game against the other characters. I say avoid, as the mini-games are average for the most part, with some being absolutely irritating and others being damn right unplayable.

A few of the games are okay, like the trampoline or guitar stages, and the soda mini-games is pretty funny but for most part, despite the on-screen instructions, it just takes too long to figure out what you're supposed to be doing, and when you do figure it out its probably too late. Also, as they are only played when landing on a certain square and not at the end of every turn like in Mario Party you can tend to spend more time waiting to play a mini game than actually doing so. It’s also a shame that for a Sonic game there aren’t really any games which really take advantage of Sonic’s trademark speed.

Mini-games are largely forgettable, here you have to collect rings while avoiding the debris and crabs!

Sonic Shuffle’s graphics hold up especially well in VGA, the vibrant colored cell shaded graphics which were in vogue at the time, really add a sense of character and it’s a credit to the design team that a 12 year old game can still looks relevant. The style and colour of the game certainly distinguishes it from the Mario party games. Also, as a bit of a Christmas treat if you set the Dreamcast system date to December 24 you can replace the character Lumina with NiGHTS. It seems that the wonderful graphics come at a price though as the game suffers from some serious load times issues. Loading times for the mini games are particularly long, and require loading both before and after the games which becomes increasingly infuriating.

Still a fantastic looking title, shame about the gameplay

There is some story involving a baddy who in the land of Maginary Land who has has shattered the Precioustone into many pieces and its up to Sonic and the crew to restore it. All pretty bland stuff and you have to wonder why they went through the effort in trying to put in a story at all really? All in all, Sonic Shuffle is a fairly fun way to spend a family filled holiday, the graphics are pretty and the card mechanics manages to create some tension and excitement in multiplayer. Ultimately though, the lack of variety in the mini-games and long loading times make this one a bit of turkey.