"Sonic the Hedgehog" hasn't gotten much respect among gamers since the late '90s, but Sega has kept plugging away with the speedy furball and may have finally hit a winning formula in "Sonic and the Secret Rings."

More than any other media industry, the vidgame biz loves its franchises. No matter how many beatings they take, publishers keep trying to revive favorite characters. “Sonic the Hedgehog” hasn’t gotten much respect among gamers since the late’90s, but Sega has kept plugging away with the speedy furball and may have finally hit a winning formula in “Sonic and the Secret Rings.” While hardly revolutionary, the newest “Sonic” game uses the Nintendo Wii controller to finally make the character fun again.

The essence of Sonic has always come down to one word: speed. Original “Sonic” in 1991 pushed the vidgame biz into the MTV age with its hyperkinetic pace, and became an instant hit.

But over the years, Sonic strayed from his roots. Sega focused more on his Bart Simpson-esque anti-authoritarian ‘tude, introduced a bunch of lame supporting characters and had them driving cars and shooting guns instead of racing.

With “Secret Rings,” Sega seems to have realized that all players want from Sonic is to run super fast in well designed levels. Unlike some games awkwardly altered to work with the Wii’s wand-like controller, Sonic is a natural fit. By holding the “Wii-mote” sideways and tilting it or thrusting it forward to make Sonic move, gameplay is almost intuitive.

“Sonic and the Secret Rings” still has its problems. The game has a dopey story with awful dialogue that makes “Wild Hogs” look sophisticated. Levels are fun, but there simply aren’t enough of them. And while it’s not Sega’s fault Nintendo hasn’t yet enabled online play for the Wii, it’s hard not to wonder how cool it would be to race against another hedgehog over the ‘Net.

2006 was a great year for Mario (of the “Super Mario Bros.”) and Lara Croft (of “Tomb Raider” fame), who both had revivals with their first solid new titles in years. “Sonic and the Secret Rings” may very well make 2007 the comeback year for the world’s fastest hedgehog.

Sonic and the Secret Rings

Rated E. $49.95.

Production

A Sega presentation of a game developed by Sega for the Wii.
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