Sonic Shuffle, originally titled Sonic Square, was created by members of the same team that helped Nintendo develop Mario Party (hence the similarity in the two games). The game sees Sonic, Amy, Tails and Knuckles warped to a mystical land called Maginaryworld, where people's dreams come true... if you excuse the horrible cliche.
A magical fairy called Lumina says an evil being, Void, is set to destroy the Precioustones. These gems are basically the power source for all of Maginaryworld. If they're destroyed, the magical land will cease to exist, and people will have nightmares (what a shame). As all good heroes do, Sonic and the team accept the challenge of saving these Precioustones - and as you would expect, Dr Eggman manages to get in on the action too. So the heroes all go to defeat Void, protect the Precioustones and restore the land's Goddess, Illumina.
Sonic Shuffle is a lot like Mario Party, although in Nintendo's Board Game romp there wasn't much going action to deal with save for the appearance(s) of Bowser, star-collecting and coins. It never felt like there was any real action happening between mini-games in Mario Party.
Sonic Shuffle differs from this, although the basic premise is similar - the aim is to collect the most Precioustones, true, and you can do this either by collecting the most rings in a game, gaining the most rings in mini-games, winning the most duel battles, or by landing on the Precioustone spot the most (which randomises throughout the course of each game).
But instead of a dice, turns are determined by cards. At the start of a game, a deck of cards is shuffled and distributed to all four players. The number on a card corresponds to the number of spaces you can move in that turn. On the TV screen, everyone's cards are concealed (to avoid cheating and to encourage surprise play), but players can look at their connected VMU memory card to see their cards on the little screen. It's a pretty cool touch.
Many things can also happen on the board itself. If you land on a green space, you'll either play a mini-game (which involves all four players) or a mini event (which you play on your own). There are many different versions of each mini event, and depending on who lands on the green space, the mini-game will be either in favour or against you.
Purple spaces force you into battles with random enemies, which award you Forcejewels if you beat them. Forcejewels can affect your game in various ways, such as using five cards in one turn. Red ring spaces lose you rings, and blue spaces earn you rings - but landing on the same colour spaces in succession will add a combo gain/loss, so watch what you step on.
Even without doing anything, an 'Accident' can occur - basically another mini-game, usually involving survival or collecting rings. One particular 'Accident' situation is above, in Emerald Coast.
As with all Sonic games, Dr Eggman makes an appearance (even though he's not the main baddie), just to make your life hell. Somehow the rotund dictator managed to get his big fat arse into Maginaryworld and he's here to cause you pain. He's the equivalent of Bowser in Mario Party, and appears after a Precioustone is collected.
When everyone's cards are used up, the deck is reshuffled and re-distributed. There are equal amounts of each number (4), and three Special cards. There is also one Eggman card that gets thrown in the mix - it could end up lying in your pack instead of a Special card. If that happens, don't use it - otherwise Eggman will play a rotten trick on you. He usually pops up in mini-games and even shows if you manage to hit a space a certain amount of times. If you're too far away from the Precioustone when someone else gets it, you're in for a squishing!
The main aim of the game is to collect the most Precioustones. As explained before, there are many ways to collect these, the most common being a race for the Precioustone spot on the board. When you manage to land on this spot you have to face a monster which guards the Precioustone. Like all battles, to beat it you must have a number card higher than the one shown above the enemies head. Once you pick a card, it spins like a roulette, from 1 to the number of that chosen card. Press the A Button to stop it - get it a number higher than the monster and you defeat it, and the prize is yours.
Games last for quite a while - even at the very end, when the last Precioustone is collected, the game isn't quite over. If you're short of a Precioustone, you'll have a chance to steal one, because a final mini-game will commence - usually involving a race avoiding deadly obstacles. An example is a surfing mini-game at the end of the Emerald Coast board, where you have to surf waves, avoid logs and beat the other three players to the end at the same time. It's a frantic run to the finish, and the winner gets a Precioustone. Once all the Precioustones are accounted for, then the overall winner is decided.
Although this is a party game that could be a challenger to Nintendo's efforts, Mario Party, there are a couple of niggles which deny this game a great acknowledgement. First of all, there's the excruciatingly long loading times - you even have to wait for the Sonic Room >_< This makes the gameplay factor very 'on and off' throughout, and you could very well see how many trips to the loo and back you could make before the loading ends (you may want to have an unstoppable, cautious bladder of course though ^_-).
The game can also get a bit tedious - especially during the solo mode. You can't have any friends join in with the Story Mode, like Mario Party, which sucks. Plus, there is an element of cheating in the game - somehow the computer players never play their own Eggman card, not even on Easy (where you'd think they'd slip up occasionally). No. Instead, they nick off with your best cards - so although a genius and original idea, the whole cards thing is a bit underhanded.
Overall, this is worth renting for an all-nighter with your pals (although your pals may think you strange to be playing Sonic - hey, we've all been there), but nothing really makes the game deserving of a full investment. Unless you like the game a lot, or are a hardcore Sonic fan, in which case be my guest. But if you aren't, this is not Sonic gaming at its best.