Sega gets credit for never giving up. In their efforts to produce a definitive next-gen console Sonic title, they have have pulled out a seemingly incorrigible number of configurations and gimmicks with the hope of pleasing fans. The results have been widely considered less-than-stellar, if increased calls to support honorable hedgehog euthanasia are any indication. Even Sonic 4: Episode I, an attempt to take players back to Genesis roots, has been met with mixed reviews.
Now there’s Sonic Colors for the Wii. The name cries gimmick, but Sega appeared to have extra faith in this iteration, discontinuing some of its older, critically panned titles so as not to continue sullying the pot, one could say.
Wishful thinking? I’m happy to say no, actually. Sonic Colors shines through where previous titles floundered, offering the best Sonic experience on a console in years.
The basic premise of Sonic Colors is par for the series: Eggman has created an amusement park in space by linking five planets to his resort. It’s all, of course, a ruse to conceal a diabolical motive that depends on capturing cute, collectible alien creatures called Wisps. Sonic and Tails arrive to investigate and mass robot genocide is soon celebrated.
It should be noted that the tale is told tongue-in-cheek with plenty of flippant Sonic-tude. It’s groan-inducing at points but chuckleworthy at others, lending itself to a sort of “Saturday morning cartoon” feel. It fits well; at least better than watching Shadow packing heat or Sonic smooching outside his species ever did.
Sonic Team chose to transition between 2D and on-track 3D during gameplay; a decision that really makes all the difference. Gone are the clunky, confusing werehog areas that plagued Unleashed. It’s all back down to a mix of platforming and speed. Sonic is almost always pressed onward with little backtracking, and when the camera switches to a behind the ‘hog view, he is sometimes locked into “quickstep” mode where you can zip between three lanes, or a drift mode that allows better navigation of corners. It sounds potentially limiting, but is a great way to maintain the speed in these areas many players are looking for. An icon at the bottom of the screen indicates when the game is in one of these modes, as well as when there is an instant kill danger such as bottomless pits. Where has this warning been all my life?
There are four control options, of which the Wii remote and nunchuk combo felt most comfortable to me. Controls felt tight and responsive for the majority of the game, although some platform navigating felt tricky at times. This might have had as much to do with the length the camera was pulled out at some points.
The eight multi-hued wisps are indeed the gimmick du game. One color grants power to the standard boost gauge, while the other seven grant individual powers such as laser propulsion, drilling through the ground and sticking to walls. The Wisps are timed and work well similar to the power-ups of Mario Galaxy. Most importantly, where previous titles’ gimmicks failed, Wisps rarely hinder Sonic’s motion and, in many cases, enhance it.
Each of the six worlds in the main game divided into six acts and a boss battle, with a three-part finale. Each world is vividly presented as a combination of its natural elements and Eggman’s machinations. The soundtrack, a blend of orchestrated music and synth, perpetuates this theme. It’s a beautiful overall package that often bursts with personality, although the rare pixelated background element does detract a bit.
While the enemy bots tend to brandish different objects depending on the world, most are the same standard design. It could be argued that the enemies shouldn’t be the grand focus and that having too many would detract from zipping through a level. That would be understandable. What’s not understandable is why three bosses are basically remixes of the first three you encounter in the game. They’re fun fights, but there’s no reason not to have six unique creations. The final boss, thankfully, does not feel like a throwback.
The replayability factor is intriguing. Some acts feel oddly short — at least until you realize you’re missing three or four of the five special rings hidden in each act. Returning to earlier stages after freeing certain-colored Wisps allows you to access different sections entirely passed over on the first runthrough. Even with that considered, picking up some of the special rings you can see in your first play can be a challenge, as well. I beat the main game with an embarrassingly meager number of special rings, and since they unlock extra stages in the Sonic Simulator — essentially a collection of extra courses that can be played with a friend — going back can be rewarding. Online leaderboards are also there for those kinds of people.
So what I’m really trying to say is…
Search for what people cry out for in their Sonic games and you’ll find three common elements: good platforming that doesn’t just have you hold right all the time, alternative paths to explore and speed, stupid. Sonic Colors manages to hit upon that golden triad in a way no other Sonic title this generation has been able to, providing a contemporary experience that still manages to pay good tribute to the blue blur’s roots. Will that stop some of the “hardcore fans” from trying to disparage it somehow? Probably not, but there’s currently no better case against pulling the plug on the hedgehog.
Sonic Colors is developed by Sega and is available on the Nintendo Wii. Review derived from about 6.5 hours of play with a retail copy of the game, in which the main game was completed. So, so many special rings to get back to…