“Sonic Colours” review

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I grew up liking both Sonic and Mario, so I was in neither camp, although me owning only Nintendo consoles automatically placed me on the plumber’s side. Sonic’s adventures in three dimensions have not been as well received as the ones in his 2D heyday. Sonic the Hedgehog and his series often end up on lists arguing against their existence, due to the poor quality of the games released in the 2000s.

The new 3D Sonics followed this formula: it would be announced that the new game would return Sonic to his roots, and all the fans would truly believe that it would be the first great 3D Sonic and that their mascot was back. The game would be released, and it would strike hatred in the hearts of the fans, and they swore they would never fall for it again. Then the next game would be revealed and the cycle would restart. This happened quite a few times, from Sonic Heroes to Sonic Unleashed. It hit its lowest of the lows with Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. If you type in Wikipedia “List of video games notable for negative reception” (a formal way of saying “list of games that suck”), you will find Sonic ’06 on there.  I never had the opportunity to play it, but I know it had a killer soundtrack. I also quite liked the 3D Sonics I did play, even Shadow the Hedgehog, although I can see why they are disliked as such.

Before Sonic Colours was released, Sega de-listed all the games in the franchise with a low Metacritic score, to “increase the value of the brand”. Seems like a good plan, to keep Sonic ’06 out of unsuspecting gamers hands and let them buy Sonic Rush instead. Sonic Colours is pretty good too, so it looks like this mission is succeeding.

So is Sonic Colours finally the 3D Sonic to break the mold of mediocrity? Well, according to the fans and critics that answer would be yes. I agree too, but I wouldn’t say Sonic Colours is a great game, but it’s definitely the most well made 3D Sonic in years.

Sonic Team listened to the fans and critics complaints of the other games, and got rid of the gimmicks, such as the sword in Sonic and the Black Knight, and all the playable character that aren’t Sonic. This just leaves the player in control of Sonic and his speed.

Sonic Team says that this game is marketed towards a younger demographic – Mario fans in particular. It’s easy to see what they mean by this, as the story, setting and dialogue are quite kiddy. Dr. Eggman wants the world to believe he has stopped being evil by opening an intergalactic amusement. Sonic and Tails obviously don’t buy it and vow to stop whatever the mad scientist is preparing. Sonic, Eggman and Tails are the only core characters from the franchise to appear in this instalment, with only Sonic being playable and the rest in cutscenes. I was a bit disappointed that Knuckles didn’t make an appearance, but I suppose the writers would have ruined him with cheesy dialogue, which makes me breathe a sigh of relief that Amy wasn’t included. The cutscenes feel beyond juvenile; I think they tried to make gamers feel like they are watching a Saturday morning cartoon. The cutscenes go on for far too long and the dialogue is full of jokes you’d see on ABC3 (kids channel in Australia) that have nothing to do with the simple plot at hand. This game made me think whether I’m getting older and less patient because I rarely skip cutscenes, but Sonic Colours made me do it!!

Gameplay is a mix of 2D and 3D Sonic. 3D Sonic controls smoother than past games. Homing attack, charge attack and riding on rails, business as usual. The perspective occasionally shifts to 2D, where the controls are the same but you can only move on a 2D plane obviously. This gameplay is taken from Sonic Unleashed, but without the God of War rip-off Wolf sections (thankfully I never played this game). So we have the best bits of Sonic Unleashed gameplay. The goal, like always is to reach the end of the level, or beat the bosses reach them.

Sonic and Tails discover an alien race, whose power Eggman is utilising for his evil purposes, called Wisps. These Wisps help Sonic out throughout the course of the game by acting as powerups. These remind me of the powerups in Super Mario Galaxy, which may have been the inspiration. I liked the Spike Wisp, which allows Sonic to turn into a spiky ball that can spin up walls and attach himself to terrain. The Block Wisp allowed you to switch blocks into solid or “fall through”, a bit lame I thought. The Drill Wisp was a lot of fun, where Sonic can digs through dirt very quickly, as well as move swiftly through the ocean. Those are just a few of them, and most of the time Sonic uses them in his 2D perspective. Powerups are great additions to the Sonic series, and I’d like to see them expanded upon in future games.

The levels are a little bit different this time for the franchise. Instead of classic zone/act after the other, the game features a world map. Each world has six acts and a boss, rather than the two or three acts and a boss in most Sonic games. The levels vary in length; I’ve beaten some of them after six minutes whereas others I’ve reached the exit in just one minute. It makes each Act feel like they were developed around an idea, which is a nice idea. The level design is good, but technically flawed, as in the deaths are a little unfair. At times you may get stuck and struggle to find your way out, which isn’t good for a Sonic game as it ruins the flow. There’s that spring that follows you, but only to a certain point, which lead me to losing a lot of lives because I didn’t jump to the bloody thing’s standards. The issues in the level design create a rather inconsistent difficulty curve. One level I would easily complete on my first try, when the level before that I had lost all my lives multiple times. These kinds of problems have plagued Sonic’s 3D adventures since the beginning, but at least it’s improved.

The god damned live system returns, which is just really annoying in this day and age. I could complete a level with no extra lives remaining, and then get far in the next but start again because I made a mistake and died. Dear developers: GET RID OF THE EXTRA LIVES SYSTEM IN PLATFORMERS PLEASE. Thank you Rayman Origins for doing just that.

The music takes on a bit of a less rocky feel present in most Sonic games and more of an electronic direction. It sounds good and suits the game very well. The graphics look great, and make everything visually stand out.

Overall, a fun back to basics title in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, that feels like it could have started  where Sonic 2 left off (but in 3D of course). By sticking to why gamers loved the series in the first place, just him and his speed jumping through levels, Sonic Colours has succeeded where many of the other 3D iterations failed. There are great ideas here I’d like to see in future 3D titles, (which they did use, in Sonic Generations). The levels are designed well, but they needed to be tested a little more to stop the accidental deaths that shouldn’t be my fault. Some of the Wisp powers also feel clunky.

If you never liked 3D Sonic games, I still recommend giving this a go as it fixed many of the problems present in those games such as glitchy gameplay, too many playable characters, over convoluted plot, awkward controls and broken camera system. If you liked them regardless, you’ll definitely like Sonic Colours. Fans of the 2D Sonics should give this a go. Younger gamers who never played Sonic before will play a great introduction to this long-running series. To Sonic virgins I recommend this game (Wii) or Sonic Generations (PS3/360), or Sonic Rush on the Nintendo DS to take the hedgehog for a spin.

Rating: 3.5/5.

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