Sonic has had a rough 15 years. As far as I’m concerned the last true Sonic game, Sonic & Knuckles, came out in 1994. The fact that gamer’s and reviewers alike bought into the travesty that was Sonic Adventure ensured that every 3D Sonic since would suffer from the same problems. These problems include lame sidekicks with even lamer gameplay segments, Sonic interacting with and even kissing humans, and most of all turning into a werehog. Sega was allowing Sonic games to spiral out of control and were quickly forgetting what made Sonic special in the first place. Sega’s attempt to keep Sonic relevant by making him increasingly more rad nearly killed him. I had long since given up hope on the Sonic series, especially in 3D, but then this game came along and changed everything. Sonic Colors is perhaps as good as a 3D interpretation of Sonic could get.
The game consists mostly of excellent 2D sidescrolling sections and 3D segments that are reminiscent of the bonus stages in Sonic 2. Not only that, Sonic himself has returned. The game’s cut scenes and dialogue are very reminiscent of the cartoon from the early 90’s and the game does itself a great service by not taking itself seriously. It is also written as well as game about a super fast hedgehog in space possibly could be- it even made me chuckle a few times. The light plot focuses on Dr. Eggman building a theme park in outer space to say apologize for his past transgressions, which you soon find out is a front for yet another nefarious scheme that Sonic must put an end to. Perhaps the single greatest decision made with this game was following a cue from another famous mascot, Mario, in taking Sonic’s latest adventure to space. Here developers had the freedom to take Sonic wherever they wanted and their creativity was really able to shine.
The game starts by thrusting you right into the action, dropping Sonic right into Act 1 of Tropical Resort. There is no poorly conceived hub world like in some of the past 3D Sonic games, instead replaced by a level select map. This feature helps you get to the important stuff, the action, much quicker and is a welcome addition.
In 2D segments it plays similarly to the Rush games on DS. Sonic has learned a few new tricks since his days on the Genesis. He can now slide under obstacles, use speed boosts and perform homing attacks on enemies. Sonic does feel a little slippery when compared to controlling other platformers like the Mario games, but it makes sense seeing as how fast he is. Most importantly Sonic can now use the power of Wisps, little aliens Eggman (Dr. Robotnik) is trying to harvest for their energy, by shaking the remote. Some whisp’s powers are better than others, but none of them really overstay their welcome and are almost entirely optional.
The White whisps allow you to perform the boosts I mentioned earlier and are easily the most plentiful in the game. Cyan whisps turn Sonic into a laser which allows him to follow power lines and reflect off of mirrors and other hard surfaces. The orange whisps act as rockets, launching Sonic high into the air and allow him to glide down and collect rings at his leisure. Pink whisps turn Sonic into something similar to the spider ball from Metroid. The hedgehog rolls into a ball and sticks to any surface he touches, even walls and ceilings. The green whisps allow Sonic to hover like a balloon, similarly to how Yoshi controls when he eats a blue fruit in Super Mario Galaxy 2. My least favorite, the blue whisp, basically acts as a switch, turning blue coins into blocks. This power slows down the action a bit and makes it puzzle like, which is fine, but it breaks up the flow a little bit. Last is the purple whisp which allows Sonic to engulf anything in his path and grow larger as he does so. All of these whisps are useful for unlocking different paths through levels and uncovering the cleverly hidden red coins. Sometimes you will come across a translucent whisp container, meaning you will have to come back later after that whisp has been unlocked to discover every secret the level has to offer. These red coins, used to unlock levels and the ability to play as your Mii in the Sonic Simulator, offer a ton of replay value to the game, encouraging you to complete levels multiple times in order to collect them all. The Sonic Simulator is a collection of mostly 2D levels that two players can play together. While they aren’t that exciting due to their simplicity, they are a nice addition in that they are a fun little distraction from the main quest that you can play with a friend.
The 3D segments generally have Sonic dodging left, right or jumping to dodge enemies, obstacles or pick up rings. You can also drift when running around curves but you rarely need to worry about staying on the level. While these segments generally aren’t as good as the sidescrolling segments, they aren’t bad either and keep things fresh by throwing new things at you every once in a while. Later in the game these sequences got pretty frustrating due to my reflexes not being fast enough to handle the variety of obstacles thrown at me, leading to some trial and error gameplay. I did actually see the game over screen a few times, a refreshing change of pace in an era where most games are a cakewalk.
The game has a good mixture of both gameplay styles, the majority of the game being played in 2D with a sprinkling of 3D segments here an there to break things up nicely. The difficulty curve can be pretty uneven at times since multiple worlds open up at once with no clear order in which to do things. Some levels are pretty long, whereas others can be completed in under a minute. The bosses, with the exception of the last one, are generally pretty easy- especially when you make use of the whisps available. While most of the game is not too difficult, getting all of the red coins, scoring S ranks on all of the levels and completing the last few stages will be quite a challenge.
This is a gorgeous game. Great animations, inventive levels, bright colors and a high amount of polish make this one of the best looking games on Wii. Levels like Starlight Carnival and Planet Wisp will make you say wow. The underwater environments are no slouch either. One level, Asteroid Coaster, was a bit uglier than the others mainly because of the color choices clashing a bit. It’s a shame Asteroid Coaster came so late in the game, threatening to leave players with that as their lasting memory of Sonic Colors. Thankfully the final stage picks things up again. Only one presentation choice seemed a bit off to me and it is really only a small nitpick- not showing the names of the worlds until you actually select a level. You actually have to select an act to find out where you are, something that was mildly annoying because makes it harder to remember what they are called for discussion purposes. Instead it’s more like, “Oh I like that one with the hamburgers in it.”
The audio presentation is pretty good, sounding like a mixture of classic Sonic mixed with Mario Galaxy. There aren’t a lot of guitars and cringe inducing lyrics to be found here, outside of the theme song and the credits. The sound effects are effective, with a nice blend of classic sounds thrown in there. The only thing sorely missing, and this is really a gameplay complaint too, is the classic chime you receive when getting an extra life, whether by hitting the icons or collecting 100 rings. Except that you can’t get an extra life by getting 100 rings in Sonic Colors! What gives? This sound effect was in Sonic 4 Episode one and its absence here is puzzling.
Sonic Colors is a true return to form for the Sonic franchise and feels more like Sonic 4 than Sonic 4 does. Sonic Team really outdid themselves here, creating a game that is creative, fun to play, and free of the glitches and terrible load times that have plagued recent entries in the series. Any fans of Sonic from the Genesis era, Super Mario Galaxy, or the platformer genre in general should definitely give Sonic Colors a purchase.