Published on November 26th, 2010 | by Cameron Woolsey
Sonic Colors Review
For Sonic Colors on the DS, click here: http://www.gamingtruth.com/2010/11/29/sonic-colors-ds-review/
It has been established long enough now that Sonic games have been the joke of gamers for over a decade. A history of irritating characters, bugs, glitches, bad cameras, and terrible design ideas (why give a Sonic character a gun?) have plagued the series to a point where gamers had stopped caring and Sonic fans simply gave up. But something has changed this year. To borrow a phrase from IGN’s Arthur Gies, Sonic has experienced somewhat of a renaissance in 2010, first starting out with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, and now leading in to Sonic Colors. But has Sonic Team finally learned from past mistakes to create a game as good as Dimps’ Sonic revival?
Surprisingly, they have.
In a move contrary to what we have seen before, Sonic Team has listened to the fans and took the best design elements from both recent classic titles and retooled them for Sonic Colors. In order to get a clearer picture we need to take a look at Sonic Unleashed. Although it was ultimately labeled a failure, gamers were quick to point out that the daytime stages of the game were actually pretty fun. Someone at SEGA must have listened because Sonic Colors draws a lot of influence from the game, thankfully with the dreaded Werehog gameplay removed.
SEGA tried for a long time to create Sonic game that worked well in 3D but the blue dude was simply too fast and his speed created an immense challenge for Sonic Team to overcome. Gamers wanted a Sonic built for today in terms of both high speed and fluid 3D gameplay while Sonic fans yearned for the series to return to its 2D roots where his speed can be experienced without all the glitches that were created with the shift to 3D. Using the formula derived from the Hedgehog Engine of Unleashed, Sonic Colors provides the best of both worlds using a finely tuned camera system that seamlessly shifts perspective from 3D to 2D during the course of a stage by using certain corners or rails as a transition point. The 3D portions of a stage are built very well and provide little difficulty to travel thanks to the game’s perfectly tune controls. The 2D sections take on the familiar, nostalgic feel of classic Sonic titles while also taking influence from even modern 2D Sonic games such as Sonic 4 and Sonic Rush.
Expect many of the now standard moves to make their return along with a couple unfamiliar ones. Sonic can still hit bounce pads, jump and use a homing attack, skid under low hanging objects, and grind on rails, while in 2D Sonic can jump off walls and slam on the ground to either destroy enemies or bust through breakable boxes. The only move that has been sacrificed is the classic spin dash but thanks to Sonic’s ability to quickly get up and go, the move goes unmissed.
The main change to the gameplay comes from the Wisps which are small alien creatures and what set Sonic Colors apart from the other games in the franchise. With the shake of the controller, the different colored Wisps grant special abilities for Sonic to use during a level. For example: white Wisps are granted early on in the game and give Sonic the power to boost by holding the ‘B’ button. Cyan Wisps turn Sonic into a laser beam that can bounce off walls and be deflected using cyan colored diamonds. Yellow cone-shaped Wisps transform Sonic into a drill and can burrow deep into the ground where often you can discover different paths to take or other hidden goodies. There are eight different Wisps in all and each provides different powers to help you finish a stage or discover secret items hidden throughout. Each Wisp power is fun to use and creates many new gameplay challenges that altogether are a welcome change to the familiar Sonic formula.
The storyline is your standard Sonic faire. Dr. Robotnik, feeling bad for his many past misdeeds and crimes against humanity, has secretly built a colossal theme park in space for the enjoyment of the world. Naturally, Sonic suspects the good doctor of foul deeds using the theme park as a cover. And he’s right. Of course, how could we expect something different from our dear old mad scientist? In a new quest for world domination, Robotnik has captured five planets that have served as homes for the alien Wisps. Aware of the power they possess, he plans to siphon their energy to build devices of immense destruction. Sonic Colors takes a minimalist approach in storytelling and I believe it succeeds for it. Cutscenes play on occasion and while the dialogue among the characters is cute–with a fair share of overdramatic animations–it can also occasionally be pretty clever. Sonic retains his overconfident and sarcastic attitude and Robotnik his overacted menace. Listening to him name off each attraction while still hinting at his evil intent in the overworld map is pretty amusing. It’s fun without pushing the corniness to the limits. The game took me around eight hours to complete but replaying older Acts is highly encouraged because discovering new Wisps will unlock them everywhere and they will provide you with new ways to complete the Act.
In a tangent from previous games, the story of Sonic Colors doesn’t revolve around the race for the Chaos Emeralds, a staple plot element for the series. Instead the story focuses on rescuing the five captured planets, each one the home of a different type of Wisp. In a way, the rescued Wisps represent the capture of an Emerald which, in previous titles, offered Sonic the power to defeat Robotnik once and for all. They actually still do just that, but not until the very end. The Emeralds still exist, however, but earning them is completely optional. To acquire an Emerald, you must find five hidden Special Rings within a stage. They are not easy to find and many of them require backtracking after unlocking a certain Wisp necessary to locate one.
Emeralds are earned in the separate game type, Eggman’s Sonic Simulator located in Game Land, a floating Sonic head spaceship, where you must play as a digital version of Sonic (or your Mii) and complete each of the three stages for each Emerald. Each stage is unlocked after discovering ten Special Rings. So with seven Emeralds in all and three stages each to complete, you would need to find 180 Special Rings in all. You will learn early on that this is not a simple task so Sonic Team’s decision to designate the Emeralds as a bonus instead of being necessary to the overall game is a good move.
The real issue I have with this is that the Sonic Sim really isn’t all that fun to play. You can play it with a friend in co-op but the camera can only track the two speeding characters so well.
In another move that differs from past design is that collecting 100 rings will no longer grant an extra life. Instead, ring collection becomes essential in raising the amount of earned points for each Act. Now I know that collecting points is somewhat archaic today, but point collection has an importance in Sonic Colors. The more points you gain the higher grade you will get for an Act. It all depends on how many rings you have collected and how fast you finish the stage.
Starting at grade ‘D,’ you can earn a grade going up to ‘A’ or even an ‘S’ rank which is the highest. Getting an ‘A’ rank will grant you one extra life while an ‘S’ rank will give you three. But this isn’t the only way to earn lives; they are still scattered throughout many Acts and you can even earn one by destroying several numbers in your point counter after completing the stage. Sonic purists will no doubt hate the fact that they can no longer uselessly collect over a hundred lives in a play through, but this new design makes it more rewarding now to gain extra lives by putting more challenge into it.
The great thing about having multiple planets to rescue is that each planet features wildly different themes which keep the game fresh. In Robotnik’s quest to make his theme park more expansive, each planet has been transformed to support entertaining themes. From the initial Zone you will soon be racing along a starry road, skimming water in a Japanese-themed water park planet, flying through an asteroid belt on a rollercoaster rocketing thorough space, or drilling through giant cakes (great for birthdays!). No two planets are built the same and the Acts seldom, if ever, feel repetitive.
Throughout the game Sonic is mostly running but occasionally there will be times when you are forced to stop the hectic pace to pull off some precise platform jumping. Each level in the game is perfect in design and offers some of the best platforming the franchise has ever seen. There were a few instances near the end of the game, in which the platforming became more difficult to the point where I lost some lives, but never became overly frustrating.
The music in Sonic Colors is easily the best in the series since Sonic 2. Not counting the intro and credits themes, the J-pop influenced soundtracks that have been featured in previous 3D Sonic titles are no more. They have been replaced by a mixture of catchy techno beats with a few orchestral pieces scattered throughout. I didn’t hear a single song that I disliked. Even the two vocalized tracks didn’t cause me to violently cringe the moment they started. I was ready for it though. I had my “sour disapproving frown with slight head shake” on standby but thankfully the moment never came.
In another audio related fact, Sonic Team has replaced the voice cast for both Sonic and Tails. Robotnik, however, is still voiced by Mike Pollock who took over as the mad doctor for Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) after being passed the torch from the late, great, Deem Bristow. Sonic is voiced by Roger Craig Smith, the talented voice actor behind such personalities as Chris Redfield and Ezio of Assassin’s Creed fame. Tails is another surprise as his voice is actually fitting and is no longer ear-piercingly annoying. Though not on the level of some top games, I have never enjoyed the voice acting from a modern Sonic title so much before.
Graphically, Sonic Colors is one of the most impressive games currently on the Wii. The colors are bright and the environments are highly detailed and expansive. The only downside in the presentation lies in the menu system which doesn’t mimic the overall fantastic look of the game but that’s more nitpicking than anything else. The game just looks amazing.
There are a few things, however, that bring down the overall quality of Sonic Colors. While I rarely had issues during the time I was playing, it was the times I wasn’t playing that got to me. Often during a segment in an Act the game will take full control of Sonic without giving any real warning. This mostly occurred during Starlight Carnival in where Sonic is running along a starry transparent road. At first I held my thumb down thinking that I was driving forward, only to get suspicious and let go, realizing that I was accomplishing nothing more than making my thumb tired. This occurs in more than just one Zone and it can feel a little frustrating especially since the only real purpose for it is so that the game can be showy.
Another issue I had was with the boss characters at the end of the Zone. For the first three bosses I really had no complaint; they were huge and a lot of fun to fight. However, the first three bosses are repeated in the next three Zones and changed very little. They can be defeated using practically the same methods. It’s a shame that the boss fights ultimately became the lowest point of the game considering that the Sonic series nearly always had fantastic boss battles.
After all is considered with Sonic Colors there really isn’t any better way to put it: Sonic Team has finally done it. The team listened to their frustrated fans and took a good long look at the state of the franchise and took everything that worked from past Sonic titles—both modern and classic—while scrapping the ideas that didn’t. Sonic Team has created a the first modern Sonic game. While it may be a little rough around the edges, there is no doubt in my mind that Sonic Colors is the best Sonic game in the past 15 years. Sonic Colors is also more than just a good Sonic game, it’s a great game all around and can be easily enjoyed by platformer fans. If Sonic Team uses this successful formula in upcoming Sonic games, there is no doubt in my mind that we may rarely have to see another bad Sonic title for a good long time. Let’s just hope they keep on listening, now more than ever before.
+ Controls are finely tuned
+ Level design is the best in years
+ Music is great
+ Easily one of the best looking games for Wii
– Boss battles become disappointing
– Lack of control in specific stages
– Platforming can get tricky near the end