Look, we all know that the Sonic series isn't quite what it was at one point. During the Genesis years, Sonic was THE series. He was the obvious number one competitor to Mario and his attitude mixed with his fast-paced gameplay actually made him the favorite of many for several years. He has had some serious difficulty in his transition to the 3D realm, however. The Sonic Adventure series was fun, but definitely lacked polish in some areas. From there, it just went downhill with Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog (which we personally loved!) and all culminated with the disastrous effort known as Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Even Sega's reimagining of the series, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 left many scratching their heads (it certainly did that to us).
That isn't to say there haven't been moments of redemption for our favorite blue blur. Sonic Unleashed was certainly a step in the right direction, despite some of the tedious levels that were associated with the downright silly WereHog mechanic. Now, Sonic Colors, which many are calling the game that is bringing Sonic and his furry companions back to glory, has hit the Wii and as die-hard Sonic fans for the better part of two decades, we could not be more excited! We've learned to be cautiously optimistic with Sonic as of late, so we find ourselves stuck asking, will the title stack up to the hype, or will it go the route of the previous two Wii Sonic releases?
The first thing you'll notice when you start your game of Sonic Colors is, well, the colors. The game is beautifully designed and certainly lives up to its name. From the level design and setting, to the various effects that Sonic can use through those very levels, the beauty of Sonic Colors is consistently impressive and never dull. The title seems as though its pushing the Wii's power to the limit, however. We continually caught ourselves wishing that we could experience the title in true high definition, but that does not mean it's not one of the best looking titles on the Wii currently.
Another thing you'll notice is that the entire game gives off a kind of Mario Galaxy vibe. The game takes place in an outer space setting, and for much of the game, the background features a planetary view, so that might be the bulk of the reasoning behind that vibe. The other reason is certainly the soundtrack, particularly that of the title screen. The soundtrack has a very epic sound to it, which is definitely reminiscent of that of Mario Galaxy.
The setting of the title is a giant amusement park in outer space that Dr. Robotnik (we still hate the name Dr. Eggman) has designed apparently in order to atone for his past transgressions. He makes it very public that this is his logic and it is in no way associated with any diabolical scheme that he has. This message comes across as very obviously inaccurate, but definitely sets the tone for the rest of the game's dialog.
The dialog is something that Sega has definitely finally gotten right within the Sonic series. In the past 15 years, Sega has tried to move the dialog in Sonic games from being anime-esque, to taking itself way too seriously, to even unsuccessfully taking a page out of Final Fantasy's page with Sonic 2006. The dialog in Sonic Colors is masterfully tongue-in-cheek. The characters spend the entire time goofing on each other and cracking jokes in the style of old-school Saturday morning cartoons. Sure, it may get a little too goofy at times for the tastes of many adults, but for kids and adults that just want to play a fun Sonic game, the dialog is the best it's been in the series.
Another change that has definitely affected the game for the better has been the navigation between the levels. Rather than having Sonic and friends run to a hub within an open world, as we saw in Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed, they took a page out of Nintendo's book and just made hub maps, much like was seen in games like Donkey Kong Country and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This means that characters will have no trouble accessing the exact level they want to access and there is non-stop action, aside from the well-executed cutscenes.
The gameplay is, quite simply, the best Sonic has ever been in 3D. He can sometimes feel as though he's on skates and the action can come at you too fast at times, but there is no doubt that the gameplay doesn't get in the way of the fun, as it has in past titles. Sega has even realized that some people just can't get into platformers that use the Wii Remote, so players have the option to use the GameCube controller to play the title. We still aren't incredibly fond of the awkward design of the GameCube controller, but it will definitely please those that don't like using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Due to this dynamic, we are curious as to why Sega chose to not bring the title to the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well.
As Sonic progresses through the levels of the game, he'll come across various types of aliens, or Wisps. These aliens, which he is bent on saving from Dr. Eggman, enable him to use special powers. From a laser-like shot that allows him to blast through a portion of a level, to an orange rocket powerup that shoots Sonic high up into the air, the power-ups are always fun to use and feel like they are anything but a novelty.
The largest issue that has plagued the Sonic Team since Sonic's transition into 3D is the issue of level design. From the issue of of the camera getting in the way to the over abundance of instant kill bottomless pits, players have become unnecessarily frustrated with the overall design. With Sonic the Hedgehog 4, players and critics applauded the branching level design, but Sonic Colors is the first 3D game that we can honestly say has excellently designed levels.
The levels see Sonic running from point A to point B as fast as he can, which really gives the game an old school feel. To top that notion off, the game also has a large number of 2D or 2.5D levels that work better than anything we saw in Sonic 4. The sense of speed and the excellent platforming dwarfs that of Sonic 4 and Sonic Colors also got the homing attack right, which is something Sonic 4 neglected to do. In fact, the only thing that Sega didn't quite do right in this regard lies in the fact that the later levels tend to throw a few of the cheap deaths at the player.
One incredibly cool thing that Sega added to this title is something called a "Sonic Simulator". It's accessible the same way any of the levels are in the story mode, and allows for multiplayer. The player chooses one of several levels in a level select that is styled like the classic arcade machines from 80's. From there the player will be placed in a virtual training style of world that looks very similar to the Animus training modules found in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. From there, the player will race through the levels trying to get the highest grade possible. This works very well in multiplayer and gives that old school feel that we got from Sonic 3 multiplayer.
Sonic Colors is a game that fans will hopefully give a chance. After the massive hype of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Colors seemed to get somewhat buried commercially since it is only for the Wii. After games like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic and the Black Knight, we were honestly just waiting for the gimmick of Sonic Colors to present itself. While the Wisp aliens provide an interesting dynamic to gameplay, we wouldn't consider it a gimmick per se. Instead of a game that uses a gimmick as a crutch to poor design and gameplay, Sonic Team seems to have received the fans' message loud and clear.
Sonic Colors doesn't rely on petty gameplay gimmicks to sell the title. Instead, Colors brings to the table an excellent gameplay engine, great level design, expedited level select that allows for nonstop action, beautiful graphics and some very entertaining interactions between characters. If Sega is able to successfully turn the Sonic franchise around and bring it back to it's heyday with the next few releases, Sonic Colors should be looked at as the point that brought it back from the brink and put it in the right direction.