We are getting awfully close to the release of Sonic Colors. When will the other shoe drop? When will we discover this is another secretly-displeasing Sonic game? Not today. Not when I saw the game's multiplayer mode.
Sonic Colors has made it through E3 (June) and PAX (September) without letting me down. Each time I see this Sonic-only game, I see a game that is fast and fun. It's sometimes in 3D but seldom requires the player to worry about moving Sonic anywhere other than forward, with a little zig-zag and a lot of path-switching permitted. Even the Wisps, the colorful buddies introduced in Colors who briefly grant Sonic special powers seem not to be noxious. They seem like fun additions, even the pink spiky one that lets Sonic be a wall-crawling buzz-saw.
If Sega wanted to mess this one up, and if the single-player was shaping up well, they could still do that with multiplayer? Maybe not. Technically, I did not see multiplayer when I saw Sonic Colors today. A Wii hardware malfunction was preventing Sega technicians from syncing a second Wii Remote to their Wii. They could, however, show me the multiplayer mode controlled by a single person.
The gist of the multiplayer is that Sonic villain Dr. Eggman has built himself a Sonic Simulator. He may as well have built him some Metal Gear Virtual Reality missions or some Super Mario Sunshine no-FLUDD missions, because that they exhibited the same style as the Sonic Colors multiplayer: simplified, stripped down small gameplay sequences designed for quick challenges.
While the screenshot atop this post shows a three-dimensional view of one of the multiplayer missions, the few I was shown of the 21 in the game were played primarily from a sideways, side-scrolling point of view. One player controls a blue Sonic; the other would control a red one. The levels have classic Sonic elements: slopes and loops, rings and enemies. The Wisps are in there too, letting you use the laser wisp to blast a row of bad guys, for example. Thanks to the simplified graphics, a Sega rep told me, the multiplayer modes run at 60 frames per second. They are made for smooth, short, speedy sessions of Sonic gameplay.
Multiplayer levels in Sonic Colors can be played solo, competitively head-to-head (two players, offline, vying for better scores as they race simultaneously) or in "1.5-player" mode (co-op, going for a high cumulative score).
Curiously, the multiplayer levels' speed setting can be adjusted, though it wasn't clear if this effects how quickly the level's timer passes, how fast Sonic runs or what. There is also a "limiter" option that affects whether a lagging second player will be zapped away if they fall too far behind.
I am not a Sonic aficionado. I grew up playing Super Mario World. I may not be the best person to spot weaknesses in a Sonic game, but I do know my beat pretty well. I'm looking for weaknesses in Sonic Colors, but aside from possible ease — and that's debatable — I'm not seeing it.
Note: I thought I found a weakness when a Sega rep let me try a single-player level today in which Sonic can swim. I thought that was a franchise no-no. I discovered, however, that an alternate use for the drill Wisp is to let Sonic behave like a water-breathing torpedo. This let me explore a huge underwater optional area beneath the proper part of one level, diving about 10 screens deep into a realm full of
coins rings, enemies and more hidden paths. Without the Wisp, Sonic could slowly jump and swim through the underwater areas. This was fun. Everything I've done in Colors has been, so far.
Sonic Colors is out in November and the version I saw was the final unlocked version Sega submitted to Nintendo for final approval. Sega is running out of time to mess this one up.