What if Sonic the Hedgehog was not just a speedy mascot with a long list of furry sidekicks, but more like Mario, a loner with occasional superpowers that could let Sega's mascot fly, drill through solid ground or become a laser?
Sega's Sonic Colors for the Wii explores the possibility of a Sonic the Hedgehog with alien powers, a twist on the high velocity platformer that manages to feel more natural an transformation than Sonic as a werewolf or Sonic with a sword. Sonic goes it alone in Sonic Colors—original sidekick Tails appears only as moral support—traveling to an intergalactic amusement park built by longtime nemesis Dr. Eggman, attempting to free alien lifeforms known as Wisps, the same beings that give Sonic special abilities. Sonic Colors is a mixture of classic side-scrolling action with fast paced rollercoaster ride action segments, spiced up with the option to sometimes turn into a pink, sticky spikeball.
The Sonic the Hedgehog fan who has had his or her expectations for the series lowered by sub-par Sonic game's past and is forgiving of the Blue Blur's brand of platform jumping quirks.
Sega has clearly listened to its vocal, faithful fanbase, delivering a compromise of a Sonic the Hedgehog game. It may very well be the best Sonic the Hedgehog game released in the last decade.
This is a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog, right? That's a real hit or miss. Sonic Colors is an almost even blend of side-scrolling platform jumping and 3D sprinting, with the player either carefully leaping from ledge to ledge or barely holding on as they steer Sonic through racetrack-like paths at full throttle. Like many modern Sonic the Hedgehog games, there are many stops and starts affecting the flow of this speedy franchise, but developer Sonic Team has found a favorable balance of old, established and new.
Sonic with super powers? How's that work? Granted, Sonic the Hedgehog is already more powerful than the average spiny mammal. He can sprint on water, run like the Flash and withstand massive damage simply by holding some gold rings. In Sonic Colors, Sonic can transform into rocket ships, burrowing drills, laser beams, a purple chomping monster and more by finding colored Wisps that give him temporary powers. While Sonic's Wisp powers are sometimes fun to use, critical in locating many of the game's hidden secrets, Sonic's new abilities (disappointingly) never feel all that well integrated into the experience nor fully explored. Players who want to plumb Sonic Colors for every S-rank, hidden item and secret pathway will find these powers useful, but they sadly add little to making this a better game.
But it's so pretty... Doesn't it deserve credit for being a great looking Wii game? Certainly. Sonic Colors is graphically spectacular, bursting with detail, brightly colored environments and sharply designed worlds. My personal favorite is built on the foundation of massive hamburgers, cakes and donuts, a junk food world packed with personality. There are some gorgeous visual effects at play in Sonic Colors, and much of it moves smoothly, even at Sonic the Hedgehog's dizzying speeds. This is one of the Wii's better looking titles. Sonic Colors' energetic pop soundtrack is a good, peppy fit.
More importantly, how well does it play? Fine. Not spectacular. Sonic Colors features familiar floaty physics and other control quirks that are frustratingly imprecise for a game that's so stuffed with spikes, instant death drops and two-hit kills. Soft, unresponsive controls make side-scrolling segments more challenging than they should be, leading to confusing, exasperating deaths. The same control quibbles apply to Sonic's Wisp powers, particularly the clumsy pink spikeball that lets the hedgehog cling to surfaces.
Does Sonic Colors do anything seriously wrong? Sonic Colors fails miserably in providing interesting or inventive boss fights. Many end-of-level battles are either shockingly simple-minded or tedious exercises in pattern memorization, with none of them taking real advantage of Sonic's color-coded Wisp powers. They're often more memorable for the self-referential wisecracks that Sonic, Tails and Dr. Eggman exchange in cut-scenes before and after boss fights.
How much value is here? Sonic Colors speeds by quickly. It took me about six hours and change to beat, but for fans who dig this type of Sonic game, the game's many secrets and collectibles will greatly extend its life. There's a post-game Challenge Mode and Eggman's Sonic Simulator arcade game, which supports two players, but the core single-player campaign is the meatiest part.
So, despite it all, Sonic Colors does not suck? Sonic Colors manages to be a better modern day Sonic the Hedgehog game than many of its predecessors, but it still has its share of design pitfalls. It can be thrilling to pilot a sprinting, skating Sonic the Hedgehog at high speeds and flirt with his new alien super powers. It can be equally maddening to deal with Sonic Colors' shortcomings, like cheap deaths, iffy lock-on attacks and insulting trial and error gameplay. Sonic Team throws plenty at the wall in Colors—some of it actually sticks, some of it doesn't.
Sonic Team does a commendable job of putting smart limits on Sonic the Hedgehog's scope in Sonic Colors. Wisp powers are enjoyable, if under-utilized, and longtime Sonic the Hedgehog fans will find a game that's largely inoffensive. There's still plenty of work to be done under the hood, most notably in Sonic's controls, but Colors could represent a strong foundation for future hedgehog games. Compared to Sonic Team's most recent efforts, Sonic Colors sits at the top of the heap. But held up against its many Wii platforming adventure peers, including strong contenders Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby and Klonoa, Sonic will have to settle for the bottom end of the stack.
Sonic Colors was developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Wii, released on November 16. Retails for $49.99. A Nintendo DS version of the game is also available. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through main story mode in single-player, S-ranking only a handful of stages, sadly settling for D-ranking too often.