It’s no secret that Sonic has been… lost over these last few years. It seems like ever since he left the Dreamcast, Sonic’s been going on a journey of self discovery to “find himself.” He’s tried team-work gameplay, sword play and has even let Shadow take the reins for a game. These various directions have had a variety of different results, but none of them have felt like a true successor to Sonic Adventure 2.
None of these games really answered the criticisms of the Adventure series, so much as they either ignored them or made them worse. Finally, nearly nine and a half years after Sonic said farewell to the Dreamcast, there has been a game that not only feels like a worthy successor to the Adventure series, but a game that goes above and beyond what its predecessors accomplished, producing the first genuinely great console game since Sonic went third party: Sonic Colors.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Sonic Colors is not a back to basics game. Much like Unleashed’s werehog, Heroes’ team work and Sonic 06’s miraculously horrible programming, this game has a hook that the gameplay centers around: cute little aliens named Wisps. These wisps form the central framework for the entire game, acting as the center of both the gameplay and the story.
Dr. Eggman has built an outer space amusement park. He claims that he’s created it to “make up for his past transgressions,” like that time he blew up the moon, or split the planet into pieces. Sonic, naturally, doesn’t believe him for a moment, so he and Tails infiltrate the park to determine it’s true purpose. They soon find out that the park’s true purpose is to enslave the Wisps and use their “hyper go-on power” to take over the universe. It’s a simple premise that lacks the epicness of world ending deities and secret bioweapons that have made up the majority of Sonic fare over the years. Given how worn that has become, having a story where Eggman is the biggest threat is a nice change in pace compared to past Sonic storylines.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVORITE SCENE: Sonic embarrassing himself in front of Tails while he’s gloating to a destroyed boss. Absolutely priceless.
Sonic Colors is truly a testament to just how well Sonic Team knows it’s way around the Gamecube/Wii hardware at this point. I’ve never seen another Wii game so aptly maintain such amazing graphical fidelity while simultaneously achieving such scale. Starlight Carnival is the single greatest technical achievement I’ve seen on the Wii, featuring absolutely beautiful light energy roads weaving around a gigantic space fleet, before effortlessly transitioning into a platforming area inside one of the hulking space crafts.
It feels like almost nothing was sacrificed to achieve these graphics. The levels are filled with enemies and items. The only sacrifice Sonic Team had to make was reducing the game’s frame rate from 60 FPS to 30 FPS. This does nothing to hamper the game play, and even more importantly, the frame rate never misses a beat. It come as no surprise to me that some of the onlookers at E3 were mistaking the game for an Xbox 360 game until they saw Wii controllers being used.
That being said, this is still a Wii game. Compared straight up to the spectacle of Sonic Unleashed, things don’t quite measure up. The Sonic in Sonic Colors is slower, the levels are not quite as huge and you rarely get the same kind of exhilaration Unleashed was able to achieve, though the frame rate is a lot smoother. I know Wii fans are tired of hearing it – much like how we Sonic fans are tired of hearing how every single 3D Sonic game ever made is bad every time one is reviewed – but I can’t help thinking that this game may have been a bit better on the HD consoles, at least as far as scale and pure spectacle are concerned. Fans expecting the same kind of spectacle they got in Unleashed may be disappointed. That being said, this game is nothing short of a graphical marvel on the Wii, and looks great even by today’s standards, helped in no small part by a beautiful art style that permeates much of the game.
The CG is beautiful, too, but that’s to be expected in Sonic games nowadays. The cutscenes are mostly rendered by the game’s engine and they look great. Surprisingly, they actually took the time to add little details like lace textures on Eggman’s gloves. The characters as a whole also look far less plastic toys, exhibiting a softer, more natural look. I never liked the plastic look, so I’m glad to see they’ve finally done away with it since Black Knight.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up.
FAVORITE PART: I can’t say the entire game? Fine. Starlight Carnival!
Sonic Colors has one of the better soundtracks in recent memory. The main theme of the game, “Reach for the Stars,” has nothing on “Endless Possibilities,” but beyond that, Colors is a nice collection of orchestral, rock, jazz, and retro styled techno music. Regrettably, as good as a lot of this music is, it’s not quite as memorable as it should have been. For me, the best pieces in the game where the surprisingly awesome orchestral works. The piece used for the file select screen is easily one of the best bits of orchestration I’ve ever heard in a Sonic game, even beating down Unleashed’s map screen theme. The fact that it was used in something that you dwell in for all of two seconds is criminal.
The voice acting is, thankfully, much better than anything we’ve had since the days of SatAM. Gone are the horrible inflections of Jason Griffith and Tails’ girlish voice. I won’t oversell Roger Craig Smith; he still sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon performance, but unlike Jason Griffith and Ryan Drummond, it’s a good Saturday morning cartoon performance. Kate Higgins, meanwhile, turns in the best performance Tails has ever had in a video game and comes off as one of most talented VAs in the game. Mike Pollock, the only 4kids VA to survive the recasting, also turns his usual strong performance, though a few of his lines do feel off. All in all, Sonic Colors voice acting is improved over past games in the franchise and Mr. Smith proves to be much more fit for the role then fan favorite Ryan Drummond was (someone whom I personally believe has been overrated by the fanbase, due to just how terrible Griffith was in comparison in his first few years on the job).
Overall, Colors has a pretty decent soundtrack and the best voice acting a Sonic game has ever had.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVORITE SONG: The Save Select music.
I will start this bluntly: Sonic Colors is the most consistently awesome Sonic game ever produced for a console since the days of the Genesis. It feels like, for the first time in eons, Sonic Team has been able to get it right at just about every level, solving problems that have been plaguing Sonic games for years, without allowing new ones to crop up and take their place. Rather than the gimmicks in Sonic Adventure or Sonic Heroes, Colors focuses on meticulous 2D platforming and adds depth through multi-tiered level design.
Sonic uses the help of the Wisp power-ups to underline this gameplay focus, and they work rather well, adding another dimension to the game that past power-ups haven’t. My personal favorite is the Yellow Drill due to how versatile it is. Just about every level with a Drill is going to have a load of hidden goodies, pipes and entire underground paths that give access to otherwise unreachable paths. There are some Wisps that weren’t particularly necessary, like the Purple Frenzy. This one seemed to have obstacles constructed in order to necessitate its existence, rather than being built around exploring or getting through parts of a level in a different or unique way. Contrary to claims from SEGA, however, the Wisps are required to beat a good number of levels in the game, but they compliment the experience well enough to not make it detrimental.
Of course good power-ups are nothing without good level design, and the level design in Colors is some of the best I’ve seen in a Sonic game. Not only are there many ways through almost every single act, but some acts even have multiple ending points, which you will need to look for and discover on your own. Some might not be fond of the numerous bottomless pits, but thankfully the game’s navigation mode tells you when you’re approaching one so you know when to be cautious.
Besides the easily avoidable pits, the 2D platforming areas are probably my favorite parts of the game. The jumping controls are pretty easy to use, lending more depth to the move then in past titles. Although I’ve heard some people have complaints, they clicked with me the second I picked it up at E3. The double jump move works very well, especially as a way to redirect Sonic in mid air or save yourself from a mistake. The homing attack does have a few problems here – its range is too far out, so you may accidentally attack objects that are slightly off screen, when you really wanted to do something else. Colors has enough variation in the design between different platforming areas to keep things from getting stale. It was particularly satisfying to discover little ways to get through some of the less linear platforming areas faster.
The 3D sections themselves are typically the most exhilarating part of this game and provide a nice bit of contrast with the slower 2D sections. The designs for most of the 3D areas can be rather simple, but, in my opinion, that is a good thing. After meticulously making my way through the more difficult 2D areas, getting to simply speed through a 3D area afterward brings a welcome change in pace. People looking for complicated 3D platforming won’t find much of it here – for the most part these areas are all about running really fast, avoiding obstacles and attacking enemies.
Boosting works well and, unlike in Unleashed, can’t be done throughout most of the game. Instead, boosting is only useful on straightaways and grinding rails. If you spam the boost you will regret it. Drifting doesn’t work so well – holding the B trigger while tilting the analogue stick works for the most part, but it also feels unwieldy and not nearly as natural as using the triggers to drift on an Xbox 360 pad. The quick step works a lot better, and unlike the drift can be done with the right amount of precision. It’s a mechanic I’ve come to love in Colors because it is both simple and useful.
For all the praise I’ve given this game, there is one aspect of the 3D areas that people may not like: some of it is automated. In the first act of Starlight Carnival, roughly the first twenty seconds are automated. Auto-running is not that prevalent, outside of a few choice levels, but it’s also something that many have begun to regard as a cardinal sin in Sonic game design. I will say that, for the most part, the automated areas aren’t really all that bad and allow for scenes and game play that couldn’t have been done otherwise. The auto running areas are also easily the least entertaining parts of the game, with the motobug race in Asteroid Coaster being the exception. On the whole, I hope the next Sonic game doesn’t rely so much on automation and auto-running, and instead strives to make even the most cinematic parts of the game interactive.
The game has some other problems: Sonic can be slow to turn around in 2D areas, both as himself and in some of his Wisp forms. The bosses in this game are also a mixed bag – some are too easy and others are repeated throughout the game. The epic final encounter with Eggman easily ranks among my favorite boss fights in the series, though.
While the levels themselves are fun, the co-operative multiplayer mode doesn’t really work – the camera just can’t keep both players on screen and the only way to really play is to make sure the other player can keep up, which completely breaks the flow of the levels. Sonic Team should have considered taking a few more pages out of NSMB’s book for this mode. If the game didn’t kill you for falling off screen, but instead simply respawned you, this mode would have worked significantly better.
On the whole, Sonic Colors is really fun to play. It’s a little rough around the edges, it has some niggles and flaws, but compared to the unresponsive controls, repetitive game play and buggy nature of past 3D Sonic games, Colors is an absolute godsend. Back at PAX, I proclaimed that, bar any unforeseeable screw ups, Sonic Colors was going to be the best 3D Sonic game ever made. While the game has more 2D levels then I had anticipated, I stand by that statement: Sonic Colors is the best 3D Sonic game ever made. In fact if not for the aforementioned problems, I would be tempted to agree with Iizuka and proclaims it’s just as good as the Genesis classics. Regrettably, I can’t go quite that far, but being better than any game made in the last 15 years – and yes, I am including the handheld titles here – is certainly good enough in my book. Colors represents a turning point in the series. I can only hope Takashi Iizuka continues to move the series in this direction and hopefully even please those who feel this game still isn’t good enough.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs up
FAVORITE PART: Discovering an entirely new part of Sweet Mountain underground with the Drill Wisp.
Sonic Colors has largely forgone the padding of past console efforts. As a result, the game is considerably shorter – I’ve heard of people clearing the game in as little as 4 hours. I beat it in about 15 hours, due to it’s sheer replay value. I was going back to discover new paths, use new Wisp powers, get S-Ranks and find red rings in past levels before I even beat the story mode.
There is a lot to keep you busy. It will take you weeks to figure out how to get all S-Ranks in this game, as it requires more than just running to the end of the level as fast as you can without losing your rings. Wisp powers and the branching paths each play a role in your score and you will need to figure out just how to utilize all of these different ways complete the level to your advantage. This scoring system is easily one of the most addicting aspects of the game. You get what is probably one of the coolest surprises a 3D Sonic game has ever had once you collect all 180 red coins. I won’t spoil it for you (and I expect none of you to spoil it in the comments section either), but, needless to say, it was a neat surprise. In addition to all of this, there is also an “Egg Rocket” mode that allows you to go through every level and boss in the game in one go. Still haven’t been able to beat that.
All in all, I’ve logged over 40 hours on Sonic Colors as of this review. The story mode is short, but there are enough extras and re-playability to keep the disc in your Wii for weeks, even months after you play. Part of the benefit of taking so long to write this review is that I can guarantee you that this game will keep you busy for a very long time.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVORITE TIME WASTER: Getting all S-Ranks
Brad: Leave it to the second dimension to bail out a floundering franchise.
Making the “best 3D Sonic game” wasn’t that hard. The Adventure games, regarded as 3D Sonic’s pinnacle, are so due to nostalgia. At their core, they are riddled with half-baked programming and design, complicated by alternative forms of gameplay and artificial difficulty. Those problems have bled into every single game since, sometimes manifesting themselves into grander issues that have driven Sonic to the butt of every joke across the gaming Internet. Colors does away with most all of these problems and is a good game as a result, but Sonic Team still clings on dearly to a few of its past mistakes. Mistakes that shouldn’t be made.
Sonic Team finally remembered that Sonic is, first and foremost, a platformer. About damn time. This sudden realization results in the most creative level design in the franchise’s 3D history. Sonic’s speed is toned down to a tolerable level and emphasis is removed from the yawn-inducing boost button. The first three planets are great, but Planet Wisp is the game’s creative high-point, blending the game’s gorgeous visuals and smart design to carve a unique experience in every act. I was having an absolute blast playing this game until Aquarium Park and Asteroid Coaster, where the game just runs out of ideas and opts for large, empty pools of water and brief, gimmicky affairs that were boring, easy and way too reliant on spectacle that we’ve seen before.
What came as a great disappointment was Sonic Team’s continuing struggles with the concept of gravity. With the emphasis returning to platforming, the engine shouldn’t have controls and physics that you have to “get used to.” It’s a platformer. That should be priority number one! The “close-but-not-quite” jump physics led to the only times I died during the course of the game. Small platforms over countless bottomless pits (!=difficulty) will kill you more than the idiot enemies that sit there, waiting to be homing attack spammed or bowled over by a boost.
I also wish platforming and running were mixed together a bit more, as you’re either speeding or stop-dead platforming. The 3D sections are devoid of platforming, which, coupled with the prevalence of the second dimension, says to me that they’re all but giving up on controlling Sonic in 3D, which has been a problem since Sonic R. That extra axis of control and high speeds don’t mix. Accurate physics might alleviate this issue, but you know Iizuka… he sticks to his guns, no matter how crappy those guns are.
It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and shags off many lingering problems, capturing most of that Sonic magic. Still, problems that have persisted since the Dreamcast era hold Sonic Colors in “good, but not great” territory. Step in the right direction? Without question. I’d like to see more of this with a tighter engine next go ’round, though.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up!
For my complete review, head on over to Sonic Retro.
+ Some surprisingly funny scenes.
+ Some of the best graphics on Wii.
+ A very well-done soundtrack.
+ Layered level design with many alternate paths.
+ The creative Wisp powers.
+ Great platforming areas.
+ Getting all S-Ranks.
+ Co-op levels in single player.
+ Much of the humor falls flat.
+ Soundtrack isn’t as catchy as it should have been.
+ Drifting controls can be slippery.
+ Is automated at times.
+ Co-operative mode camera hampers the multiplayer experience.