E3 2013: Sonic Lost World Hands-on

 

 

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If there is one thing I both love and hate about the Sonic franchise, it is its tendency to innovate when innovation isn’t really necessary. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” isn’t exactly a saying SEGA lives by. It seems like ever since the Adventure series, every home console Sonic game has needed its own unique gimmick. A gimmick that, until a few years ago, always seemed to come at the detriment of the game play this gimmick was trying to improve. Now, after two great Sonic games that have built upon the foundation initially laid by Unleashed’s daytime stages, Sonic Team has thrown out everything they have been establishing over the last several years in favor of something completely different.

The single greatest issue that every 3D Sonic game has had is control. Whether it be control of the camera or control of the characters, Sonic Team has long been struggling to perfect Sonic’s movement in 3D. Over the course of Unleashed, Colors and Generations, Sonic Team has made huge strides in solving this problem, but they’ve done it largely by taking control away from the player or throwing Sonic into a 2D space. This has resulted in the best Sonic games since the Genesis era,  but has also turned Sonic’s 3D stages into on-rails obstacle courses, providing players with a variety of different paths to take but giving them little reason to stop and explore.

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Lost World’s primary goal is to completely reinvent how Sonic moves in 3D. For the most part, the game succeeds at this beautifully. The new Parkour system allows Sonic to run along walls and up trees, making game play sections that would have been completely automated in previous Sonic games completely controllable by the player

This new system of movement is critical to the other big new idea Lost World brings to the table: the creative level design. Lost World’s 3D stage “Windy Hill is a series of cylindrical worlds suspended in the air. The scale in this stage is huge that not only allows for a lot of fun platforming, but also oozes with hidden paths and secrets. A quick run to the underside of the level reveals a whole new area ripe for exploration. A given area can have as many as four or five different paths to take, each of which test different skills. The default path in Windy Hill was the easiest, letting players just run forward and smash enemies. The other paths were more difficult though. Some paths have secrets like golden canons that will take you to new areas or red rings or animal capsules. One path was filled with spikes and enemies and was very difficult to navigate. Another path was very narrow and easy to fall off of, and yet another required the use of the wall run. During each successive play through of this stage I tried something different and found something new in the process. This exploration was further facilitated by the run and spin dash buttons, which give players an unprecedented amount of control over Sonic’s speed.

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As Sonic has gotten faster and faster, he’s also become more unwieldy in more platform heavy areas. The run and spin dash buttons finally offer a solution to this problem. Anyone who has played Mario 3D Land will find these additions to be quite natural. The run and spin dash buttons essentially act like gears in a manual transition. Without these buttons Sonic runs about as fast as Mario would. At this speed Sonic can easily navigate platforming areas with precision. With the run button Sonic’s speed increases, allowing him quickly race through areas and perform Parkour moves. The spin dash button works exactly like it has in past games, allowing Sonic to quickly reach his top speed and blast through areas, though at the expense of the more precise movement of the lower speeds. If not for the run button, exploring the areas wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

This was the first Sonic game in a long time where I found myself exploring more than trying to improve my time. Of course, not all of the stages available in the demo were like this. The second stage, “Desert Zone 1”, the sweets filled level you guys have been hearing about, is a lot more straight forward and traditional. The level is completely two dimensional and feels closer to something like a side scrolling Sonic Colors level. Much like Colors’s 2D areas, this level also had plenty of secrets, hidden areas, and alternate paths. This level was a lot of fun, but didn’t really blow me away like Windy Hill did.

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The final stage is somewhat reminiscent of the auto run game play of Sonic 06 and Secret Rings, though with significantly better controls. In this beehive themed stage, Sonic runs down a narrow path at top speed, smashing robots and trying not to fall off the path or smash into a wall. This stage feels much more reminiscent to something out of Generations, though it never really approaches Generations’s level of speed. The most notable new element on display here is Sonic’s ability to smash through a dozen enemies at once with a single, extended homing attack.

Speaking of the homing attack, the battle system of this game has also been changed significantly. The homing attack is now a lot more versatile, easily targeting and hitting enemies in any direction. It feels like a more polished version of what was used in Sonic Adventure, with a much quicker recovery time that allows Sonic to quickly hit a variety of nearby enemies in any direction. The actual range of the attack is a bit shorter now, though. I often found myself attempting to do it a little too soon as a result. In addition to the homing attack, there is now a bounce attack and a kick. I didn’t find myself using the bounce attack much, though it feels a little like the bounce from SA2. The kick I had to use a lot, though, especially on the snail enemies, which take multiple homing attacks to kill otherwise. It works a lot like the homing attack, except it is slower and has less range.

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The many changes made to Lost World threw me off at first. I kept using the wrong attacks, I kept screwing up whenever I tried to use the Parkour system, and I died a lot. By the last day of E3 I was playing the game like a pro though and things that didn’t make much sense to me, like the inclusion of the kick attack and some of the finer aspects of the Parkour system, made a lot more sense. The kick attack is meant to test a players reflexes rather than simply mashing the A button. The Parkour system can pretty much be used to get up anything and really opens up these levels to exploration in ways that simply haven’t been done before in a Sonic game.

This game is very beautiful. It’s the first Sonic game I have ever played at E3 that actually had a consistently smooth frame rate. It remained at a steady 60 frames per second, and never had a moment of noticeable slowdown. Past Sonic games have always struggled to even maintain 30 frames, making the Lost World demo the smoothest 3D Sonic game I have played, period.

One thing I can say after this demo is that Lost Words is extremely polished and very fun. Though it lacks the speed of Unleashed, Colors and Generations, Lost World more than makes up for it in the exploration this slower speed now allows. I cannot guarantee that fans of Sonic’s faster games will enjoy Lost World, but if you are like me and you’ve been anxious for a slower Sonic game with meatier platforming levels, you are in for a real treat later this year.

53 Comments

  1. “between 30 and 60 frames per second” is not “consistently smooth”. That’s actually bipolar and would throw me off in a heartbeat. Good thing they still have ample time to polish the game. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

      1. He was going by my feelings on the 3DS version which is 30+ FPS. Sometimes briefly up to 60. It’s a much better framerate than 3DS Generations had.

        SLW on Wii U is a solid 60 FPS through the whole thing.

  2. In past sonic games, The Multiple hit enemies have NOT been a fan favorite. I think that is what the kick is for as well as what you said. So that the player has a choice to Tediously mash the homing attack, Or Get them in On Try. I Think it’s genius and I Really can’t wait for this. As EggMan would say: “Time for a Change of PACE!!!”

  3. “Now, after two great Sonic games that have built upon the foundation initially laid by Unleashed’s daytime stages”

    Actually credits go to Sonic Rush and not Sonic Unleashed.

      1. It was still the first Sonic game to actually use the boost in normal game-play. Just because it’s on the DS doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.

        1. No, it doesn’t count because it’s not a 3D game. Implementing a mechanic in a 2D game is not the same as implementing it in a 3D game.

          I am not just talking about the boost, I am talking about the entire formula that console Sonic games have been using the last several years, and that started with Unleashed.

          I loved the Rush games, but they aren’t the same as Unleashed.

          1. In fact there is evidence that Sonic Unleashed had begun its development totally inspired by Rush, not only in it’s gameplay but Mazuri and Apotos are inspired by the first two zones of the game.

            Furthermore, additions like QTEs in Unleashed and the stunts seen in Generations, were systems developed to pass Rush’s aerial stunts system to the 3D formula.

            So I think Rush deserves the credit, basically what has been done in recent games was just improving the way the mechanics of Rush were being used in the 3D universe.

            PS: Please, forgive my bad English.

          2. That isn’t evidence, that’s coincidence. Apotos is inspired by Greek cities and Mazuri is inspired by African architecture. Neither of these look all that much like the first two levels of Rush. At best, they have vaguely similar color schemes.

            The QTEs are nothing like the tricks in Rush. The tricks in Rush are voluntary and only help to refill the rush bar. The QTEs are necessary to either get to another path or not die, and are scripted. They are completely different.

            So no, Rush does not deserve credit for some very vague similarities. The Unleashed style of play started with Unleashed, and aside from the fact that they both use boost and both focus around speed, they are nothing alike.

    1. Just because Sonic Rush has a semi-boost (only activate-able when the boost gauge is full) doesn’t make it the base for these games (maybe a bit of an inspiration, yes. But not the base) Does having the Homing Attack in Sonic Rush make it based on the Adventure titles?

      1. Ignoring the whole Rush inspired boost-Sonic thing, no one would credit Rush for the homing attack because the homing attack was well established gameplay mechanic at that point. Clearly the homing attack originates in Adventure.

        The argument for crediting Rush for boost probably runs this way: Rush had that mechanic first, so it should be credited or noted when people suggest where that mechanic started (certainly its different, but it’s still in the same vein). A good counter is not: well its different or a handheld game. A good counter is, with Unleashed there was an introduction of a whole new gameplay system; albeit one that drew from previous titles for inspiration, but does not really replicate them in any serious sense. Thus, the boost gameplay (or Unleashed style mechanics) originates in Unleashed.

  4. Ugh I cannot wait for this game, I hope it’s a blast. From what has been revealed so far sounds awesome. I cant wait to get my hands on it. I still wonder when it will come out, I hope not too soon, I’m still saving for a Wii U. Speaking of which, Nintendo single-handedly crushed the competition at E3, and I bet this game was a part of that crushing =)

  5. I have to say it, I love speed, but what is speed good for without the freedom to use it?

    Now I’m more excited for this game after reading this hands-on, also I admire Sega for not going the easy way with another hedgehog engine Sonic game and for trying different things with this and trying to improve the Sonic gameplay. My favorite Sonic games are the Adventure ones and I have to say that I’m really excited in how this game blends the Adventure gameplay with the best elements of the hedgehog engine and side scroller Sonic, I can’t wait to see more of Lost World at Sonic’s birthday.

    1. I think one more Hedgehog Engine game would have been awesome. With Generations, they really nailed the pacing and level design and it would have been awesome to see another set of original levels before we left that style. I don’t see how that would have been “the easy way.” Perhaps “safe,” but getting the level design right can still be tricky, even if you’ve made a few goodies.

    2. “another hedgehog engine Sonic game”

      You are aware that the Hedgehog Engine is a graphical engine and not a gameplay engine, right? Sonic Colors did not have the Hedgehog Engine and it plays just like how Unleashed and Generations’s gameplay were designed.

      1. Now I am, my bad, I was merely refering to the gameplay of Sonic Colors, Sonic Unleashed (daytime levels) and Sonic Generations (Modern Sonic).

  6. Siliconera made a major point about difficult controls. Most reviewers won’t be motivated by love of the franchise to master controls; this could set off a chain reaction of bad reviews and poor sales.

    1. Bad reviews? Maybe. Poor sales? Not a chance. This is a Sonic game we’re talking about here.

      The controls aren’t really difficult, their just complicated. People used to mashing the A button we’ll have to adjust, but it’s not much different from any game that uses multiple buttons. It’s just weird for a Sonic game because the series is normally a lot simpler. Heck, Yuji Naka made a point to make sure that the original Sonic game only needed one button.

      I’m still a little weary of the “kick” move, as it seems kind of pointless, but at the same time it works perfectly fine. Just feels kind of needless.

      1. They don’t really sound complicated either. Like any game, it probably takes a few levels for everything to click. From what I’ve been reading on the E3 demo, that’s really all it seems like. It’s different from the current style, but nothing that a bit of adjusting won’t cure.

        Although, going back and forth from Generations to this will probably suck. I know I’ll be unlikely to want to stop playing Generations any time soon. Gotta get them times.

  7. The parkour system really reminds me of that Spiderman game on the PS2 (which is a really good thing)

      1. Yep, the open world on where you could run on walls to gain speed for the web swings and vice-versa.

  8. About time Sonic slowed down, that whole ‘Sonic is ALL about speed’ garbage was really killing the series slowly as that was not the ONLY thing Sonic games were good at. I’m glad that Sonic Team is evolving and thinking about the past more, its all about balance!

    1. Um. I think the Hedgehog engine games were also made “thinking about the past.” The modern stages in Generations felt like the series found what made the classic games great and put it in 3D. Yes, they were blazingly fast, but all of the stuff you would expect was there, most notably the branching paths and platforming. Generations and Colors are two of the best Sonic games, in my eyes, because they brought a lot of what made old school Sonic fun and actually did it right in 3D.

      Sonic Galaxy here seems really fun too. But, I completely disagree that the last few Sonic games have helped to ruin the series. That honor goes to the Adventure games and all of the subsequent games based on that style (Heroes, Shadow, ’06). Sonic tries to meet Mario 64 was a terrible combo that blemished the series for far too long. I’m actually a bit disappointed that the Hedgehog engine games are done with.

      1. Honestly I think that the Adventure games were a lot more similar to the Genesis games, Sonic Colors and Generations were good too but they lacked exploration and proper branching paths, also the real plataforming was only present in the 2D stages and wasn’t as good as in the old games, and I really don’t see how the Adventure games ruined Sonic, perhaps the games after them did, but both Sonic Adventure games were pretty good, fans and critics can tell you that.

          1. In both of them combined perhaps but seriously every Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic and Shadow stages) were much more open than the stages of Colors/Generations, with a lot of hidden features to unlock through the stage (like equipable items, missing chao, hidden short cuts through mystic melody, etc.) and also their branching paths felt much more natural to use, they both appeared horizontal and vertical through the stage, even sometimes when you fell from a high level path you didn’t fall to the void but you landed on a lower level of the stage (just like in the old Sonic Genesis games).

          2. This is certainly true. Sure, Sonic Adventure had a good number of branching paths, but Sonic Adventure 2 was pretty linear for all the levels. Sonic colors had much more branching paths for sure, but then again, at least Both the adventure games actually had multiple playable characters.

          3. @Kabam!

            Well, certainly Sonic Adventure 2 have some pretty straight forward levels but not all of them, the most notably open are Final Rush, Final Chase, Sky Rail and Crazy Gadget, also White Jungle, Green Forest and Pyramid Cave weren’t so linear neither, though the 3 stages left were almost completely linear.

          4. @Dante Sparda
            Well, when you put it that way, all the levels in Sonic Adventure 2 had multiple paths somewhere, and rail canyon is a pretty good example of a branching level in SA2. The game just wasn’t… fruitful with multiple paths, not like lost world, but then again, no 3D Sonic title has as many multiple paths as lost world does. It’s all about how you play the game in the end really. But if you want a really good example of a Sonic game with multiple paths, play the Advance titles, but they are 2D so I guess they don’t count as of now. Speaking of the advance games, I believe the only official way to play them is on the actual Gameboy advance. Have they ever been re-released in any way before?

          5. @Kabam!
            No but they should, I don’t understand why Sega hasn’t ported them, with all the ports of classic games around, most probably they will launch a Sonic Advance Collection (probably with Sonic Battle included) for the Nintendo 3DS eShop, and hopefully an HD remake for PSN/XBox Live.

      1. Could you at least tell us whether or not Sonic needs a shoulder button to run on the 3DS? We know the spin dash is mapped to Y.

  9. I am SUPER excited for this game.

    More exploration
    Control of speed
    Homing attack that feels more like in adventure
    Different buttons for different speed
    Multiple paths

    This really is sounding and looking like something that would of been in the classic era.
    People who were huge fans of going as fast as possible can deal with it being different…
    Thats not what sonic was ever about at his prime.

    1. Well, I wouldn’t say EVER. Speed has always been very important to sonic games because it was part of the reason why Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) was such a big success in the first place. Yes, I am thrilled they finally got rid of the unleashed daytime gameplay, but speed is definitely important to Sonic games.

      1. I wasn’t trying to say speed was never important or disregard it as an important aspect in the series.
        I was saying going as fast as possible just isnt what the series is all about like allot of recent titles steer more towards.
        I could have worded that better though.

  10. And to tell you the truth guys its not like Sonic is slow in this game. He just isnt as fast as before…heck he still is super speedy!

  11. Sonic was always fast enough for me in the retroe titles and the Sonic Adventure titles. I mean, without speed shoes, it was still fast enough (unless I was racing someone. =I *shot*). If Sonic goes at least that fast in this game, good enough. I was actually thinking he’s been going TOO fast lately. I couldn’t keep track of where I was going in Generations very well. From my understanding, Sonic’s speed was set in Sonic 1 to ensure no motion sickness. Good idea, Sega. Trackable, but by no means too slow. It’s a good balance.
    It’s not to say I don’t want Sonic to be the fastest thing alive… Just a slow-down during gameplay doesn’t hurt a thing. ;3 If I see him going at killer speed during the cutscenes every so often, I’m happy. But killer speed while I’m trying to play the game … If Sonic doesn’t slow down, I’ll make him. *shot* my eyes/brain needs enough time to catch up with him, right? (not that I’ll be getting this game any time soon… can’t afford it, or the system it runs on. Honestly I kinda died when I saw Iizuka said they were developing it for PC and then they made a deal with Nintendo. *headdesks* Maybe they’ll port it to PC in ten years… after Nintendo goes to the next gen and they stop selling both Lost world and Wii U consoles and can’t make any more cash off it that way. Eh…)

  12. “This level was a lot of fun, but didn’t really blow me away like Windy Hill did.” i see what you did there

  13. Frankly, the only thing I’ve found disappointing about this (and this is very very minor) is that they said there are still only five red rings in each level. There is *so much* of Generations I still haven’t even explored just because there aren’t any red rings there. Last time I played I found a totally different area at the start of Speed Highway 2 that I had no idea was even there. In general, it just annoys me when a game made for exploration has areas that provide very little reason to explore them. At least in previous games, lives were valuable enough to explore for them, that hasn’t been true in years it feels like…

    1. Oh, but otherwise I am psyched as hell for this. Sure it’s discarding the (IMO amazing) Colors/Generations engines, I think the Super Mario 3D Land-ish camera angles are finally a perfect non-awkward static camera for 3D games. And I’ve been expecting and hoping a Super Sonic Galaxy game for years, Sonic games have had gravity screwing since Sonic and Knuckles (long before Mario I think, could be wrong) and I was expecting Colors to play with it a little more.

  14. He mentioned the mach speed sections of Sonic 06 and the Wii game I’d can’t be bothered to talk about but completely ignored the quickstep sections from Unleashed and Colours, where Sonic ran with no input yet when you attempt to move you quickstep, giving an on-rails feel. In most of these sections you were either dodging obstacles, battling mini-bosses, or both. I haven’t played either the Wii game or Sonic 06, but in my opinion the automated running sections seem to have been done better in the ‘Modern’ games.

  15. Question, how well does sonic control when he is running fast. In the ign footage it seems like he turns on a dime.

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