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.
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.
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.
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.
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.