Ah, Sonic Colours. How we’ve missed you. When it arrived on Nintendo Wii in 2010, it offered a real breath of fresh air for the Sonic franchise; we were turning a corner from all the doom and gloom of previous games and were heading straight for a vibrant, punchy new platformer with environments, enemies, music and gimmicks that felt much closer to the spirit of the original Mega Drive titles than any 3D Sonic game that came before it.
Of course, it wasn’t without a few issues. The storyline was a little too saccharine for many fans’ tastes, with the dialogue being a particular sore point. And while it took the Boost-based gameplay of Sonic Unleashed and refined it to something that casual players could enjoy, it still had a little trouble when transitioning from 3D to 2D. The 2D platforming physics just didn’t feel quite right, and the 3D areas still couldn’t quite shake the odd cheap hazard popping out of nowhere. And while there were plenty of stages to run through, a lot of it felt like busywork, with no tangible reward beyond the story completion.
These problems are all things that SEGA and Blind Squirrel Games hope to alleviate – or even outright eliminate – with Sonic Colours Ultimate, a remaster of the Wii game that updates not only the visuals but also a fair amount of game mechanics to make them more palatable for a modern audience.
We had some brief play time with the game, and came away incredibly impressed. While screenshots illustrate a game that looks much darker than its Wii counterpart, those images don’t really do the game justice. When you have a pad in your hand and run through Tropical Resort for yourself, the revised lighting and visual effects really make sense and offers perhaps a corrected feeling of infiltrating Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park’s welcome area at nighttime.
The textures and effects have all been improved, with the resolution amped up to a delicious 4K, but crucially the designs all stay true to the original game’s creative intent. Seeing the Egg Pawns excitedly wave at you before plodding your way to bash you with a Welcome sign is still as delightful to see in Colours Ultimate as it was the first time we played it. Starlight Carnival remains an absolutely beautiful landscape, and easily one of the best-looking Sonic levels we’ve ever seen.
Perhaps the one thing we would say about the visuals relate to the Boost gameplay – when you collect generic white-coloured Wisp creatures, you can build up a boost meter, and by holding down the B button you can make Sonic blast through the stage at high speed. Doing this creates a visual effect that effectively conveys the velocity of Sonic’s movement, but does blur the screen and environment to a degree that might risk detracting from the gorgeous scenery around you. We guess you’ll have to choose between speed-running the game or enjoy the delights of Planet Wisp at your own pace.
Speaking of Wisps, while we were unable to play the newly-added Jade Ghost Wisp (which we understand will allow Sonic to phase through solid walls, opening up new areas for players to explore) we did get reacquainted with Laser, Drill and Cube. And without the reliance on motion control, these feel a lot better to play this time around. Laser in particular appears to have been tweaked so that players have a choice of either holding the button down and using an analogue stick to fine-tune their trajectory, or just bashing the button once to have Sonic automatically bounce towards the nearest opportunity.
A major addition to the gameplay in Sonic Colours Ultimate is in the use of checkpoints, and the Tails Save feature. The original Sonic Colours was pretty unforgiving when responding to mid-level fails and Game Overs, forcing you to trudge through menus in order to get back into the action. This time, dying will take you back to a star post nearby, which is a welcome addition.
The Tails Save initially felt a little like hand-holding, but has ended up being a useful and totally optional function. You can choose to collect a special token within a stage, and if you do so and end up plummeting down to your doom afterwards, Tails flies over to pick you up and drop you off at the ledge of the bottomless pit that bested you. It’s a good way for SEGA to offer some additional help with some of the more… cheap hazards in the game without completely changing the level design to accommodate.
Other quality of life changes include modifications to Sonic’s 2D jumping (which was a major bugbear of the original game for me), which now feels a little more fluid with the blue blur’s inertia (although still isn’t perfect), as well as the wall-jumping mechanic which is now a lot easier to pull off. We can imagine that being quite useful in the later stages, for sure.
We weren’t able to play far enough to take advantage of the two other new major features in the game – the Rival Race and the Customisation suite – but we did discover a number of the Park Tokens that you’ll need to collect in order to unlock the latter. Special shoes, gloves and visual effects are available for players to decorate Sonic with, to give your playthrough that extra little bit of flair. It should be a good way to encourage replayability of some of the shorter Act 3s, 4s and 5s on a given planet.
We were able to hear a little of the remixed soundtrack during our play-through of Tropical Resort, Sweet Mountain and Starlight Carnival. Jun Senoue is back with a vengeance, going over every single track himself with a fine-tooth comb and updating the sound for a 2021 audience. While we did worry if that would result in a little too much guitar, fear not – Tomoya Ohtani’s original vision for the game remains intact and respected. Overall, you’re going to get a flamboyant mix of synth-pop tracks with an added electro punch, along with themes that add that familiar Senoue-san trademark guitar riff. The Refreshinator boss music, in particular, is an example of where you can hear Jun’s mad shredding at work.
Most importantly, everything that we loved about the original Sonic Colours is present and correct here. Blasting through these colourful, bombastic worlds, enjoying the excellent Wisp power-ups and experiencing these delightful set-pieces (the mad dash against an army of Motobugs in Starlight Carnival remains a favourite) all over again is proof positive for us that Sonic Colours, more than any 3D Sonic game before or since, is more than deserving of a second chance.