PAX 2010 Sonic Colors Hands-On

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfI34y7izBE[/youtube]

I think they’ve finally got it.

That about sums up my second chance to play the game. They’ve cut the gimmicks, cut the fat, fixed the camera, tightened the controls, and done just about everything else you could ask of a development team. Indeed, I don’t even recall seeing any of the random frame rate chugging like in the E3 demo. The jumping feels perfect. The homing attack has been fine tuned to the point where using it will never accidentally send you careening off into a chasm. Controling Sonic feels great and fast, with no collision detection bugs or odd glitches. The endless chasms appear to be gone, and while the levels have so far proven easy enough to get through, it still takes some skill to play them well, just like in the classics.

The wisp power ups are also a sight for sore eyes. Replacing the endless gimmicks and alternate play styles of past 3D games, the wisps are not only non-intrusive, but are a true joy to use. Whether it’s blasting through a level as a rocket, drilling through a cake to find power ups and otherwise inaccessible areas, or floating above spikes to reach otherwise unreachable areas above, these little aliens are probably the best thing to happen to Sonic since the elemental shields. I’ve yet to encounter a wisp that didn’t add something to the experience. Sure, the creators have pointed out that you don’t need to use them, but why wouldn’t you? For the first time ever in a Sonic game, I think this game would be a lesser experience without these gimmicks.

Of course, things aren’t perfect. At times the game can feel a little too automatic, to the point where it restricts how much control you have over Sonic in certain areas where you need to  drift or sidestep. These moments are rare, and out of the three levels I’ve played they where most prevalent in the newest level, Planet Wisp. Sonic is also just a little too fast now. I personally preferred the speed in the E3 demo, but after I got used to it the extra speed didn’t detract from the experience. That said, there are far worse things I could complain about in the other 3D Sonics, even in the Adventure series.

When last I previewed this game, I said that this was the best 3D Sonic game since the Adventure series. Well now, I rescind that statement. This game will outdo the Adventure series. Just going by these three levels, I don’t see how it can’t. The game has superior level design, superior programming, far fewer bugs and glitches – I encountered none in the PAX demo – and the gimmicks are far, far superior. I haven’t even had a chance to check out the co-operative mode, which looks like it’s going to be an experience in and of itself. I can’t believe that this game is from the same team that brought us such disasters as Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic and the Black Knight. I can’t believe, for the first time ever, I can whole heartedly recommend a 3D Sonic game, without warning about its flaws and things you need to “get over” to enjoy it. I can’t believe I can say with confidence, that those people who post the Sonic Cycle for every damn announcement, should cram it and buy it on day one.

Of course, while I’ve raised my expectations, Iizuka’s raised the stakes, claiming that the game will be equal to or better then the classic Genesis games. From my playtime, I am not yet ready to make that same claim. That’s the sort of thing even I refuse to say until I’ve played this game over at least a year’s time. We’ll see soon enough.

Don’t be reserved. Don’t be cautious. Sonic Colors is a great game. Come November, go buy it. Sonic is back.