Ahhh, Sonic. The blue blur, Segaâ€™s spiky mascot, was once the darling of Sega fanboys across the globe. Held up against Nintendoâ€™s Mario as both a flagship character and a defining representation of the difference between Nintendroids and Sega fans.
Since then Mario has gone from strength to strength, with the latest iteration in the series (Super Mario Galaxy 2) receiving critical acclaim and universal praise by everyone that plays it. Sonic, too, has earneda reputation - although of an altogether different variety. Sonic, you see, has become something of a joke - with games in the series repeatedly failing to find an audience, despite (sometimes considerable) hype being generated for each and every iteration. The designers have tried all sorts of different things to invigorate the brand, adding things like vehicles (?), human girlfriends (?!) and machine guns (?!?!?!) as they tried to make the prickly mammal relevant again. Each time, the Sonic faithful get excited - confident, somehow, that this is the title that justifies their continued devotion.
So it was with no small amount of trepidation that we slid Sonic Colors into the Wii. Were we about to, yet again, step through the Sonic Cycle from â€śhopeâ€ť to â€śdisappointmentâ€ť? In short, no - Sonic Colors breaks the cycle. For the long version, read on...
For the uninitiated / cave dweller (you can probably get internet in caves now, so this is justified), Sonic is a platformer. Its claim to fame, intimated by the name, is that Sonic moves at great speed - this is not your dadâ€™s ponderous platforming game. Many of the gameâ€™s decisions must be made at break-neck speed, making it essentially a â€śtwitchâ€ť platformer. There are things to collect, bad guys to avoid and things get harder as you progress.
Sonic Colors returns to the roots of the series, with the bulk of the game happening in whatâ€™s called â€ś2.5Dâ€ť (as opposed to 3D). What this means is that, while the game is presented using 3D technology (you know, polygons, textures - that sort of thing), youâ€™re typically interacting with it along just one plane (often this means moving from left to right, like the original Sonic games), although there are all sorts of twists to this interface paradigm as you progress.
Gone are the stupid attempts to bring Sonic into human reality, with no awkward attempts at replicating European streets and no stupid human girlfriends. The closest thing to a human in the game is Dr. Robotnik - who, if youâ€™re not familiar, isnâ€™t that human. Instead you have Sonic, Tails and a bunch of little alien wisp things, in an outlandishly unreal (and hence, desirable) story that finally embraces Sonicâ€™s fantastical existence.
The little wisp things are more than just a story element and, fortunately, far less than just annoying new friends. Dotted all around the place, theyâ€™re essentially the first clue that to advance, Sonic is hitching his wagon to the race leader; Sonic Colors features a lot of mechanics that have been lifted straight out of Mario Galaxy. Grabbing a wisp in a level gives you a certain limited ability which, handily, is required to advance or to get the maximum score from the level. Wisp give you all sorts of abilities, including turning you into a laser (good for getting to otherwise inaccessible areas), allowing you to fly and all sorts of other wacky abilities. Far from a gimmick, these new forms actually fit with the Sonic play style very well, breaking up the basic gameplay and providing plenty of opportunity for exploration (there are loads of secrets to find). Sure, theyâ€™re essentially lifted wholesale from Mario but they work well and isnâ€™t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
The universe youâ€™re exploring is broken up into a series of planets (picking up on the theme yet?), each of which must be explored in turn. Each planet has a number of themed levels, challenging the player to complete each by either great skill or unshakeable persistence. Difficulty ramps up at a good pace, keeping you on your toes until natural attrition kills off all but the most determined players. There are checkpoints within each level but, as you progress, these become less and less useful as a crutch - epically difficult sections go on for what seems like forever between checkpoints.
Each level is packed full of content, with loads of things to find (including plenty of secrets) and playing further will generally unlock wisps on earlier levels, allowing you to find even more stuff (or at least, new ways to complete the levels) when you revisit them later on. Even your advancing skills will open up new areas on re-plays of earlier levels, as you realise that moves you learned as you advanced are actually useful earlier too.
There is technically same-machine multiplayer, however this is only present in the strange Sonic Simulator (a collection of stand-alone levels). Theyâ€™re fun as an aside but theyâ€™re such a fringe inclusion that it makes the â€śplay with a friend!â€ť and â€ś2 playerâ€ť claims on the back of the box come across as something other than entirely honest.
Visually itâ€™s fantastic, a sea of bright colours and cartoon vistas. Bosses and other marquee characters are well designed and Sonic himself looks great as he moves around. The sound is similarly excellent, with a sweeping orchestral score which is, again, reminiscent of a certain Italian plumber.
Sonic Colors is fun. A LOT of fun. Itâ€™s super fast, thereâ€™s no mucking around in 3D space and it feels like a literal high-tech update of Sonic 3. The levels are bright, they look great and they keep you on the edge of your seat. If youâ€™re looking to recapture that â€śSonicâ€ť feeling of old, rather than bring Sonic into a new play style, itâ€™s hard to imagine a better way to go about it.
Thatâ€™s not to say itâ€™s perfect - in areas, itâ€™s far from it even. Quirky presentation issues (sometimes youâ€™ll not be in control of Sonic but the game doesnâ€™t alert you to this, like Marioâ€™s letter-boxing does), rough areas in some levels and numerous other small quirks dent the polish somewhat. Itâ€™s never bad but itâ€™s also clearly not made to the same standard as Marioâ€™s recent outings.
But if youâ€™re looking for a modern Sonic game which stays faithful to its roots, is fun to play and is a worthy title on its own merits, look no further. Finally, Sonic Colors is that game weâ€™ve been waiting for. Highly recommended, with few reservations.