Despite Sega assuring us over and over again that they would be making it their mission to improve the quality of the Sonic series, I was pretty skeptical when Sonic Colors was first announced.
Targeting a younger audience? Alien Wisp power-ups? Trailers with bad techno rock? The same game designer as Sonic and the Black Knight?
It seemed like a recipe for disaster, but Sonic Colors has turned out to be a surprisingly fun game, a fast-paced and exciting mix of 2D platforming and 3D boosting in a very colorful world.
Sonic Colors definitely has a visual style all its own. Since this game takes place in an interplanetary amusement park in outer space, SonicTeam has been given the opportunity to branch out and show us that they can design some very creative levels, and they’ve succeeded with flying…colors. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) We’ve got areas made out of food, we’ve got runs through starry space skies, we have an alien planet brimming with vegetation, and we also get to see some great-looking water levels. The art direction’s fantastic and even the level select maps radiate with a sense of energy. Sonic looks great, easily his best non-HD design to date, and the characters’ lips match the voices in the cutscenes, which is always a nice touch.
The only real flaw I’d have to point out with Sonic Colors’ visual presentation is the abundance of jaggies, especially if you’re playing on an HDTV. The jagged edges on almost everything give the game a rough look and it’s unfortunate, because it takes away from what’s otherwise a brilliant visual presentation. Don’t let it be a deal-breaker, Sonic Colors still looks great, but if you have the option, playing this one on a standard def television will result in a much cleaner picture.
Of course, one thing not affected by the Wii’s limited graphics tech is the audio. Sonic Colors’ soundtrack features a mix of synthesizing and orchestration, and it fits the game very well. The piano in particular is used to great effect. The high-energy soundtrack manages to keep up with these fast and wacky levels, and I found myself humming some of these tunes for days. The main rock song is, of course, terrible (even by the relatively low standards of Sonic Rock Music,) and you’ll hate it even more when you realize that you can’t get it out of your head.
Sonic Colors at first gives off the impression that this is Sonic Unleashed but without the werehog, but as you play through it, what becomes apparent is that this is trying something entirely different. While Sonic Unleashed’s daytime levels were mostly 3D with some 2D thrown in for good measure, Sonic Colors takes the opposite strategy. This is, primarily, a 2D adventure, and while the 3D sections add fast speeds and some scope to these levels, there’s virtually no platforming to be done in 3D. Not to mention the fact that the majority of Sonic’s Wisp powers can only be activated in the side-scrolling sections of the levels, not in the 3D portions. Fans of 3D Sonic may be a little disappointed that the 3D aspects of Sonic Colors have been downgraded so much, but then again, the 2D action here is some of the best this series has ever seen. The underwater levels in particular are amazing, and it’s great to see that SonicTeam can still do this after all these years…color me impressed. (Okay, THAT’s the last bad pun, I promise.)
One thing that helps freshen up the experience is the addition of the Wisps, these little alien guys that Robotnik (….. Eggman…I guess,) has captured. As you free them, you gain access to their unique abilities, which allow Sonic to drill through dirt, hover, claw up walls, etc. This is finally a 3D Sonic gimmick that doesn’t feel tacked on, and it’s one that truly enhances the game. With these power-ups, there are so many different paths to take in these levels. These are not particularly long levels (many clock in at 3 minutes or under) but the amount of different paths to take and different places to explore is staggering. Going back and exploring earlier levels with your new Wisp abilities is something you’ll want to do, as there are over 150 red rings scattered throughout them. Collecting these rings unlocks levels in the co-op mode, (thankfully this can also be played solo) which is a nice way to extend your time with the game.
There was some concern among the Sonic fanbase after comments were made by various people at Sega that implied that this game would be easier, meant for a “younger audience.” Well you can rest assured that Sonic Colors is anything but easy, in fact, some of the later levels will give even the most experienced Sonic fans a challenge, or even a headache. This is Sonic Colors’ biggest stumbling block, as it never quite manages to feel challenging for the right reasons. The controls feel a little too slippery for the precision that the 2D segments often demand, and I found myself sliding right off platforms I landed on (therefore, to my death) many times. There’s been too much reliance on bottomless pits for my liking, and the mechanics for certain environmental interactions are never explained, leading to some frustrating moments. There’s a particularly annoying section in one of the Sweet Mountain acts that involves swinging off of lollipops that I died on countless times as I tried to figure out exactly how to get them to propel me up to where I wanted to go. It’s little things like this that end up cranking up the frustration factor. At one point I found myself on a path that suddenly turned upside down over a bottomless pit, and it became an exercise in trying-and-dying before I learned what direction I had to hold the analog stick in to keep Sonic moving. It ends up being a lot of these little bits of frustration that prevent Sonic Colors from being the top-notch game that it could have been, and when these moments blow up into big issues (don’t even get me started on that roller coaster near the end) it’s really not pretty.
At the same time, even when I was frustrated, I couldn’t stop playing. Sonic Colors may have control issues and it may be too frustrating at times for its own good, but when you’re constantly playing through levels that are as bright and energetic as Twinkle Park was, when you first get to try out your brand new Wisp power-ups, when you get to another visually stunning level…it’s a blast. The length of the main story clocks in at around 6 hours, which is a little too short for my liking, but it’s a lot of fun while it lasts, and it’ll keep you coming back for more.
Well, Sega’s given the boot to the 4 Kids Entertainment actors who have been voicing this series since 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog. Mike Pollock gets to stay on as Eggman, but as far as I can tell, everyone else has been replaced. I’m happy to say that it’s a change that’s worked out for the better. Sonic’s new voice actor doesn’t try to replicate what Ryan Drummond did, instead, he takes the character in a completely new direction. Here’s hoping we get to see the return of what I’m calling “stoner Sonic” in Sonic games for years to come. Everyone else does a good job too, and they’re helped by a script that’s actually funny. Sure, it can be childish at times, and the ending’s pretty weak, but thanks to solid writing and acting, Sonic Colors’ cutscenes are always a lot of fun to watch.
Sonic Colors proves that Sonic’s in capable hands. High speed 3D boost segments mix with some awesome 2D platforming in a series of truly imaginative levels to make this game one of the biggest surprises of 2010. That’s not to say that it’s a perfect adventure, as slippery controls, a short length, and some frustrating try-and-die mechanics prevent Colors from standing with the best platformers on the system. That said, Sonic fans should definitely not miss out on what’s a very fun and energetic platforming experience, one that easily fulfills Sega’s promise of delivering quality Sonic games.
– Colorful visuals and excellent soundtrack
– Inventive platforming with a great new gimmick
– Unlockables will keep you playing even after you finish the main game
– Story and voice acting are surprisingly entertaining
– Lots and lots of jaggies on an HDTV
– Slippery controls, try-and-die difficulty
– Main story’s a bit short, could have used another planet or two
– 3D sections feel underdeveloped