GameCrank: Sonic Colors (Wii) Review

Patrick

Do we honestly need a new introduction to Sonic the Hedgehog at this point? I think we all know just who the heck he is… man, has the series gone downhill, though.  Aren’t you just sick of that rant?  Still, it’s just so true. Sonic is a character and franchise that millions of people love around the globe, although the only quality properties are the first four Genesis and Sega CD games, the two Sonic Adventure games, the Rush series, and maybe half of Sonic Unleashed and the Advance series. I never grew up with Sonic, so I’ve never appreciated the original games as much as most people do, but I really do think that there is something to Sonic the Hedgehog. No other video game attempts to do what Sonic is trying to accomplish; high-speed racing mixed with traditional platforming is a concept that has rarely been duplicated, let alone copied properly. It’s just such a shame to see such an original character, franchise, and universe spiral into such depressing destruction.

2010 was something of a renaissance for Sonic. First, there was “Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing”, which, ironically, is probably the first decent racing game Sonic has ever been in. Then there was “Sonic the Hedgehog 4- Episode 1”. As a sequel to “Sonic 3” and for a supposed re-boot of the storyline, it was somewhat of a failure, but I was probably the only person to realize that it would be before the game was released and, thus, I was able to enjoy it for what it was. Now, there’s this–“Sonic Colors”.  It popped right out of nowhere during the “Sonic 4” hype and went ignored by a lot of people because of it.  Then it was revealed that this game was slated to be what many people, including myself, have been praying for–“Sonic Unleashed” day-time stages without the Werehog, hub-worlds, sun and moon medal collecting, airplane flying, and all of the nonsense that brought that game down. The result is the best thing that’s happened to the franchise in the last sixteen years.

In a move that is somewhere between brilliant and stupidly obvious, Sonic Team and Dimps took “Sonic Unleashed”, one of my favorite (and least favorite) 3D Sonic games, cleaned out all the unnecessary gimmicks, and made a new game based on regular Sonic stages. It has been long recorded in history that Sonic games are only fun when you’re playing as Sonic (or Tails or Knuckles), so it’s great that SEGA has finally gotten the message about what their fans want.  The fantastic Sonic sections from “Sonic Unleashed” have returned without a gimmicky Werehog or hub-world in sight–just pick and choose your levels and off you go. Already, after realizing this fact, this game smashed Unleashed into the ground for me and I never wanted to go back.  It’s a shock to see a Sonic game with a level of common sense to it, and it’s definitely welcome.

I might as well get the story out of the way, since it will only probably make a quick appearance in my nit-picks.  Eggman’s built an interstellar theme-park, claiming it to be an act of redemption for his past misdeeds.  Of course, it is a lie, and he’s actually there to capture aliens to harness some sort of energy to create a mind-control device to take over the world.  Sonic is out to stop him and… that’s it.  This is probably the most light-hearted plot in a Sonic game you’ll find, and for the most part, I think that’s probably for the best.  The only surprise to be had here is the new voice-cast, which finally axed the infamous “4Kids” voice-actors from Sonic X and gave us some new voices for Sonic and Tails.  I hesitate to say that the voice-acting is actually good, but it’s decent enough to make the characters feel less annoying than they have been in the past.  The writing is done by the same guys who wrote “MadWorld”, which I have mixed feelings about.  “MadWorld” was full of clever, smart-witted, and funny banter and story-telling, but here, there are just a few gags and that’s it.  The important thing is that the story is ignorable and the cut-scenes are able to be skipped without missing anything imporant.

Back to what actually matters–the gameplay is solid inside and out. “3D Sonic” has always had fantastic and innovative ideas which have never before been fully realized (thanks to some horrible controls and programming).  Here, just about everything comes together in one cohesive package. There are 3D sections which have you boosting, grinding, flying, drifting, side-stepping, and blasting through gorgeous environments, but the majority of the game takes place in 2D, where there tend to be more platforming-oriented stages. Sonic games have often had trouble straddling the line between cinematic and skill-based gameplay, but what makes Sonic Colors so awesome is that mixes them both just about perfectly; the game never slows down, but at the same time, you always feel like you have control over your character and it is never like just watching a movie.

There honestly are not a whole lot of additions to the Sonic Unleashed engine here. Sonic now has a double-jump which is great for the new emphasis on platforming, but aside from that, we have new power-ups. Remember the aliens I was talking about, the ones Eggman was harnessing? These are the Wisps, which are commonly found around levels inside storage capsules. Break one open, and it will give you a certain special ability. This can range from a laser to bounce off walls, a drill to dig through soft ground, a deranged purple monster to munch on barriers and enemies, and many more. For the first time ever, this is a Sonic gimmick that actually enhances the gameplay; you usually don’t need to use any of the Wisps in order to finish the stages, but if you want to explore alternate routes, find short-cuts, or search for hidden goods, then experimenting with all of them is highly rewarding. The Wisps subtly encourage replaying levels, offer new and interesting ways of playing the stages, and add a great deal of variety to the gameplay without overtaking it.

The game appears balanced and flows perfectly smoothly, but in reality, “Colors” really is a very coldly-calculated experience. The gameplay, as a whole, is perfectly balanced, but the stages themselves have a very fragmented feel about them. You’ll be running at the speed of sound just as often as you’re working on your jumping skills, but both concepts are never really meshed together seamlessly. It is usually all about one or the other, which, depending on your tastes, may make the game feel very lopsided. I equally enjoyed both and just about every stage flows pretty well, but if you prefer one or the other in your Sonic games, then you may come away only half-satisfied. It is like the game was designed by two completely different people, but in this case, they both cooperated and shared the same vision on how to make a great game.

Many people seem to be arguing about this game’s difficulty. Some people are saying it’s too frustrating with huge difficulty spikes all over the place, while others say it’s toothless and un-challenging.  The real answer, in my opinion, is: …well, neither. A big draw to the entire series has been inconsistent difficulty, but “Colors” finally nails it. Like I said, the game never really feels like it is playing itself, but you will need to keep your full attention on it if you don’t want to end up falling in pits every ten seconds. The appeal of Sonic has always been about trial-and-error, much like “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band”; you’re supposed to play a level, fail miserably, and learn to react at the apex of precision at every single moment. By the time you’ve passed a difficult section, you’ve earned it, and you can hopefully play it again with much less trouble. However, if you truly want to get the full experience of the game, as the developers intended, you are going to want to play each stage over and over and make each of them look easy. Simply running through this game without trying to master it will simply result in an unfulfilling experience, which is why it’s understandable that the busy critics who review Sonic games these days do not quite understand just how to enjoy them. “Sonic Colors” is basically a compilation of everything that’s made every type of Sonic game great and then some.

While it’s kind of difficult to specifically talk about the gameplay in detail, being that everything is so wild and varied, there is a nit-pick in the back of my mind. “Colors” takes the Sonic levels from “Sonic Unleashed” and makes a full game with them, and while “Colors” has some of my favorite levels of both games, “Unleashed” did have a better average of levels. “Colors”‘ levels are all fun in their own way, but they feel slightly less intricate and slightly less expressive. “Unleashed” had so much imagination oozing out of every crevice that it does make the levels in “Colors” feel a bit watered down in comparison. I rarely ever thought about this while I was actually playing the game, but in the long run, I do wish that “Colors” could have been a little bit longer and had longer stages.

Despite the fact that Sonic has rarely ever truly interested me in the past, I have to try to think of negative things to say about “Sonic Colors”. The graphics are some of the all-time best to yet grace the Wii, and if it weren’t for the low resolution, I’d say it’s the best-looking Sonic game by far. For the most part, the soundtrack is wonderful, although it does require a certain kind of taste. The story is forgettable and I’d have loved just a few more stages, but other than that, I have very few problems with “Sonic Colors”. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Sonic the Hedgehog game, have fun–this game rocks.

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