Although it does not reach the earth-shattering quality levels of the best platformers of its generation, it shows there is hope for 3-D Sonic games, which may be far more significant
Watching Sonic struggle through the 3-D gaming era is a lot like watching an aging professional sports player go through the twilight of their career: the world watches the athlete’s performance start to fall apart to a point where everybody thinks there is no turning back, but a few believers still see some potential in there that could signal towards a sudden outburst of brilliancy in the near future. Differently from a sports player who has no protection against the unstoppable insatiable hunger of this overpowering force called time, though, Sonic can – whenever Sega feels like it – push a magical restart button and attempt to jump towards original platforming challenges with the same energy and impact of a brand new and youthful videogame character.
All that it takes for that to happen is the springing of a bright concept inside the head of a game producer and the spreading of a whole lot of common sense on how to build a good Sonic platformer among the developers responsible for the game. The coming together of those two factors is, unfortunately, easier in theory than it is in practice, which makes it somewhat unsurprising (even when considering the weight that the names Sega and Sonic hold) that until Sonic Colors’ release point that recipe had almost always failed to be recreated. Sonic 3-D games were, therefore, always lacking either in one specific aspect or in all of them at the same time (which was the most common occurrence). Sonic Colors does have its flaws, which makes it arguable its coming did not end the character’s run of substandard efforts and marked the point where Sega was able to join an interesting idea with a nearly spotless execution, but what exists here is a balanced and solid gaming experience far better than the average Sonic 3-D adventure.
If there is one thing that has not been improved with Sonic Colors is the unnecessary amount of attention put into the storyline. The game does start with a reasonably controlled quantity of storytelling; that is, it gives players a background into why in the world they are going after the villain, showing how Eggman has apparently turned into a nice guy and decided to build an intergalactic theme park made up of several different planets connected by a central hub. Sonic and Tails head to his shiny facility to investigate, as the duo does not believe in the doctor’s good intentions. Not shockingly, they learn from a strange alien creature – called a Wisp – that the planets linked to his theme park were actually their homes and that Eggman is kidnapping their entire race for unknown evil purposes.
It would have been fine if the storytelling stopped there, as that is pretty much all players need to know on a classic platformer until they beat the final boss to watch a concluding video. Sadly, Sega decided to throw a few cutscenes in-between stages and worlds to further develop the plot, which would not have been so heavily aggravating if they were not plagued by extremely cheesy dialogues and predictable jokes, which contrast with the decent level of the voice acting. Fortunately, they are all easy to skip with the touch of a button, making the clumsy plot if not forgivable at least ignorable.
Mostly, Sonic Colors features an exhilarating combination of 3-D and 2.5-D sections. Sega discovered the perfect formula that balances exciting fast-speed maneuvers through loops, slides, corkscrews and other extremely well-designed level layouts with slower segments that require timely jumps, planned out attacks, and even some thinking outside the box. Sonic Colors and numerous of its many stages are the modern equivalent of the sidescrolling brilliancy that graced the early Sonic games, with courses that branch frequently and where all paths are filled with fun secrets and thrills.
Sadly, some issues in terms of consistency emerge. While most stages have been given major attention, others are completely lackluster in their construction, meaning that, as a whole, the game’s level design is irregular. The gap in quality between levels is so big that sometimes it is hard to believe they belong to the same game and were developed by the very same team. Another issue that harms some of the courses is that some traps are more frustrating than fun, and the fact that players may have to repeat them many times in order to finally be able to move on just magnifies the problem. Losing all lives and facing a game over screen just because of pure frustration stemming from an annoying segment is not an uncommon occurrence.
What makes Sonic Colors stand out among other titles starring the hedgehog that have been released since the industry shifted its focus to the tridimensional realm and featured that same blend of 3-D and 2.5-D is the Wisps. The little colorful aliens that have escaped from the grasp of Eggman join Sonic to help him free their peers, and each one of them will give the hero a little bit of their power for a limited amount of time. Activated by the shaking of the Wiimote, the abilities coming from the Wisps add a lot of variety to the game, allowing developers to create a range of obstacles that open up the gameplay considerably.
With the aid of the Wisps, Sonic can turn into a laser that bounces off walls, gain the ability to float, drill through dirt, eat everything in his path, become a spiked ball that sticks to walls, blast through the air as a rocket, and turn blue rings into blocks and vice versa. Another interesting aspect about the Wisps is that some of them are only unlocked in the last worlds of the game, which means that by going back to the first stages of the game and replaying some of them players will be able to use their newly acquired powers to explore new routes, improve their time, and their rank. Those looking for full completion will have, then, many reasons to smile, since replaying the levels is mostly a fun exercise due to all new twists that are irremediably uncovered.
However, the biggest change that Sonic Colors brings when compared to all of the games that preceded it is that, from a gameplay standpoint, Sonic Colors is very good. There are no major camera hiccups, players see everything they need to see all the time in an incredibly natural fashion that does not even require any kind of manual adjustment. The game also controls in a remarkably accurate manner, including all the transformations that could have potentially caused some instances of poorly implemented controls. In Sonic Colors, everything is fluid, seamless, and beautiful, including the framerate that does not suffer at all even though the game displays dazzling extensive visuals that blast by the screen at incredibly high speeds.
Sonic Colors is not an extremely long game. Its six worlds have seven levels, including a boss battle, which means that one playthrough – without looking for all items contained on each stage – will take players less than five hours to complete. However, the game has plenty of options for those looking to spend some extra time enjoying the title. Players can improve their rank in all the levels in an attempt to get the flawless S, collect all hidden red coins by exploring all possible paths within each stage in order to unlock cooperative challenges on the Sonic Simulator (a multiplayer mode comprised of twenty-one arcade-like stages), or simply improve their score.
Sonic Colors brings a lot of the magic of the old Sonic games to the 3D environment with some twists along the way that make this adventure rather original and remarkable. There are a few punctual issues, but nothing really tarnishes the fact this is a rare instance of a 3-D Sonic game turning out better than passable and actually being quite good. It has great visuals, fast exciting moments, slow segments that show a lot of care with the level design, a nice collection of songs to power up the fun, and solid gameplay. Sonic Colors will not change anybody’s concepts on great platformers, or set new bars for the genre, but showing that modern-day Sega can still find ways to get in touch with reality and realize what makes a great Sonic game (and make that untouchable quality materialize in a 3-D setting) is much more important than any earth-shattering productions.