Review: Sonic Colors
[Editor’s note: This SEGA Nerds classic review was originally published Dec. 16, 2010, and aside from any spelling or grammatical corrections, is presented in its original form to the best of our ability.]
OK, so SEGA has attempted to go back to the ’90s with its release of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 trying to recreate the classic 2D Sonic titles, but with a contemporary twist. It succeeded to some extent: some people loved it (like me and other reviewers) and others hated it (like a lot of the comments I received after my review).
But that’s part of the problem with Sonic games; SEGA can never seem to please everyone – well, most of the time it seems they can’t please anyone! But at least they are trying, eh?
So now SEGA has gone the opposite way from Sonic the Hedgehog 4, I assume trying to appease the fans of the newer Sonic titles, mixing it up with the 3D and 2D like they did with Sonic Unleashed, but this time only playing as Sonic … well only playing as Sonic, who happens to be able to transform into different creatures with the power of Wisps.
Will it work? Or is this another Sonic title that will make the 1993-child in you rip up his collection of Sonic posters and burn his Knuckles pajamas?
It only gets worse when they learn to talk
One of the beauties of Sonic 4 was that it didn’t feature a single cutscene, or at least none where Sonic spoke – but don’t expect that in Sonic Colours. Where Sonic 4 was using the old fashioned trick of telling gamers,“Robotnik is doing bad things, hurt him,” Sonic Colors says to gamers, “Robotnik is doing bad things, here’s a load of cheesy cutscenes to explain it all.”
Well, to be fair, the story is a little bit more complex than Sonic 1-4, in that Robotnik has created a giant theme park in space (seriously, where does this guy get his money and man-power to build this crap?) with a cover story saying that he’s sorry for trying to destroy the world in the past, generally being a bad boy and wants to make up for it.
But really he’s using capturing some cute-looking aliens called Wisps and sucking some magical power from them – to help him rule the world or some fluff. To be honest, I sort of lost interest at this point, for all I know he’s trying to make the world’s sourest lemon sorbet and needs alien juice to jazz it up a bit. But the key thing is that Robotnik is up to no good and Sonic can also utilize the Wisps’ powers – enabling him to transform into different creatures with various abilities.
As far as stories go, it’s not the worst. The cutscenes are pretty bad at times, and the idea of saving defenseless creatures isn’t totally new, but there is something really fun about the way SEGA has gone about it.
They could have just said, “Yeah, Robotnik is kidnapping aliens, save them,” and had you just playing on levels set around a Wisp planet. But instead SEGA has given us the idea of an intergalactic theme park, with a good variety of different worlds, fun levels to explore and some pretty fun powers to use.
Stepping away from the story, we can get into the main bit of any game – the gameplay. Like I mentioned, Sonic Colors has gone for a similar approach to Sonic Unleashed by bringing us a mix of 2D and 3D gameplay through the different levels.
The key difference here is of course the use of Wisp powers. Just the thought of SEGA using another dodgy gimmick had me panicking about Sonic Colors before its release, but shockingly I genuinely enjoy the Wisps.
Most of the Wisp powers you use during the 2D parts of gameplay enable gamers to find alternate routes through levels or hidden secrets. Most levels you don’t even need to use the Wisps, so you could actually play through as though it was a normal Sonic game.
The real fun of the Wisps is when you go back to levels, after unlocking new Wisp powers. You can then find even more routes and secrets and try to finish the levels in different ways. The way the levels are set out isn’t quite like other Sonic games. The different routes aren’t always so obvious and some you’d really need to do some exploring to find.
In fact (now I may get yelled at here) in some ways, Sonic Colors reminded me a little of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mario World, where you would spend time running back and forth, looking for hidden paths and feel like you are exploring a level, rather than trying to run from one end to another.
Also, unlike previous Wii-exclusive Sonic titles, SEGA has opted for more sensible Wii controls. Rather than relying on shoddy motion detection, you are using a more traditional analog stick and A-button to jump. The only wand waving in the game is to activate a Wisp’s power.
The most fun comes when you realize that this isn’t a Sonic game that relies purely on speed. The best Sonic games have known when to take things fast and when to have a break. The game mixes things up with some fun, very fast running segments that require perfection to pull off properly – and then some slower, trickier platforming segments, which I loved.
Another thing that I would like to congratulate SEGA on is the level designs. As I mentioned they all have multiple routes, but they are also very imaginative in how the routes play out. Not only that, the actual ‘worlds’ you play through are some of the most original seen in a Sonic game to date.
There will be no complaining ala Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – about SEGA stealing ideas from old Sonic titles. Sonic Colours contains some of the most elaborate and interesting levels I’ve seen in a platform game for a long time – especially levels like Sweet Sweet Mountain, with giant hamburgers towering in the backgrounds. Or the Wisps’ home planet, which looks so beautiful I want to go there on a holiday.
And once again SEGA has proven that they are up there with Nintendo when it comes to getting the most out of the under-powered Wii. Sonic Colours easily looks as good, visually, as any Nintendo title and the maximum speed players can whiz through levels at is phenomenal at times, making you wonder how the little console can keep up – yet it does; all the levels are brilliantly vibrant with a vast array of colourful backdrops, lighting effects and lush visuals.
I fancy the side salad
I also can’t help but appreciate some of the little extra bits in Sonic Colors. Each level is littered with hidden tokens to find, some of which you really do need to explore the levels to uncover. It’s not new, but it adds great replayability to the levels.
Also, aside from the main story levels, there is a mini-game area of sorts. It reminds me a bit of Klungo’s arcade in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, where you get to play Sonic levels, as a Sonic with an antenna on his head, away from the main game – just for the fun of it.
And like other Sonic Wii titles, Sonic Colors includes a scoring system. But now, rather than just watching your score appear, you can make Sonic jump around the screen, smashing into your score count. This isn’t just for random fun, but can also give gamers extra coins and lives.
None of these are groundbreaking, but they are certainly appreciated. It’s nice to play a modern Sonic game with a bit more substance and extra fun bits on the side.
Float like a butterfly … literally
There are some downsides though to Sonic Colors, though. In the 2D segments, Sonic’s jumping is bloody infuriating at times. The game doesn’t have any of the original ‘Sonic physics,’ and when you jump, Sonic feels very light and floaty.
This makes platforming very tricky at times. You do get used to it, but I know Sonic fans will be annoyed by this, and, frankly, it is something that I feel should have been sorted out before its release.
Another thing missing is Sonic’s spin dash. It’s not like they have just removed the standing still spin dash attack, but even once you start running at full speed, you can’t suddenly curl up into a ball and roll into things. Instead, Sonic uses a slide (which is mainly for ducking under obstacles at speed, but can defeat enemies) or a speed boost to burst through any foe. It’s a shame such a classic move has been removed, but, again, it doesn’t stop the enjoyment one can find from the game.
Cut the cutscenes
My biggest complaint about the game is the cutscenes. While Sonic is hardly an ‘adult’ character, his games have always been suitable for all ages, and I would like to think the over-20s would fall into that category.
The gameplay is fine, great in fact. But the cutscenes are so damn child-like, it really can ruin the game for some people. It was so bad that almost every cutscene, I just switched my brain off because some of the lines are just so cringe-worthy.
That said, I know that kids will lap it up. The acting (while cheesy) is solid, and the animations are a decent enough break from the gameplay, if you can bear it.
Old school verses new school
Another problem with Sonic Colors is that I don’t think hardcore traditional Sonic fans will enjoy it much. As I say the physics used in the classic Sonic titles is gone, Sonic’s jumping feels too light and the painful cutscenes won’t do much to help win older gamers over.
The same could have been said for Sonic Unleashed, but while that game had the dreadful Werehog segments, the Sonic levels did feel like you were playing a Sonicgame. Sonic Colours, for me, doesn’t feel much like a true Sonic game at all. Instead it feels more like a platform game that happens to have Sonic in it.
While it’s understandable that SEGA would use Sonic to help win sales for the game, I frankly feel that they could have put any character into the game and it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. The fact that SEGA removed one of Sonic’s signature moves gives even more credence to this – they could have put in a purple squirrel as the hero and a rich, evil bear as the baddie, and it would have played out the same.
Also, other than the use of childish cutscenes, I don’t fully understand why SEGA opted to only put it on the Wii. The only motion controls used are for activating Wisp powers – which could have easily been assigned to a button. Considering the game looks so good on the Wii, it would have been awesome to see it in full HD on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
I think gamers need to ask themselves one question before playing Sonic Colors: “Do I want to play a real Sonic the Hedgehog game? Or do I want to play a fun platform game?”
If your answer is the latter, then you could be in for a treat. Sonic Colors is a fun game with a surprising amount of replayability, involving finding hidden tokens and alternate routes through the levels and unlocking Super Sonic.
If your answer is the former, then be prepared for some disappointment. I’m not saying die-hard Sonic fans won’t enjoy the game, but Sonic Colors is definitely a good few steps away from any form of traditional Sonic title, for which I think some people might not be so happy.
Personally, I really enjoyed the game. Despite the awful cutscenes, I enjoyed the gameplay, the imaginative worlds and the level design. However, I didn’t enjoy it so much for being a good Sonic game, but rather just being a truly fun platformer.
At the end of the day, Sonic Colors is a fun mix of 2D and 3D platforming at its best.
+ Imaginative level/world designs
+ Great mix of fast and slow-paced platforming
+ Great looking visuals
+ Easily the best Wii Sonic title to date
– Cutscenes too childish for older gamers
– Fans of traditional Sonic games might be disappointed
– Platforming in 2D does feel a little too ‘floaty’