Review by horror_spooky
"Does Sonic find his footing on Wii U? Or is the blue blur a blue bust?"
Sonic has seen some serious ups and some serious downs. It's hard to believe nowadays, but at one time, Sonic the Hedgehog was the flagship of the second largest gaming console in the world. Sonic was Mario's chief competitor, and the ace in the hole for Sega. Since dropping out of the console race after the Dreamcast, poor Sonic has been put through the gauntlet when it comes to bad games, and has never reached his full potential again. I was ready to write the series off as completely dead after playing Sonic '06, but Sonic: Lost World, while certainly not a return to form, is a step in the right direction for the hedgehog.
Sonic: Lost World is part of a deal between Nintendo and Sega that three eighth gen Sonic games will be exclusive to Nintendo platforms. Unfortunately, Sega's decision to release Lost World on both 3DS and Wii U actually hurts the quality of the Wii U version. There is a lot of functionality and an entire co-op mode that can only be accessed by players that also have the 3DS version. What is infuriating about this is that there is really nothing in the core gameplay of Sonic: Lost World that would require the person playing Sonic to use the GamePad controller; so instead of creating content that will only be experienced by a very small fraction of the population, Sega could've actually used the GamePad in a really clever way. Huge missed opportunity right out of the gate.
After washing that bitter taste of my mouth, I was able to start to really enjoy Sonic's latest adventures. The game is comprised of different worlds, all with their own theme and bosses as is platformer tradition. Lost World hits the generic platforming level tropes, but reinvents them in clever ways. Hell, the desert world hardly contains any levels actually set in a desert and instead creates a level playing on how the word "desert" is similar to "dessert".
Each level, or "zone", has its very own feel to it and they all feel wildly unique from another, even those that are aesthetically similar. No two levels in Sonic: Lost World feel like a retread or filler, and that is a rare trait in today's gaming landscape. There are 3D platforming levels that encourage exploration; there are others that are more fast-paced and play like Sonic's other 3D adventures; there are levels that are 2.5D, imitating the classic Sonic games; there are vehicular-based levels; there are on-rails levels...there's just about everything for fans of the series all in one place.
The most entertaining levels, for me anyways, were the ones based on vehicles (such as Sonic rolling around the entire level in a Katamari Damacy-style snowball) and the ones on-rails. I felt the side-scrolling sections were lacking and were plagued with poor level design and sluggish gameplay. The 3D sections were almost always very exciting, though the blend of 2D and 3D was where the game really shined. It let me play in the 2D world just long enough so that I didn't hate it, and then it thrust me into the visually glorious 3D world that Sonic also inhabits in this game so that I could appreciate those sections more. Win-win.
Besides the main platforming levels, Sonic: Lost World also features hidden levels, complex stages with multiple pathways, and mini-games based around saving the animals required to unlock the boss levels. These mini-games require both the GamePad and the TV screen, but I found this to be unnecessary and pretty much just kept my nose in my GamePad during these mini-games and thought I did better than looking at the TV.
The GamePad is also used for the Color powers, though they just feel shoehorned into this game. In Sonic Colors, fans were treated to Sonic's new ability to collect alien-based power-ups that gave him cool new moves to traverse the environment. I guess Sega felt obliged to bring them back for this entry, because they feel shoved in here just for the hell of it. I never really had fun using the powers, and they felt just randomly dispersed throughout the levels so Sega could reach their quota of powers represented. Some of the powers are made virtually unusable when playing the game on the GamePad screen, which is a major design flaw considering Sonic: Lost World does allow for entirely off-TV play.
The remarkable thing I've noticed about Wii U titles that allow this feature is how gorgeous they look regardless of if I have them running on my HDTV or on the relatively small screen on the GamePad controller. Sonic: Lost World has vibrant, deep, beautiful colors on both screens. It's a visual treat, and quite honestly one of the most gorgeous games I've ever played.
There's no doubt that Sonic Team and Sega put a lot of work into making sure Lost World took full advantage of the Wii U's hardware. The game, like I said, is gorgeous. It is probably the best looking game on the system so far. It does suffer from a few stutters and lagging here and there, but it is also surprisingly polished, which is something that some of the more recent Sonic titles have seriously struggled with.
That being said, there are some frustrations. Despite how great the game looks, there are some levels that suffer from really poor level design choices. Cheap deaths are purposely implemented into the game to deliberately trick players, making some sections impossible unless you already know what's coming. Boss fights are underwhelming and easy, and when they aren't easy, it's only because there is some obscure attack input that hasn't been taught (the game does a fairly bad job of explaining many of Sonic's abilities and a lot of the gameplay concepts in general).
The story is a mixed bag. I don't go into platformers expecting an epic saga like the Mass Effect series, but platformers are definitely capable of telling great stories. I think the best example of this is with Super Mario Galaxy. Despite using virtually no words, Super Mario Galaxy tells one of my favorite tales of last generation. Sonic: Lost World, which takes a lot of inspiration from Mario Galaxy (including the sphere-based gameplay), does seem to try to play on the new iconic character tropes of Sonic, Tails, and Dr. Eggman (or Robotnik, for those that still prefer his old name) in a way that makes the story a lot more engaging than it otherwise would be.
So that's fine. The basic plot is that Eggman has enslaved this evil race called the Zeti while he simultaneously sucks the life out of the planet. The game does a good job of giving Eggman, of all people, more character depth. The story falters in the fact that our heroes are beyond obnoxious, especially Tails. The dialogue is also terrible, for both the protagonists and the Zeti. Dr. Eggman is my favorite character in this game because his dialogue is not bad and he actually has character development and a story arc, which is something that truly astonishes me about this game.
The Zeti...well, let's just say I hope they never make a comeback in the Sonic games. The Zeti are all just stereotypes and they make no effort to hide that fact. There's the emo kid, the dumb one, the fat one, the mean one, the old one, the valley girl...it's like Sonic Team watched The Breakfast Club and said to themselves, "Hey, do you know who would make great Sonic villains?" Sonic Team, this is why we can't have nice things.
Another area where the ball was dropped is in regards to the sound design. Obviously I take issue with the dialogue, but the way the dialogue is delivered is another point of concern. The voice acting is terrible and phoned in beyond belief. The soundtrack is also fairly disappointing, with the hub world soundtrack an aggravatingly endless loop of pure hell. In fact, I recommend trying the game in mute. I enjoyed it so much more playing it with no sound.
Lost World takes a hell of a lot of patience to 100%. So completionists are either going to have a lot of fun with this game or they're going to have a lot of headaches, depending on how you look at it. The game features a multiplayer mode, but that's a bust and a mere shadow of the ridiculously fun multiplayer showcased in other Sonic games in the past. Miiverse is implemented in an annoying way in that other people from around the world are constantly sending useless items faster than they can even be used.
Sonic: Lost World is a game that is good, but it could've been so much better. Sonic Team is still struggling with level design, and there's a myriad of other issues detailed above, but one thing's for certain...as new details become available regarding the next Nintendo exclusive Sonic game from Sega, I will be paying close attention. Sonic: Lost World didn't blow me away, but it has restored my faith in the franchise just enough to give Sega and company another chance. Sega is Sonic, and they are hellbent on making sure we just don't forget about him.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/12/13
Game Release: Sonic: Lost World (US, 10/29/13)
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