"Sega finally decodes the riddle of how to make a great 3D Sonic game"

I have to give Sega some credit: after letting their franchise mascot soil his reputation with console adventures of increasingly poor quality for the better half of a decade, they've made a respectable effort during the past couple of years to get Sonic back in the good graces of the gaming public. Though still a divisive game, Sonic Unleashed did a lot of things right, and gave Sega a new foundation on which they could build and improve. When Sonic Colors was announced only for Nintendo hardware (Wii and DS), many disregarded it as being a cheap cash-in game geared towards younger audiences. The end result, though, is exactly the game that needed to be made: a full-fledged adventure built entirely around the mechanics of the high-speed daytime stages from Unleashed. This is the best 3D Sonic game ever made, and proof that the blue hedgehog is finally back.

The game starts as Sonic and Tails pay a visit to Dr. Eggman's Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park, which the good doctor recently built “entirely out of his sense of remorse for past transgressions”. Yeah, right. It doesn't take long for the duo to stumble upon a couple of alien creatures being molested by a band of Eggman's robots. The creatures, called “wisps”, are apparently being captured and used for some sort of villainy, and so Sonic sets out to show Eggman what for. Continuing the flavor of story from Unleashed, lighthearted and whimsical is the way of things. Sega brought in the writing crew from Madworld to help with the script, giving us a plot loaded with self-parody and hilarious dialogue. There are a few times when the jokes fall flat, but in a game as purposefully overloaded with camp as this one is, that's not too surprising. Especially comical are the “friendly announcements” that Eggman regularly delivers over the park's PA system during gameplay, merrily warning visitors about some of the malicious things that can happen to them during their stay. The only problem here is the announcements are tied to certain locations in the stages, and will cut off mid-speech if you keep going before it finishes.

Continuing the style of things from Unleashed, progressing through the levels in Colors takes place in a largely linear fashion, with Sonic speeding along and smashing up some badniks along the way. Sonic's abilities from the previous game are also largely intact: speed boosting, bouncing between walls, stomp attack, and so forth. The default view places the camera behind Sonic when you can move around freely, but switches to the side when the game enters a 2D section. What really distinguishes Colors from Unleashed is level design. Unleashed was all about blasting through the levels as fast as possible with only a few options for taking a different path. Playing this way in Colors is still a viable option, but this time around there is a lot more potential for exploration. This is largely made possible through the use of special powers Sonic temporarily gains when he finds wisp capsules throughout the levels. For example, finding a yellow wisp grants the Drill power that allows Sonic to burrow through certain kinds of terrain and reach underground areas that can't be entered otherwise. There are seven power-ups in all, and the game encourages using them in a couple ways. For one, there are five red rings to collect in each stage, many of which require wisp powers to obtain. Collecting the red rings, in turn, unlocks new stages to play in the “Sonic Simulator”, the only area of the game where a second player can join in on the fun. Secondly, both using wisp powers and finding red rings give huge bonuses for your score, which make them a necessity in many levels to get the coveted S rank. By and large, the powers are very fun to use and experiment with, but on the downside some of them can be very frustrating to control with any sort of consistency (I'm looking at you, Spikes). A major complaint with previous 3D Sonic efforts was that those games had a nasty habit of letting you speed up and then placing a bottomless pit in your path that was only avoidable through superhuman reflexes or, more commonly, trial and error. Colors averts this problem almost entirely by simply reducing the number of said death traps in the game and kindly throwing a caution sign up on the screen when you're coming up on one. It's such an easy fix that one has to wonder why on earth it took Sonic Team so long to come up with it. For all the good things this game does with gameplay, boss fights are a surprising weak spot. Each area in the park has a boss at the end, and they are all (with the noteworthy exception of the final boss) pretty boring and lack any real challenge. What's worse is that nearly half of the bosses in the game are rehashed models of previous ones, which is pretty lazy design on Sega's part.

Being called Sonic Colors and taking place in a giant amusement park in outer space, one might expect some artistic liberties to be taken with the visual design, and Sonic Team went absolutely nuts with this game. Among the crazy locales Sonic visits are a military base made out of food (you know, the one where they test missiles filled with gummi worms), an aquarium inhabited by robotic samurais, and a roller coaster travelling through an asteroid field. And as much as the Wii is maligned for its graphical capabilities, all of these look very good, comparable in many respects to the HD versions of Sonic Unleashed. The Sonic franchise is known for its memorable music, but what Sega has accomplished with this soundtrack for this game is extraordinary even by those standards. The tunes are catchy, upbeat, and in some cases, quite epic. Sega enlisted Jean Makhlouf, lead vocalist for Cash Cash, to handle the two vocal themes “Reach for the Stars” and “Speak With Your Heart”. Interestingly, much of the voice acting cast is new for this game. The role of Sonic, voiced for the last five years by Jason Griffith, has been passed on to Roger Craig Smith, with Kate Higgins debuting as Tails. The new voices sound pretty good, actually: arguably better than their predecessors. Mike Pollock is the only voice actor retained from the previous cast, and as usual he nails the Eggman role perfectly. Colors is not a long game, in fact most gamers will finish it in 10 hours or less. However, those who pursue getting all of the red rings and S-ranks in the game will get a lot more out of it.

So, at long last, the Sonic franchise is back on its feet. There are still improvements to be made, though, before Sega's blue hedgehog can measure up to Mario like he did in the early 90s. It will be interesting to see where Sega goes with the franchise in the future, but at least now they can focus on improving what works, instead of fixing what's broken.

STORY – 8/10
GAMEPLAY – 9/10
VISUALS – 9/10
SOUND – 10/10
SWING – 7/10
OVERALL – 8.6/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/11

Game Release: Sonic Colors (US, 11/16/10)


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