Review by SneakTheSnake

"Good, but not quite great: Sonic Colors vs. the red-hot hype"

“You've gotta try Sonic Colors for the Wii!” is the mantra I've seen from reviewers. That it's the best Sonic game in years - that it's high above the others - that it has sparked a revival for the Sonic franchise after years of living in the dark. I shouldn't have believed the hype. Sonic Colors is indeed a slight step above the past few titles in the Sonic franchise, but that really isn't saying much. Just because the game is a notch above that “heated” competition doesn't make the game immediately a great one. It's a step in the right direction, to be certain, but I can't help but think that Sonic Colors will be a stepping-stone to a much more ambitious, far superior Sonic title far down the line (and I'm not talking about Sonic Generations per se).

The story goes like this: supposedly to atone for his misdeed, Dr. Eggman has built a gigantic amusement park in outer space, made up of a cluster of planets. Sonic and Tails get involved, and they're both skeptic of Eggman's motives - for good reason. Turns out, the amusement park is powered by tiny aliens called Wisps, and Eggman's sucking their energy dry in order to run his massive park. Sonic and Tails can't stand for this, so it's up to them to save the adorable Wisps and put a stop to Eggman's fiendish plot.

It's hard to accept the plot as anything “deeper” than that. It's really a different version of the “Eggman captures the animals and uses them for his own evil means” plot device, except, instead of making them into robots, he's using them to power his park. It can be a stretch, but one could interpret the story as a cautionary tale about exploiting natural fauna and resources for industrialization (“Uh-oh! The big bad corporate bad guy!”), and that Sonic is doing the animals good by rescuing them. However, Sonic uses the animals himself for his own personal gain also (for, you see, he gains powers from the Wisps), so it's really hard to tell if the game's trying to get us to think about these issues.

At any rate, Sonic must spin-dash his way through a handful of themed planets - the water planet, the greeny-greens planet, the... food planet, and he hops and bops through a surprising six stages for each planet. It then comes down to a boss encounter, with the occasional FMV thrown in for good measure. Sonic Colors employs some nice innovations and techniques for storytelling and game set-up, including several branching hub worlds, a practice arena as well as about forty-five minutes of high-quality FMV to move the story along. The game does boast a pretty robust package in a sleek presentation; though the game only takes about three or four hours to beat (as with most Sonic games), there are a few things to keep players coming back.

As with Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations, Sonic Colors' stages are 2D/3D hybrids. In some, the camera is focused behind Sonic as he dashes forward; the camera will sometimes pull back and have the level on a 2D plane, much like the classic Sonic games. These prevent the levels from growing stale and I think that, once Sega gets the ideal balance between 2D, 3D and the various modes of play (i.e., boss battle, commandeering vehicles and other such levels), the mix will work very well.

The levels here, though, are a mixed bag. Level length can vary from forty-five seconds to six minutes, and these are not just extreme examples. Difficulty spikes are abound. Unfair enemy placement, dead-ends, myriad bottomless pits and difficult mini-bosses pop up all over the place. It becomes an exercise in memorization and frustration to get through a lot of them. These stages far outweigh the moments of true fun and excitement so typical with earlier Sonic titles. The shorter stages (I'll call them “puzzle stages”, as they seem to have a central obstacle or series of gimmicky obstacles to overcome in a small space) could have been done a lot better.

A main gimmick of Sonic Colors are the aforementioned Wisps, tiny aliens who come to Sonic's aid throughout the adventure. When Sonic picks up a Wisp, it will grant him a special, temporary power. One lets him travel like a laser beam and bounces him off refracting mirrors, another turns him into a skyward-launching rocket, another turns him into a gigantic, coin-eating monster and so on. These do help break up the gameplay and provide interesting control and gameplay alternatives to the standard running and jumping. In many cases, the levels cannot be beat without the Wisps; it will be necessary for Sonic to dig, float, fly or eat his way through a stage. I got myself in a dead end or two when my Wisp power ran out in a tight spot, which was unfortunate, but I find the Wisps to be a nice addition overall. And they're adorable to boot!

The Wisps and the level design of Sonic Colors make for an interesting gaming experience. Based on these two elements alone, I would recommend players at least try the game and perhaps give it a blustery rent, but the audio and visual presentations help make the game truly shine, almost enough to compensate for the occasionally problematic levels and strange difficulty spikes.

Sonic Colors looks great on the Wii and is perhaps one of the titles to push the hardware to its limits. Towering hamburger skyscrapers, laser-lit loop-de-loops scattered through space and picturesque, water-soaked pagodas are among the many wonders you'll see in this visually impressive game. Not only are the backdrops incredibly creative and varied, but the textures are quite astounding at times. Based on its graphics, I'm truly glad to call Sonic Colors a Wii exclusive. It's clear SEGA put a lot of effort into the character models, environments and cutscenes, all of which shimmer with quality and attention to detail.

The music is also quite good. While many have disparaged the soundtracks in Sonic games, I personally like them. I think rock music fits well with the edgy personality that Sonic exhibits, especially when it's at a quick tempo. The music reminds me at times of Jet Grind Radio, another game with an eclectic and equally mesmorizing soundtrack. I've also heard complaints about the new voice actors for Sonic Colors onward; frankly, I couldn't care less. I think Roger Craig Smith does a very good job as Sonic, and the supporting cast, particularly Eggman and his robot minions (who serve as comic foils) deliver well-emoted and occasionally funny dialogue. Hats off to you, SEGA.

The replay value is also in spades, in that there are many secret rings to collect in each of the stages. There is also a sort of multiplayer mission mode, for which players unlock more stages by collecting the rings. At the very least, the rings are placed strategically in hard-to-reach places, and the option to replay any stage to get a better time, grade and high score can also be alluring.

Sonic Colors tested my patience in a few spots, but I'm glad I persisted, as I found a fairly competent platformer. I wouldn't say the game is nearly as deserving of acclaim as some reviewers would have you believe, but Sonic Colors is a step in the right direction. Featuring a mildly interesting gameplay gimmick and great graphics and sound, Sonic is a contender for the best game of its franchise on Wii. That's not saying much, but still.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/29/12

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

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