Sonic Unleashed, at least the Wii version (the PS360 version was a completely different beast that I didn’t play), was half a good game. When you were playing as Sonic the hedgehog, the one you know and love, it was a thrilling experience that captured the speed and fun that Sonic should have. The second you changed into a werehog, it turned into a slow beat-em-up that wasn’t worth trudging through. Sonic Colors is Sega’s latest attempt to get that speed back into its own game.
The plot is pretty basic stuff. Eggman has opened up his own theme park in Earth’s orbit, with 5 different planets to visit. Of course, these planets are inhabited by alien beings called Wisps which Eggman is using for his evil schemes. So it’s up to Sonic to step in, save the Wisps, and stop Eggman. It’s pretty basic stuff, not getting past Saturday morning cartoon level. This is a good thing. Recent Sonic games have gotten too caught up in trying to weave intricate tales that end up leaving Sonic and Eggman without a role compared to the new annoying sidekick and villain. The game pares it down to Sonic vs. Eggman and his robots. It’s also very much helped by a script from the writers of Happy Tree Friends and MadWorld. It adds a nice bit of humor to it, instead of the serious business that recent Sonic gets caught up in. Unfortunately, some of the humor comes from things Eggman is saying during the levels, which you simply can’t hear and it’s unsubtitled. MadWorld had good sound balancing, even without subtitles, for me to hear all of the announcer’s phrases. Why did they screw it over here?
The gameplay itself is similar to the Sonic stages from Unleashed. It has a mix of 3D and side-scrolling platformer action. The game adds in a few new features. The biggest ones are the Wisps, which act like powerups. I was worried watching previews that this would harm the game, but it fits in pretty well. They add a new dimension to the game without harming the gameplay, and keep up the sense of speed that Sonic games need. There’s also quickstep segments, where Sonic auto-runs and all you have to do is move left and right to dodge obstacles. This I feel more mixed about. On the one hand, it gives a good sense of speed and it can be fun. On the other hand, Sonic’s auto-run means if you get hit, you simply can’t pick up your rings. This has always been a vital part of Sonic gameplay, so missing out on this makes the game significantly harder in these segments.
And difficulty is easily the game’s biggest problem. The first half of the game is fairly good, giving the right amount of challenge. The second half hits you way too hard. There’s tons of bottomless pits and one-hit-kill obstacles that you have to navigate through. But really, the hardest part of this is the downright archaic life system. You’re given 4 lives, and if you lose them all you get kicked out of the stage. The main problem is that I just never got up a good life buffer like I did in Super Mario Galaxy. It’s not helped by the fact that you’re not given a free life for getting 100 rings. You only get more lives by finding them in the stage or getting an A-rank on stage. Considering some of the tough segments the game throws at you, they really should’ve either been looser with the lives or gotten rid of the system altogether. The game’s other big problem is its length. There’s 7 worlds, and counting out the really short final one, there’s 6 stages and a boss per world. The stage length is random. Some stages took me many tries and 5 minutes on a good run, some I had done before I even realized I had started them. Overall, I had the game beaten in 4 hours. There are medals throughout each level to collect, but for the non-hardcore completionists, 4 hours is pretty short for a retail release.
I do need to really praise the game for one thing: the graphics. This is one of the nicest-looking Wii games I’ve seen, and definitely the best-looking one that’s not first-party. It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it really captures the worlds well. Some third-party developers get too dark and make murky visuals. Kudos to Sonic Team for not falling into that trap.
Overall, Sonic Colors is one step forward, one step backwards. The pure Sonic gameplay that we’ve always wanted out of a 3D Sonic game is the biggest plus. But the hard as nails difficulty and the unforgiving and ancient life system just stops me from wanting to pick it up again. I’m sure some people will be fine with it, but for me, this was a bit of a deal-breaker.