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Sonic Speed Review: Sonic Colours (Wii)

November 22, 2010
by

Wisp it! It Wisps it good!

The Sonic formula was, and still is when replicated dutifully, simple and fascinating, easily addictive and on the right hand side of its equation would be some mathematical symbol for ‘hours of fun’ (How’s an inverted figure 8? Wrap your head around that one). As we all know of course, when that formula tried to incorporate a third dimension something went awry. Controls were either too sensitive, platforming too little, and the sense of continuous speed encouraged by inspired level design that only further enheartened the player’s want to revisit said levels was replaced with linear environments and clunky fabrications of what was once ‘speed’ and ‘adventure’. Thankfully, Sonic Colours meets these problems with a steely, sparkling green eye glinting with exuberance, and then promptly spindashes them in the face. About time, my friend.

It’s everything Sonic is and should be – it falls over itself every once in a blue moon, but, take confidence, those blue moons are what they are: rare. The thrill of ‘the Sonic experience’ is here possibly in epitome. Hold on tight to your Wiimote and nunchuk as Sonic charges forwards in a blaze of blue, the level you’re racing through flashes past you, vibrant and surreal. The path you dash into is cluttered with those famous rings, is generously wide, a pleasant shade of cream and dotted with egg-like robots – what do you do? Boost! The levels whips past you faster, enemies are thrown like dolls in your wake and you glimpse a few alternative pathways, a rail to grind on or levitating platform, but why would you break the rhythm of the intense speed? The game seamlessly drops a dimension and then returns to a familiar side-scrolling experience, and in each you dance with both platforming and a full-throttle tempo. You jump, home-attack by mashing the ‘A’ emote, emboldened by the newfound knowledge that the presence of invisible walls will protect you from those infamous bottomless pits that unfairly plagued Sonic’s earlier attempts in the next generation of gaming. You can only grin as you soar over these starry, outer-space landscapes or acid-pits – you are in control of this exhilarating roller-coaster ride, you might as well be leaving trails of fire in your footsteps. It would be a disgrace, an insult, a felony to slow down, the clock is ticking, you want to reach that goal ring and free the wisps–

Ah. The wisps. Gimmick or enhancing element? A little bit of both, maybe, but I’d say definitely more of the latter. The basic storyline of the game goes as such: The franchises witless antagonist, Dr Eggman, has outdone himself and created a theme park in outer-space beyond which the world has never seen. Not believing the egg-shaped criminal, Sonic the Hedgehog and sidekick Tails scam a ride in a space elevator and nosey around the park. It doesn’t take them long to sniff an evil plot, one involving Eggman’s exploitation of cute little aliens called ‘Wisps’ and their unique energy. As you progress through the stages, most of which you could replay ten times over and not dig out all alternative pathways, you befriend these wisps and unlock their powers for yourself. And there’s the fear of the gimmick. Boost is a pretty familiar element for the Sonic series by now, and has worked as well as other successfully introduced dynamics such as homing attack, triangle jump and the spindash, but others wisp powers, drill, spikes and many more, posed the line between a pass and a fail for this interstellar installment. Thankfully, the superbly designed levels are molded around the wisps and their powers, and it is clear they are not a tacked on afterthought. Many of them are pretty darn fun, too – take spikes; it’s the ability for Sonic to go pink, curl into a ball, elongate his quills into sharp blades and stick to walls. Hold ‘Down+B’, and you spindash in your desired direction, up and around everything in your path, or even straight through the unfortunate Egg-bot, which satisfyingly explode in the time it takes you to leave them in your dust. Drill takes you underground at a speed that will keep you on your toes as you ferret out those hidden pathways, often only achievable by the discovery or unlocking of more wisps. As you only unlock all the wisps by the time you’ve stepped up to the later levels, all early levels are going to be revisited if you want to suck the marrow out of this platformer. It’s a game that can be finished quickly, but not a game you can put down after the final cutscene.

Speed vs Platforming is, in a nutshell, what makes Sonic games so great. You sprint forwards at blazing speeds, and you feel pretty darn good about yourself when you do due to the clever and tricky platforming you traverse. The platforming is where this game challenges you the most, and don’t be surprised if you’re racking up a few game-overs. This is partly due to the absence of the old 100 rings= 1 extra life rule, now replaced, hopefully temporarily, with the 100 rings when you FINISH the act= 1 extra life or no dough for you rule. Unless you’ve memorised the track, you’re probably going to step on a spike somewhere on the adventure and lose all your hard-earned rings, and too many times had I racked up plenty only to smash into something Sonic didn’t like, finishing the level with a measly ring count and no extra lives. Not fair. Another reason does the tango with the difficulty of the second-half of the  game and the befuddled way Sonic might as well have one-ring in some situations. It was a horrible two-strikes and you’re out problem the later levels introduce, as the second you’re hit the speed you’re running at sees all rings fly off the screen, and if there’s no more waiting for you up ahead then you’re in trouble. Luckily dying carries no real punishment other than losing you your checkpoint and self-esteem. And somehow these more difficult sections of the game, such as the final boss (semi-final – if you’re familiar with the Sonic series you’ll know what I’m talking about), are somehow the most addictive, well, with a few exceptions, Starlight Carnival is dazzling to the eye and Planet Wisp features dizzying platforming partnered with fiery speeds that will keep you coming back for more.

 

Drill, baby!

So the streaks of magic across the game are everywhere. It does not punish you for being bold (the moment I thought of this while playing the game I immediately boosted into oblivion, but never mind that), thanks mostly to those invisible walls I was talking about earlier. You’re not going to be randomly finding yourself flying into nothingness at the fault of the game for encouraging speed where it shouldn’t be, rather only when it warns you, which is somehow more patronising. The game ranges from very easy to very difficult at either ends of the single-player mode, and at first you may be thinking ‘oh, that’s very nice of the game to give me a little warning signal before I reach that dangerous platform – what do you think I am, four?’ but you’ll be very grateful for these little signs when it comes to the harder acts – they at least prevent you from needlessly breaking the addicting and engaging sense of speed by plunging to your death because of a gap in the floor you couldn’t even see. It takes away some of the danger but as Colours really is aimed at a younger crowd it isn’t all that bad an idea. The veterans can enjoy the levels that really challenge their nerves and reflexes and the kiddies get a hand to hold when ploughing through the more demanding stages of the game.

There are a staggering six acts to each stage, double what we would usually expect from a Sonic game (though many are more mini-levels with an emphasis on a certain wisp or mode of battle, platforming or action), and each topped off with a boss battle. These finales can get a little tiresome, especially as they’re only slightly varied versions of one another and none really capitalise on the wisps and their capabilities.  There are only two distinct styles of boss battle, and one of those two can be beat way too quickly and way too easily. The other is better, a Sonic Heroes revisited where you chase a giant, personified battle-cruiser, dodging its attacks and then counter-attacking yourself, but the repetition is difficult to ignore.

 

A taste of what was possibly my favourite level.

Another thing difficult to ignore is the mildly frustrating controls. If you have a classic controller, I recommend it, as the nunchuk will not always serve you well for the precision platforming, definitely not without a few hours practice – and who needs that? Sometimes I’d find that I’d pushed the nunchuk’s toggle to sidestep, only to find the reception time was that fraction of a second too long and due to that ‘two-strikes and you’re out’ thing you run into on the later levels, this is life or  death. It’s a shame, because the structure of the games is fantastic, as is the mostly forgiving physics Sonic employs, but sometimes enjoying them is a hassle when your controls stop just that inch short of accurate.

Sonic Team have squeezed every drop of power out of the Wii, often regarded as the little kid on the block under its two powerful older brothers. In both the cutscenes and the levels themselves it’s hard to be disappointed by the dizzying colours and landscapes, all flamboyant and inspired to say the least. The developers behind Sonic games haven’t always lived up to SEGA’s mascot’s titanic glory, but they have always delivered those flamboyant animations; this is no exception.

All characters are brought to life by voice talents, though the writing can make you wince at times. It’s no Toy Story. I’m sure if I was ten years old I wouldn’t care an iota at the no longer cornball but glazed voicing, but now I’m just shrinking back in my seat and wishing the humour didn’t sound like it was inspired by Hannah Montana. A few lines are worth a giggle or two, and fans of the series will be pleased to hear as much as see the animated interactions between the characters despite the overly light and fluffy tone, punctuated with the odd ‘wow-moment’ of heroism or spirit of adventure.

 

That's right, you get to climb that!

Finally there’s the multiplayer, which can be found in the quirky but rather bland ‘Sonic Simulator’. I can only think of one time where multiplayer in a Sonic game ever really worked, and that was way back in Sonic 2. The reason for this I put down to the use of the split-screen. The multiplayer in Colours sees two Sonic-bots, controlled by you and your mate, jumping around one screen which is eclectically zooming in and out of a side-scrolling scene. It almost has a successful execution but unless you and your mate are pros you’re not going to get as much fun out of this as you are the single-player mode.

All in all however this a very robust game, packed with detailed imaginative landscapes, breathtaking speed and crafty platforming. The game is fairly forgiving (up until the final levels, where, to the player not on their guard, it can be downright spiteful, but even then a few runs through and the frequency of your mistakes begins to lessen), and encourages the player to come back and replay the levels, again and again, and even when you do the necessity to replay abates very little. Bouncing around the levels at mach-1, snatching rings, breaking bots and using the wisps, all at the same time, works wonders on the deterioration on your idea of possible possibilities. The game brims with flair and the upbeat, charismatic personalities of the little blue guy himself, and if you’re looking to add some colour to you Wii collection, this would make a very fine buy.

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