What Sonic Colours means to me
Monday, 22nd November 2010, 10:06pm (UTC), 3 Comments
So, naturally, I've had over a week with Sonic Colours, and while I do like it rather a lot actually, I'm finding such time just isn't long enough to work out how I really feel about it, because I'm still not quite sure whether it'll be a game I'll play quite a lot over the following year or two, as I did with Sonic Unleashed and most of the other major titles of the last decade, or like its - admittedly inferior - Wii brethren, will it be something that spends most of its time on the shelf? As such this may be less a review, more just a collection of thoughts and personal reflection about the game, so feel free to tune out on this one. Particularly if you don't care :P

"Would Sonic the Hedgehog please report to the security office?.. We've found your..err.. your keys. Yes, that's it, we've found your keys! No need to be ready for a trap, since we only want to return your keys!"

As a first playthrough, Sonic Colours makes a good impression for the seasoned Sonic fan. The story, while simple, is illustrated with excellent scripts and voice acting, the quality of which surpasses everything before it by miles, frankly. Roger Craig Smith was an odd choice initially, but by the end I was convinced he'd brought new life to Sonic's previously rather predictable character. Great stuff. The humour in the game is frequently laugh-out-loud enjoyable too, particularly of note are Eggman's various loud speaker announcements throughout the levels. A genius idea. Finally a script that you wouldn't feel ashamed of if someone happened to walk in the room and witness any of it. For many, the learning curve on the controls, particularly if like me you're more accustomed to playing 3D Sonic on a traditional style pad and not the Wii remote and nun-chuk, is quite steep however. There's three different moves you can perform after jumping now, each assigned to an easily-confused button, plus a multitude of other moves before you even get to the new Wisp features. It all adds up to an amount that I hope wouldn't put off the less patient. At first I think my eagerness to throw around the new double jump (double A button) as a standard move caused a number of unnecessary deaths before I finally cottoned on to the fact that you often don't need it for many platforms, and using it actually tweaks your momentum in slightly unpredictable ways.

For the most part, this game follows the lead of the daytime levels of the high end version of Sonic Unleashed (which, of course, I love), with a slightly stronger slant to the 2D aspect over the 3D one, which, control-wise, leads to a slightly more refined experience that places a limit on those more slippery, slidy moments. Thank God, it's done what Wii Sonic games sadly hadn't done previously and avoided the temptation to just add annoying collect-x-rings, defeat-x-enemies, or don't-break-pots missions, which, I've found, are good for approximately zero replayability. They just aren't that fun and always feel very cheap, especially when you're forced to play them as part of the main game. Luckily, each of the six full levels are bestowed with a whopping, and I think record breaking, six acts. Now these acts aren't always that long. You'd probably be hard pressed to get much more than three minutes max out of any of them once you've learned their intricacies. As part of the first play though, they make the whole game feel rather substantial, albeit not nearly as far as initial boasts of 15-20 hours would have had you believe. I don't know where they got that from - 6 or 7 hours is more like it, but for those 6 or 7 hours, you do get a lot of value crammed in there, and that doesn't include loads of extra acts in the "Sonic Simulator" - a lovely idea that features very visually basic levels, many of which are modeled very satisfyingly on acts straight from Sonic 1. Some of many great little nods to the old days, including numerous classic badniks throughout the game. Bosses are reasonably challenging and not too vexing, however it's unfortunate that there's only really three different bosses for the levels, and they're each just repeated twice, with higher difficulty. Repetition of bosses is very common these days really though.

"Hey Tails, you missed the BBBE... Best Boss Beating Ever!"

It's clear enough now that there are two fundamental approaches to Sonic gameplay. The classic method - Levels that have unique structural designs and gimmicks, and often a slightly more considered, varied pace to them, and multiple routes a plenty. The thinking man's Sonic level. Then you've got your more modern approach, often associated with Dimps level design. It's gradually evolved into a pure adrenaline thrill ride that cares less about the beauty of a well designed, individual, multi-tiered level to be explored - more about providing a continuous experience that leaves you breathless at the end, and isn't afraid to throw in artificial methods of increasing speed immediately. When described on paper, it's obvious which one you SHOULD be rooting for, but I find it impossible to deny that the modern method is just plain great fun. When it's done well, it's usually to critical acclaim, and it's one of the reasons I love Sonic Unleashed so much. It's not clever, but then that's what Mario's for after all, and it is incredibly addictive and just as replayable as levels that provide numerous routes and hidden areas, as you really want to do them well, and without fault.

I'm an advocate of both fundamental approaches, and naturally combining elements of both of them should be a good idea, right? In many ways Sonic Colours kind of does that. It's not really quite as full on as Unleashed, which, even in its 2D acts and segments could produce some really flat-out stuff. Colours tends to slow down more readily in its 2D segments, and has a variety of new unique objects and interesting ideas for common "primitive" objects like platforms and buttons. I wouldn't quite call many of them exclusive to particular levels as such, rather they progress in a Mario-like difficulty curve in which more and more of them are introduced and then remain as you progress through the game. It's a nice break from the array of frequently red-coloured generic objects that appear across many levels, and little else, which is normally the way things are done these days. The progression of the Wisp power ups is used to similar effect, and they remind me of the kind of gameplay-changing power-ups in the Mario Galaxy games. One of the more interesting is the Cube Wisp, which converts nearby blue cubes into collectible items and vice versa, opening up interesting time-based puzzles, as you continuously switch them around. There will be occasions where you will have to use a Wisp in order to progress, but they're frequently optional, which is just as well, considering the amount at which they change the state of the experience - morphing Sonic himself into a completely different shape and colour, often changing the controls into something else entirely and interrupting the music with repetitive jingles (something I'm never a big fan of, but at least the music resumes from where it left off). In fact, they work well with the slightly larger scale level routes and hidden areas. Using Wisps such as the drill or rocket can propel Sonic through vast explorable areas in parallel to the main route, and are frequently used to find the five hidden red star rings in each act - a side mission that is very compelling, given that they unlock new Sonic Simulator stages at a satisfyingly frequent rate.

Sonic Colours also wins several points for reintroducing submersible water into a 3D Sonic level for the first time in almost a decade, in its Aquarium Park level. Ok, so it's not quite the same as you can only dive under during the 2D bits, but it's still quite a big deal, and there's something special about the first time you come across it. You'll notice something different about the way it looks, but before you can put your finger on it, you find you're falling in and your instinctive reaction is to expect immediate death, only to be pleasantly surprised by Sonic's continued existence, inside massive rocky pools stretching for miles underneath the main path. Sonic's double jump can even be used repeatedly to propel him through the water back to the surface and you'll love the newest take on the classic drowning theme!

"Please feel free to fill out a brief survey after your visit. Your opinions matter to us. Unless you didn't have fun. And then we don't care."

So if Sonic Colours makes such a good first impression, why do I wonder if ultimately, under the tests of time, I'll prefer Sonic Unleashed? Well, several reasons. First is the length of these acts, numerous as they may be. I do like a good, chunky level, I must admit and it's unfortunate that so many of these ones seem to finish before they even really get started. When only a minute or so has passed, I start to associate the the eerie high pitched tone emitted by the nearby goal ring with a feeling of disappointment, and conversely a feeling of relief comes with the sight of a checkpoint, suggesting that the act must go on at least a little longer. This is all part of the game's difficulty system however. Despite early suggestions that it's a game for kids, I can say with some certainty that this simply isn't the case as far as difficulty goes. The modern Sonic level design here hasn't managed to shake off its love of the death drop, which are abundant all over the place, particularly during slow paced 2D platform hopping sections. What's more, unlike Unleashed, extra lives are scarce unless you perform well enough to earn them during the results screen. I don't think you even get one for 100 rings anymore. Ring loss is back to the traditional system of lose-them-all-on-one-hit, and they can often be quite hard to retrieve too, so all things considered, you'll be getting a lot of game overs if your experience is anything like mine. The bite-sized nature of these acts help to soften this blow, so while it can get frustrating, you know you're never likely to have to retrace too many steps. I still say the experience would be improved greatly by the simple change of making the background music continuous across lives however. And word of warning: Beware the moving yellow three-headed spring of doom!

But there's also something about the design of the levels themselves. Things are a bit more controlled and measured. There are bursts of speed but they tend to be neatly contained inside predetermined paths, fizzling out rather quickly (albeit often not that abruptly in fairness) and 2D segments tend to be more slow-paced, and not really very much like Sonic Rush, or indeed this game's DS version (which I've also been playing, albeit much less). Sometimes frustratingly slow, really. Contrast this to high end Sonic Unleashed, both its 3D and 2D sections. Sure, it had the tendency to throw you down a pit just because you weren't quite quick enough to see what was coming, which might get annoying for the first play, but it had an amazing energy to it, and I stand by the claim that once you know those daytime levels, they very very easily become some of the most entertaining, heart-stopping Sonic experiences ever. I was really hoping that Sonic Colours would continue that idea, but I'm really not so sure that it does. It comes tantalisingly close sometimes, but it's just not quite as hectic. Take Act 2 of Unleashed's Dragon Road. It's short, I'll give you that, but it's entirely 2D and amazingly thrilling as you race through without stopping, dodging everything that's thrown at you. There isn't really anything in Colours that's quite like that, in fact that act of Dragon Road has so much crammed in that it's potentially comparable to some of Colour's longer stages in terms of content, but at a much more consistently fast pace, and it's a shame really. It's almost as if this game is trying too hard to be a successful merger of the classic and modern level designs, which in itself is a valiant thing to do, but it doesn't quite match up to the best examples of either one of them, and ends up as a game that's quite difficult to place. It would be fairer to come to this judgment a few months down the road when I'm more acquainted with its levels and how to do them as flawlessly as my Unleashed level runs, however that at least is my suspicion at the moment.

"Yeah, that's right. I'm stretching. You got a problem with that?"

Another inevitable aspect is the possibility that I'm more captivated by Unleashed's beautiful Hedgehog-Engine-Built visuals, the likes of which Sonic Colours can't hope to keep up with. Ironically enough, its colours are actually a little on the drab side by comparison, and this was even after countless tweaks to my TV's colour settings to try and suck out more juice. It's not just merely a matter of graphical capabilities however. I'm always an advocate of interesting new level locations and much to its credit, Sonic Colours runs with that idea, merging standard and not-so standard level types together with unique twists to create very creative fundamental ideas, a little reminiscent of NiGHTS in some cases. A surreal sunset theme park of massive food-based structures, an alien forest landscape overrun by mechanical redevelopment, and a beautiful aquarium combined with Japanese architecture and themes - all great ideas. The standard isn't quite kept up all the time though. Other levels like Starlight Carnival and Asteroid Coaster start out intriguing enough, but later acts often descend into rather plain, dull mechanical corridors with little life or creative flair to them, aesthetically. Certainly some missed opportunities, and I can't help but wonder - if this is a massive intergalactic theme park, where exactly are all the rides? Other than a rollercoaster or two, not in these acts, unfortunately. Perhaps better off heading back to Twinkle Park.

They are at least all backed up by an impressive enough soundtrack however, with each of the six stages offering three or four different takes on the same tune, with varying degrees of variation (if that makes sense) that are shared amongst its acts. Tropical Resort represents the perfect formula to an instantly lovable, all-time great Sonic tune with a sublime, satisfyingly long and melodic climax, and Planet Wisp 1 compliments the level beautifully. There are a few other noteworthy ones, but in general I think many of them are more of the "grower" variety, and it might take a while before you really decide where they sit in your long list of favourites. Hate to make yet another comparison to the bigger brother once again, but I think I was slightly more in love with Unleashed's soundtrack at about this point, it has to be said.

But lets not get carried away nitpicking at what is ultimately an extremely solid attempt at a great game, all things considered. Unlike, it seems, some fans who appear to take the ever-repulsive (and all too common in today's overly-critical society, in general) approach of "if it doesn't perfectly fit my expectations of a good Sonic game, it's shit" - I wouldn't dream of calling Sonic Colours anything of the sort. It's an extremely well polished, glitch-free game merging many popular aspects into a mostly very successful formula, which they've expertly combined with new ideas that never really feel intrusive or wreck the experience too much. It has dazzling personality and humour, in a way that finally feels comfortable for Sonic. Say what you want about Sega, I've always believed, now more than ever, that they want to do the best job they can with the franchise, and it really shows in games like this. Levels are still very replayable, although the longer acts will probably get more love than the shorter ones. My conclusions at this stage is that I do prefer Sonic Unleashed and will probably continue to do so, purely for its more hectic qualities and more impressive visuals that, in trying to appeal to opposing philosophies of level design, Sonic Colours has rather overlooked despite giving the appearance that it hasn't. Depending on how you see things though, this could be considered more of a plus side for some, which is fair enough. I would say that a more successful compromise between old and new design is still possible however, and I look forward to seeing what future experiments can conjure up. There's definitely enough for a sequel here at least though, and it's miles better than any other 3D Sonic on the Wii. Better than its recent "rival" Sonic 4?.. I couldn't possibly say. They're too different to judge, or indeed, for it to matter right now really.

"The Hyperspace ride is not safe for children under the age of twelve or over the age of thirteen. It is also not safe for thirteen year olds"..
Comments   3 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by mycatedwin on Tuesday, 23rd November 2010, 9:43pm
Very well written, but it must be said that Unleashed had many Werehog stages that, while adding variety, just plain got in the way of the daytime stages. Other than that, these are my exact thoughts.
#2. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Tuesday, 23rd November 2010, 10:31pm
True, but I was thinking more of the phase in which you've already completed the game, and therefore no longer have to play any levels you don't want to. Going on first plays alone, the two games are on more of an even playing field, all things considered, but I do think the SU daytime stages are more fun than the stages of Sonic Colours. But you're right in that SC has a much higher percentage of its stages that are actually fun to play!
#3. Comment posted by DigitalDuck on Tuesday, 30th November 2010, 3:47pm
I think once you collect all red rings, you'll change your mind about what it's like replaying through the levels...
Featured Posts
Sonic's latest Wii U outing turns away from the popular and well established speed dashes of recent games, in favour of a more traditional platformer approach. But does it work? Get ready for one of the most different Sonic games in every respect!
We've finally done it! The Zone: 0 guides have reached their last big update. Owner LiQuidShade has new projects on the horizon, but this site will always remain in his heart.