Summer of Sonic 2013 - Sonic Lost World impressions
Friday, 9th August 2013, 12:13pm (UTC), 4 Comments
Previous Summer of Sonic conventions have offered first opportunities to play the likes of Sonic's 4, Colours and Generations, and this year's did not let us down, offering up both Wii U and 3DS versions of the upcoming Sonic Lost World - a game for which I am cautiously optimistic, yet admittedly not as excited about as pretty much any other Sonic game of its prominence that has come before. Still, this did not stop me from queuing up twice for the Wii U and once for the 3DS, during the course of the day.

Having queued up for these sorts of demos before, I've found in the past that it's often difficult to really get the full experience from them. This is mainly for two reasons, a) you've normally seen the whole demo played out for you in videos before this point, so it's not going to be as fresh an experience anyway, and b) the sound is normally turned down or muted, which is a huge part of the fun of a good Sonic game, as any fan will tell you. The result is that, though not necessarily as a result of problems with the game itself, it actually feels a bit sterile, and you come away not knowing as much more about it as you would have liked to. All you can really measure is how the controls feel, and how easy it is to play, which is invariably along the lines of how it looks in all those videos.

So this is what I tried to focus on in Lost World, choosing first the Windy Hill act as it seemed like the best place to get a grasp on Sonic's new moves, and later, when I rejoined the queue, the honeycomb act in Desert Ruins, mainly because it seemed quite fun. There was also the "dessert ruins" act and the new casino one on offer too.

As you'll know, Sonic essentially now has two "gears" - slow and fast, depending on whether or not you're holding the control pad's right trigger. Hitting springs and speed zippers though will of course fire you off as they always have, despite the gear you're in. In slow mode, there shouldn't be much chance of slipping off of things unexpectedly, as it all seems very tight and responsive, though it takes a moment to adjust to Sonic's lack of acceleration, during moments where you want to dash. It may take longer than a moment really to make full use of this quite drastic new change, and I can see its benefits - a reasonable player hopefully won't be falling off into the game's many death drops without good reason. However I can also see its down sides, as coupled with all of Sonic's various moves and the Wisps as well, we could be looking at a game that, in spite of the simplistic, cuddly, child friendly style, is actually quite complicated to play. Hopefully not.

Watching other people play the same level though, you do get a sense of just how rich in multiple routes this one in particular is. It goes beyond just short parallel paths around the long tubular platform pieces, as each of these tend to extend out into different collections of floating platforms. I saw others bounce around on clouds or run down a speedy, more traditionally Sonic segment, and I wanted another go so I could explore these other areas, which is a really good thing, and I hope it's representative of levels throughout the game. Oh, and something I didn't know beforehand, you can deprive those sheep that are dotted around the level of their wool by dashing into them. Nice touch.

One thing that did have me completely baffled was the use of the laser Wisp. It requires you to drag your finger across the touch screen to aim Sonic, and some sort of quick swipe gesture seemed appropriate enough to launch him, to me, but that didn't seem to be the case. I think it was the A button that did it eventually. Strangely though, at the end of the laser burst when Sonic transforms back to his normal self, the screen completely freezes in order to tally up some sort of score total, and you actually have to press A again to continue, which seemed a bit disjointed to me, and I could see others equally confused by it. I'd suggest this system might need some tweaks to make it a little more user friendly.

As the waiting time wasn't too long - and there wasn't much else to do that didn't involve standing up and hanging around anyway - I rejoined the queue a little later to have another go, this time on the honeycomb level. This is a fast-paced forward facing dash through some inventive hexagonal challenges and some cool new badniks. It was fun and involved some quick reaction times, however it wasn't quite the same experience as the occasional forward-facing corridor dashes in recent games, in which you must quickly side step obstacles. I love those moments, and the mechanic in this level could have benefited from allowing the arrow stick to quickly dash to the next side of the hexagon or parallel path straight away. As it is, you have to hold it for a second or so in order to switch, meaning that the automatic pace of the whole level is not as fast as it could be. If you hit a wall, Sonic lands splat onto it and you have to restart, which happened to me a few times before I got to the end, and makes for a good challenge, without feeling too cheap.

On the opposite end of the hall was a table with a small queue next to it, allowing access to the 3DS version of the game, though I wouldn't blame you if you missed it entirely. I played an act of Windy Hill on this as well, and overall it's impressive that they've captured roughly the same experience on a significantly scaled down console, without having to sacrifice a smooth frame rate, and the already minimalistic design scales down well with it. Unfortunately I think the controls work a little less well here. In low gear mode Sonic felt a bit too slow at times, even jumping across platforms carefully, but holding the trigger (which is worryingly uncomfortable by the way) brought a sudden speed increase that was difficult to adjust to as well. My time with it was short and it could be a matter of getting used to it but it felt a bit clunky to me. The level design in this version was also not that fluid, and I found myself stuck trying to figure out how to get past a high wall and spending longer than I would have wanted to trying to defeat a giant Caterkiller.

I had a brief go on the start of the 2D Desert Ruins act, before getting stuck and deciding to relinquish my grasp on the device for the next person, as really we were only allowed one act each. Even this had aspects that needed getting used to though, as there were high walls that could only be reached by running up them - a process that for some reason appeared to happen automatically, even without holding the trigger.

I have my concerns, but generally I am looking forward to the game - mostly though for its inventive use of objects and ideas rather than the rather completed mechanics of shifting Sonic around. I get what they're trying to do with it, but I don't know if they're barking up the wrong tree to be honest. I guess we'll find out in October!
Comments   4 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by Kabam! on Saturday, 10th August 2013, 6:44am
We will find out in October indeed! Over many websites, people complain similarly about the wisp activity including the swiping and stopping for the tally-up.
#2. Comment posted by Kabam! on Friday, 27th September 2013, 7:09pm
Wow, a lot of lost world stuff has went down since August 9th. I recommend you write an overview post unless you are trying to see as little of the game as possible.
#3. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Monday, 30th September 2013, 7:03am
I'd love to, but I have seen absolutely nothing new of it since 9th August and I would have advised the same of anyone else who's already decided to buy the game - it's important to keep as much of it spoiler-free as possible, as far as I'm concerned! Sega always show way too much - I like to dive into levels, having seen nothing of them beforehand.
#4. Comment posted by Brady Meyers on Wednesday, 23rd October 2013, 6:43am
Sadly, Sonic Lost World has received mixed reception. The Wii U version earned 62% & 62/100 by the aggregate scorers Metacritic & GameRankings respectively. The 3DS version earned 60.44% & 60/100. It's not looking good for SLW :(
Summer of Sonic 2013 - Interview with Takashi Iizuka
Friday, 9th August 2013, 12:03pm (UTC), 5 Comments
After missing last year's I was glad to return to Summer of Sonic in London this past weekend to enjoy another fun-filled Sonic fan convention, with all the usual treats I've come to expect, plus copious amounts of BO, as my ever-so-slightly-unwilling girlfriend was ever keen to point out. As fun as it is, you'd be hard pressed to call it a pretty affair, lets be honest!

Still, that didn't bother me too much, as amongst the great live Sonic music (we both enjoyed that at least), I managed to get two great privileges. The first, shared by most people at the convention, was that I got a go on both versions of Sonic Lost World, and even queued up twice for the Wii U to get to play two of the four available acts. The second, a little more exclusive, was that I finally got my interview time with guests, after narrowly missing out on it a couple of years back due to scheduling issues. This was an awesome experience for me, given that I'm no journalist and haven't even updated the site that got me the gig in the last year (ahem..). So would like to give a thank you to T-Bird for hooking me up with Takashi Iizuka and Kazuyki Hoshino, both influential in the development of crucial Sonic game from the mid-nineties onwards.

My interview with Iizuka was probably the best part of the day for me, and having failed at getting interview time before, I must say the scheduling was handled much better this year, even though I ended up having to share my allotted time with a nice chap from Sega Nerds. As a result I only got to ask three of my own questions, and I kind of wish I'd swapped the first one for another on my list that was more interesting, but never mind. He was very detailed with his answers, and even revealed a couple of bits of information about Sonic's future that were news to me and I hope, unless you've now already read them from someone else's interview, are also news to you too! I've included Q and A's from Sega Nerds too. Enjoy!

Z:0: Sonic Lost World is quite a brave new direction for the series. What made you decide to take a new approach as opposed to furthering the popular engine from Sonic Unleashed, Colours, and Generations?

Two years ago, we released Sonic Generations, and that was our twentieth anniversary title, and the intentions we had with that game was to compress twenty years into one game, so it really was reflective of everything we had done before. At that point, we'd already decided our target, as a team, was to do something completely new and really innovative for the next game, and the thing that we really wanted to innovate and improve on was the forward view action gameplay. With Generations, it was very much 'go really quickly and avoid obstacles' - we wanted to really build on that, and that's really where the innovation for Sonic Lost World came from.

SN: is there a particular reason Sonic Team decided to bring back the Colour Powers from Sonic Colours? Is Lost World meant to be a direct sequel, or more of a spinoff?

To clarify, the story is completely separate from Colours, it is not a sequel in that sense. As far as the colour power implementation goes, In Sonic Colours, it was a key selling point for that game, but as a team, we really like colour powers, and we intend to keep using them. We want to standardise them in the games, as long as it matches the playability, in each case. It wasn't a one-off in Colours, we will continue to use them in Sonic games in the future.

Z:0: The levels seem very deliberately more minimalistic than in recent games. Are these easier to create? If so, can we therefore expect to play a larger amount of different stages and acts than normal?

Compared to Generations, it's definitely got a look that's a lot more minimalistic. Why we did that, to start with, was to make it easier for people to play the game, and to make sure we can attain 60fps. We want to make sure that players can see the rings, for example, and things that we want people to pick up on, so that they can see that without it looking a bit too busy. So it's really a playability thing that we saw as an issue before that we wanted to address. In doing that, we can actually create stages a lot faster than before, so there is an absolute, clear difference with the amount of variation you'll see in the levels than before.

SN: In terms of development, how do you find developing titles both for fans of the older games and fans of the newer games, is there a particular method you use to ensure that the new games can appeal to all types of gamers?

This is something we're particularly aware of, and something that we do focus on, to ensure we provide something for both types of fans, and in 2010, what we did was release Sonic 4 for the old fans, and that was very much a classic themed game, and then Colours was much more for the newer fans. Following from that we created Generations, which was looking back at twenty years of Sonic, and that was aimed at both fans, because we had Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic, and mixed up both forward view and side view gameplay in one game. And now in Lost World, we've carried on the tradition from Generations, by providing both views again, so we feel this title will satisfy both groups of fans.

In 2010, we had the two groups of fans satisfied by two separate games, and what we plan to do now is merge them into one game. So in Lost World, we've almost completed the journey to make sure both types of fans can enjoy Sonic as he is today.

Z:0: Is it fair to say that you're finding it hard to make full use of certain characters like Shadow and Knuckles? It's been a while since they've had significant roles in any game.

Sonic's friends still play a really important role within the Sonic universe, and we really do want them to shine. But for them to shine, we want to make sure that Sonic himself can take the centre stage, and really appeal to the audience, so we wanted to make sure we really focused on Sonic and his gameplay first. And in the meantime, we've had games like Mario & Sonic, where the other characters have a place where people can enjoy playing as them. So it's not like they're completely being sidelined at all, but we just wanted to focus on Sonic and the gameplay first. And moving forwards, we want to make sure we're providing content where Sonic's friends have a place to take centre stage.

SN: How do you find working with the Wii hardware and the gamepad, did Sonic Lost World benefit from using the gamepad?

When using the Wii U hardware, the clear obvious advantage is the fact that you've got two screens, and we've really taken that to our advantage. There's three main things that we can categorise to say how we use the gamepad, and one of the key hardware features that people seem to love is that you can play without having to use the TV screen, so we've implemented that and you can play Lost World on the gamepad. The second thing is that as we have two screens, we can allow competitive gameplay between two players. So previously we had to split the screen in half and you would have lost half of your screen as a player, but now you can play one person on the TV and one person on the gamepad, so you both have a full screen to play with. And the third one is the colour power actions, so you can activate your colour powers through swiping on the gamepad. We feel it wasn't just a case of shoe-horning these features into the game, but that it was actually a natural fit for Sonic.

Well there you have it! Wisps apparently here to stay, and could there be light at the end of the tunnel for those longing to play as someone other than Sonic for a change? It was awesome meeting the main man behind Sonic! I found him friendly and willing to provide some interesting insight. Great stuff!
Comments   5 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by Kabam! on Wednesday, 7th August 2013, 11:29pm
I was afraid I'd hear that wisps would become a normal thing. I am sure many of you are thinking that chao have been kicked out the back door in order to make room for the wisps, but I guess that is just how the coral crumbles. This is in no way a bad thing, but I just didn't really appreciate the wisps all too much. I understand the whole deal about getting Sonic on firm ground first before his friends so I suppose we will just have to be patient on that matter. Other than that, this interview was very interesting, especially the wisp fact. Can't wait for more!
P.S. Wisps are okay, I'm just a bit surprised they are already recycling old ideas.
#2. Comment posted by Kabam! on Thursday, 8th August 2013, 12:24am
Also, if you don't mind, may you please tell us what the question is that you wanted to ask him.
#3. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Friday, 9th August 2013, 5:24pm
I know what you mean, I think as long as the Wisps are rarely essential, it shouldn't be too bad, but when use of them becomes necessary, that's where I think the experience starts to break up and lose its fluidity a bit - I don't particularly want to keep transforming into different things all the time.

Other questions I had prepared include whether he thinks Sonic could, in his future, have another major design change like he did in Sonic Adventure, whether there will be another Sonic 4 ep or another classically themed game, and whether it's time for another proper traditional Sonic rival like Silver or Shadow. Also how he goes about picking level themes, and whether he plays or knows of any Sonic fan games.
#4. Comment posted by Kabam! on Saturday, 10th August 2013, 6:27am
Exactly! I agree! & Those are some interesting quetions. If you want my take on them, I'd say Sonic won't be in for another design change for a long time. What else could they do to him besides maybe changing his size or attitude. It could be anyone's guess whether there will be a Sonic 4 episode 3 or Sonic 5 because at the end of Sonic 4 episode 2, it didn't say "TO BE CONTINUED" like ep 1 did so it could be saying: that's it for Sonic 4, here comes Sonic 5! Or the developers were just too busy to put any type of hint in at the end and a Sonic 4 ep 3 is coming. It is also possible that neither is coming and they're cutting it, but let's hope not. The deadly six were just introduced and only time will tell whether they are a one-off for lost world or whether they are here to stay as a new rival. Other than that, I think they'd rather bring back an old member of the cast instead of adding another character to the cast. Those are some good questions though.
#5. Comment posted by Faust on Thursday, 28th August 2014, 8:36pm
Haha, well your question on Sonic's design change sure has been answered this year, hasn't it?
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