2010 was supposed to be Sonic’s comeback year. Sega pretty much admitted it had let the blue blur stagnate over the last decade, with the Werehog of Sonic Unleashed perhaps being the nadir. This year Sonic appeared in the fairly well reviewed, though not perfect Sonic 4, and in Sonic Colors, which was said to be aimed at younger (read: not as nostalgic) Sonic fans. The Wii version of Colors had its highs and lows, but what about the DS release? Does the smaller scale cause it to channel Sonics of old?
First things first, Sonic fans will be happy to know that the game is all Sonic, all the time. Sonic’s crappy friends only appear in cutscenes, so Silver the Hedgehog lovers will have to get their fill there. The plot revolves around Eggman and his doofus henchmen kidnapping aliens called Wisps to power their evil machines and obviously the Hedgehog has to stop them. Developers Sonic Team and Dimps make up for the lack of variety in the plot by focusing on the retro 2D gameplay that made the franchise great all those years ago.
Each non-boss stage (on the surface) follows the traditional formula of running really fast to the right and occasionally jumping on springs and enemies. It’s got a constant and very welcome fast pace, at least until you hit some wall or spikes and have to ramp back up to top speed again. And if all you want to do is beat a level (which will usually earn you a poor rating), it’s a speedily satisfying platforming affair. It does pay off to explore though, because as you find secret paths and newer, faster ways of clear a stage, the more you’ll get out of the smattering of levels offered.
Superficially it’s in the mold of the 2D Sonic’s of old, but once the multihued Wisps join the title to enhance Sonic's moveset, the gameplay deepens, though not always for the better. Some of the powers are pretty straightforward, like a speed boost or drilling through the ground, while others take more planning, such as one that shoots you off like a cannon as the red-sneakered mammal ricochets off walls at odd angles. Doing the tutorials for each is definitely recommended, but all are clear soon enough, and the spectrum of moves you’ll have available per level is limited enough to not be confusing. Nearly all the powers are cool, save for a late one that involves expanding into a hard to control ball of gas, which lead to many frustrating deaths.
The Wisps keep levels from getting too stale, even with the limited palette of enemies strewn about and the nearly as limited collection of places to go. Unfortunately, the traditional Sonic feel includes often cheap and random enemy placement. That cheapness is only increased when you take into account the dead zone between the two DS screens, or rather you notice how the devs didn’t take it into account. We appreciate that both screens were used instead of the typical bottom screen being a map or something else, but it’s pretty frustrating to go through some action-packed set piece and be hit by a guy you had no way of seeing.
Each world ends with a different boss fight, one that usually involves attacking it with the most recently acquired Wisp. The boss fights are fine, though a couple are a little too similar to each other, one is way too easy, and none are especially deep. Outside of the standard levels there are bonus stages which have basically the only use of the touch screen in Colors. The orb collecting races are reminiscent of the Genesis/Mega Drive classics, only you move Sonic with the stylus as he barrels down a half pipe. Other challenges pop-up that involve collecting items in a short amount of time, which are geared to the more skilled players.
Those challenging extras are needed too, as Sonic Colors is short otherwise. The main game has six worlds with two acts and one boss per world, which feels pretty lacking, due in large part to the two acts flying in the face of well-established three act structure of a Sonic game. Sorry Sega, a stage dedicated to a small circle of land that a boss occupies does not a third act make. The whole game goes by a little too fast.
Extra stages, getting higher scores, time attack modes, a small amount of local wi-fi vs modes, and collecting all the Chaos Emeralds will keep Sonic devotees playing and exploring. Everyone else will find that the more they play, the less Sonic Colors gives them as the limited content wears out its welcome. When it’s going on all cylinders Sonic Colors is a new spin on a classic style, but there just isn’t enough material for it to really deliver.
Nov 16, 2010