Sonic Colors Review

The sky has stars that are oh so bright, but the colors don’t feel quite right.

Sonic Colors Review
Platform: Wii(Emulated), DS
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

Not unlike its predecessor Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors functions as soft semi-reboot of the series, one that reverts things back to Sonic, Tails, and Eggman and centers around Eggman capturing various tiny planetoids in an attempt to harness the power of their indigenous life forms, known as Wisps, and somehow wind up taking over the world, as at this point, well, it would be too embarrassing for him to just give up.  What ensues is a more minimal storyline only told through a few scant cutscenes placed throughout this game’s seven (more like six) worlds.

While things are kept rather simple, the writing featured in this story is… probably the worst out of any Sonic game.  For this installment, Sega sought out getting some American writers to help out with the project and attempt to give the game a more comedic and self-aware edge.  The end result is a lot of underwhelming, easy, or just annoying jokes, a bulk of which is centered around Eggman’s new worthless robot sidekicks, who contribute nothing but vain comedic relief and irritating voices.  

With regards to gameplay, Sonic Colors serves as a refinement of what came before in the daytime stages of Sonic Unleashed, but with a larger quantity of 2D sections, or straight up 2D levels, and the introduction of the Wisps as a core gameplay mechanic that would weirdly stick around in the series for way longer than anyone was really expecting.  Wisps come in eight varieties and while the regular Wisps function as the source of Sonic’s boost ability in this game and the other seven enable Sonic with a unique traversal related ability.

These are an unsurprising mixed bag of concepts with the best ones being those that allow Sonic to move quickly in interesting ways (Laser, Drill, Frenzy), the worse ones feeling overly restrictive or slow (Rocket, Hover, Block), and one other feeling rather cumbersome to use, when it really should not (Spike).  In general I do like these new powers, and they do spice up certain stages by giving the designers more tools to play with, but they also changed quite a bit of the core way these levels are played.

In the vast majority of Sonic titles, the primary goal in each level is to go through them quickly while taking paths that both cut down on time spent and reward the player, most often with points or power-ups of some sort.  In Sonic Colors, that is not quite the case. Instead, the game very strongly encourages the player to go through each level in pursuit of two things.  An S rank that is achieved by accumulating enough points in a stage, and the 5 collectible red rings that populate every non-boss stage.  In case you forget, enjoy looking at a cumulative total for each of those things whenever selecting a stage.

Red rings are found by experimenting with routes and can be rather difficult to pinpoint, likely taking a few tries, or some online help, in order to get all 5 in each stage.  Yet they can be so easy to miss by just a few seconds due to how sporadically they are placed that it can become a tad bit frustrating to hunt them all down, especially given their rampant volume.  While S ranks are typically most effectively earned by grinding the Wisp powers and using them whenever possible, keeping them active for as long as can be, and taking the routes that involve using the most Wisp powers, as Sonic accumulates points just by using them.  Except for the normal and Block Wisps.

This changed how I played through levels, trying to find as much as possible, and achieving a sense of immense satisfaction when I managed to get through a stage with 5 red rings or an S rank on my first attempt, as it was something I could mark off of the checklist.  However, the process of getting everything can be incredibly time consuming and doing so really shines a light on some of the lesser levels and aspects of this game.

Don’t get me wrong, many levels are good fast fun that feel cathartic to play and have a level of visual flare that is quite impressive given how powerful the Wii was.  There is certainly a lot of enjoyable levels in Sonic Colors that take advantage of the game’s mechanics and are enjoyable to play.  Yet others are… not, adopting a far slower pace and focus on more traditional 2D platforming that feels at odds with the faster levels of this game.  

Imprecise movements are far less of an issue than they were in Unleashed, as Colors does keep the player on tighter rails, but in these 2D sections, Sonic can genuinely feel too floaty and slippery to traverse these levels properly.  Even with the newly added double jump feature, hitting a target with subtle movements can be difficult when they are sandwiched between speed oriented set pieces.  There are certainly good ideas and concepts with these levels, but the game simply does not always play to the strengths of its mechanics, and the process of playing it “properly” can be notably more frustrating than it should be.

Moving over to the presentation, it is genuinely laughable that this game was made for the same system as the version of Sonic Unleashed I reviewed, as when upscaled and given some anti-aliasing, it looks gorgeous.  With vibrant and colourful stages featuring unique and often unorthodox architecture that is all centered around a loose theme park, um, theme.  It is easily among the best looking third party titles for the Wii with its use of color and visually pleasing environments, to the point where I’m a bit surprised that Sega never tried porting this game to HD systems.

Sonic Colors serves as a stepping stone in the “Boost” era of Sonic games, one that refined and polished things further while expanding the level count to more than double that featured in the prior title, and introducing new gameplay concepts, even if they did not always work out.  However, certain levels are notably lesser than others, and while it is more polished than other titles, the general design does not prioritize speed above all else in a way that makes playing the levels “properly” far less enjoyable than it should. I would easily place it amongst the upper echelon of Sonic games, though if my prior reviews are any indication, that still does not mean a whole lot.  

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