Whilst Matt was checking out the singleplayer mode, I was able to get to grips with the dedicated multiplayer experience alongside a SEGA QA rep. Rather than a tacked-on little diversion or a wasted opportunity, it's an entire dedicated campaign that takes place entirely in 2.5D. Known as the 'Sonic Sim,' this feature is technically canonical: taking place in a tenuous subplot that runs alongside the main game storyline. Dr Robotnik's created a simulator to test a new line of robots...or something... and the prototype Sonic Dolls have to jump, dash and homing dash their way to the enormous ring at the end of increasingly tricky stages. Each multiplayer level is unlocked by locating secret rings in the main storyline, providing an extra layer of replayability and a genuine reason to stray from the beaten track.
Each level is stripped down to the bare minimum; containing a whole mess of platforms, pits and robotic enemies in a stark wireframe presentation. It first markets itself as a straight cooperative mode... but the ability to stun your partner on contact and "win" levels during the end of level points summary helps to breed a healthy sense of competition (and more than a little gleeful backstabbing). You'll need to cooperate in order to make it through some of the tougher levels... but remember that your erstwhile friend is more than likely to stun you into the pit at the last minute and reach the end of the level first. It's essentially a cooperative race- so players can cater the experience depending on how competitive they are. Suffice to say, I ended up surprised at how much of a shameless weasel I turned out to be.
As you may already know, Sonic Color's gimmick isn't a gamebreaking werewolf wannabe, weak Arabian Nights parody or the worrying trans-species love of a human princess. Players can collect wisp capsules that enable a powerful one-shot ability to drastically change the face of the game. For example, the green hover wisp allows Sonic to fly around the levels like a classic SHMUP spaceship, whilst an orange rocket wisp propels him into the rarefied atmosphere. So far so expected, except that players can team up and use their wisps cooperatively. This is especially devastating when employing the targetable laser wisp, which allows the Sonic Doll to blast his way through lines of enemies or gain some distance compared to its rival (stunning it in the process). It's impressive when used solo... but when triggered cooperatively, this power can annihilate huge swathes of foes in a massive helix beam of pure awesomeness. The decision about whether to dominate or cooperate with your opponent is going to be a major decision in the more difficult levels.
Finally, I just had to ask whether we'd be seeing any other characters in the final version. Whilst the QA rep was extremely cagey about revealing any details at this stage, he certainly hinted that the Sonic Doll certainly wouldn't be the only multiplayer skin on offer. Our money's on the original Tails Doll, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some more familiar faces make an appearance.
So, Sonic Col0rs has an impressive singleplayer mode, fully-featured local multiplayer and there's no poorly implemented gimmick in sight. So long as SEGA don't spring a werehog on us at this late stage, I've got to be honest: this could well be the best Sonic title in years.