I'd like to say that this game came as a complete shock to me. But that would be a lie. We already surmised a couple of months ago that Sonic Colours was shaping up to be something more than just another chapter of mediocrity in the saga of the speedy blue hedgehog, that Sonic Team had eschewed the gimmicks of moon cycles past in favour of something speedier, slicker and more streamlined than before. As our preview attests, we were all looking forward to this one.
So it's with no small amount of relief that I can report Sonic Colours is a lot of fun. It's sharp, inventive and, most importantly, fun. There are frustrating niggles and irritations that mar proceedings a little along the way, but when it hits its stride, Sonic Colours serves as a most timely reminder of why we fell in love with Sonic in the first place and how he ever managed to lure us away from a certain fat plumber and his brother.
It all begins with an amusement park. A giant galactic funfair, built by Doctor Eggman (aka. Baldy McNosehair) to atone for his past transgressions. Supposedly. Of course Sonic and Tails are having none of it and have rocked up to the gates of the park intent upon ferreting out Robotnik's evil plan. As it turns out there is one, involving the enslavement of a bunch of multicoloured cutesy aliens at the hands of the good doctor, helped out by his two robotic henchmen - one of whom can't decide if he's a pirate or a cowboy, with the other resembling what might happen if C-3PO ever dallied with an evil Pokeball. It plays out like a glorious, forgettable-but-fun, cartoon - pure colourful whimsy.
Of course, an intergalactic amusement park sounds like the perfect playground for a gravity defying hedgehog and, to a certain extent, it is. Let's start off with how it looks. Sonic Colours, as the name might suggest, is eye poppingly gorgeous at times. Bust through the first couple of zones and you'll be pleasantly satisfied with the vibrancy, the brightness, the varied palette that reminds you it's okay for games to use all of the colours of the rainbow.
But then you reach the Starlight Carnival at everything gets taken up by several notches. Sonic races out of an upside-down airlock, the shimmering track unfolds mere feet in front of him as he hurtles through space, planets, carousels and twinkling stars beaming at his flurrying feet. My optic nerve had an orgasm as he corkscrewed around in some bizarre neon ballet, occasionally switching into 3D and playing dodge the lasers. I let out an actual yell of delight. It's been years since I could say that about a Sonic title.
The Wisps, the little alien critters that Sonic is hell-bent on saving, add some nice variety to proceedings. As Iisuka-san mentioned earlier in th year, Sonic has always been about the marriage of speed with platforming elements, and it's good to see that the latter hasn't fallen by the wayside. Unlockable along the way, and therefore providing plenty of incentive to go back once the game is done for the first time and redo the earlier levels for missed opportunities, each Wisp offers Sonic a different power. The green one, for example, lets him hover and chase ring trails; the pink one gives him the ability to stick to any surface and fend off baddies with his spikes; and the cyan Wisp turns Sonic into a supercharged laser beam.
The level layout is fantastic too, offering multiple routes, plenty of things to collect and places to explore. Obviously that ticking clock means that time is always of the essence. But, once you clocked that speed run, there's a fair amount of incentive to go back for those 'S' ranks and high scores. There aren't really any rewards, as such, but long time SEGA fans will be constantly pushing for those complete statistics and, for a change, so many of the levels are just fun to bust through. When it comes down to it you'll revisit quite a lot of this game just for the hell of it...and that's a massive accolade for the game.
It's a shame, then, that Sonic Colours appears to be somewhat schizophrenic. There'll be moments of utter bliss, only for them to be cut cruelly short by an enemy positioned in an area designed to cause the optimum amount of frustration possible. Every time you get up to some speed you can bet there'll be a spiteful, ring scattering nemesis waiting, out of shot, unavoidable. Here the thing: Sonic Colours will suck you in with its casual looks and childlike appeal, but then it'll laugh as you die yet again and get sent all the way back to the start of the level for the fifth time running.
It's a case of mistaken identity in a way and, although the two facets of Sonic sit well side by side, they never really gel. There'll be pacey speed runs designed to be blasted through as quickly as possible only for a fiendish, split-second mistake to result in instant death. There'll be devilish platforming sections that require pinpoint accuracy and timing with no checkpoints to break up the ordeal. There'll be moments when you genuinely smile with utter delight and, conversely, moments when all you want to do is beat up the sprightly blue git with your Wiimote as the game punishes you with yet another cheap death.
Sonic Colours is undoubtedly a return to form for the series, it's bright, vibrant, varied and fun. But it does seem afraid of a few things. Afraid, first of all to fully embrace 3D, perhaps with good reason. The 3D sections are largely forgettable, stilted affairs - stopgaps between what one might consider 'proper Sonic' levels. The game also seems to be a little afraid of letting you have too much fun. There were times when all I wanted was for a particular section to carry on just a little bit longer, for the speed to get ratcheted up just a little bit higher. There are moments when the game gets it spot on, but there are moments when it makes you shout 'WHY?!' in big capital letters. That said, it's the finest Sonic game in years. It's fast, fun and, yes, a little frustrating. But I can't stop playing it!
- Oooooooh.....the speed
- Aaaaaaaah....the colours
- Yaaaaaaay....the Wisps
- Punishes platforming errors with unnatural delight
- Sparse checkpoints later in the game
- Cynically cheap deaths
The Short Version: Sonic Colours has it's flaws, it plays a lot of things safe and delights in punishing the player at times. But it's also the best Sonic game in years. Frequently delightful, surprisingly skilful, it's an action-platformer that you'll come back to a whole bunch of times after you've clocked it once simply because, at it's core, it's really fun.