Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sonic Colors Review

Ever since the franchise made the leap to 3D, Sonic the Hedgehog has switched from being a beloved series of games to a franchise with a heavily divided fanbase and installments frequently experimenting with different concepts and ideas.  Since the release of Sonic Adventure, the series' identity has been all over the place, with titles involving the blue hedgehog getting transported into the world of Arabian Nights, turned into a werewolf, or wearing bandages on his hands to indicate a change in character design.  Personally, I don't have much history with the games, and going into Sonic Colors, what mattered to me most was whether or not the game was good.

Sonic Colors' story sees Sonic and his friend Tails learning about a massive, interstellar theme park built by Dr. Eggman; therefore, the two head up via an elevator to investigate the place.  According to Eggman, he has built the park as a means to atone for all of the evil deeds he has done in the past, but Sonic doesn't believe him and sure enough, he's right.  The two discover that the theme park is simply a cover-up for Eggman to try and harvest the energy of alien creatures known as Wisps, and their planets are being held by galactic chains, so Sonic and Tails set out to destroy the chains, free the Wisps, and stop Dr. Eggman.

Sonic Colors' narrative is not a tale grandiose in scope; rather, the simplistic story is more in line with the original Genesis games, and for what it is, the tale told here works.  The biggest strength of the narrative lies within its characters; Sonic is an energetic fellow whose hot-headed attitude and snarky remarks make him fun to watch in cutscenes, while Dr. Eggman always believes his schemes will work, a technical mishap or the hedgehog himself always stops him.  The overall tone of the game is very reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon, with humorous dialogue and jokes aplenty, though some of the humor can be too childish.

As for gameplay, the game utilizes a mixture of 2D and 3D platforming, with more of an emphasis put on the former while the latter is saved for the on-rails sections of levels.  Sonic himself controls fine, regardless of which perspective; however, minor control issues do detract from the experience at times, but more on that later.  There are a total of seven worlds, five of which are the chained-down planets, and with the exception of the last world, the other ones consist of seven to eight levels.  The primary goal of the game is to free the planets from Eggman's control, and during the last level of the current environment, there is a boss fight.

Levels themselves are quite varied; most of them put an emphasis on 2D or 3D platforming or feature a mixture of both.  Each one involves running and jumping through the level in order to reach the end goal, which is either captured Wisps or a giant, floating ring.  As stated earlier, Sonic controls well but minor issues do make both styles of platforming and issue from time to time.  In mid-air, Sonic can perform a second jump, which works fine most of the time, but on some occasions, he didn't reach the platform or ledge and instead fell down in spite of performing the double jump, which became frustrating the more this problem occurred.  Another small problem involves the sequences where he has to move left and right in order to avoid walls and other obstacles; occasionally, if the control stick is flicked too hard, Sonic may fall off or hit an obstacle that causes him to lose momentum.

Although the level design is largely well-done, some of the levels suffer from uneven pacing.  Most stages are evenly paced out, but some can end almost as soon as the player starts the level; in particular, stages which feature the floating ring as the end goal are the biggest culprit since you never know whether or not they will show up.  One level that sticks out the most involves reaching one end of the stage, pushing a button, and then going back to the halfway point to reach the exit, all within one or two minutes.

New to this game are Wisps, alien creatures that can grant Sonic different abilities depending on the creature's color.  There are eight different types of Wisps, cyan Wisps can turn Sonic into a laser, blue Wisps allow Sonic to unleash a shockwave that turns blue coins into blue blocks and vice versa, and the purple Wisps transform the hedgehog into a berserker beast that grows in size as the creature destroys more objects.  These creatures and their abilities are handled well and give the platforming variety; additionally, many of the levels feature multiple pathways that can only be accessed by a certain Wisp, which in turn, may lead to the discovery of red coins.

Hidden throughout the stages are red coins, by collecting them, the coins unlock stages in Dr. Eggman's Sonic Simulator, which feature stripped-down versions of levels found in the main game.  By collecting all of the coins and beating all of the stages, Super Sonic can be unlocked for usage in the options menu.  Another incentive to replay levels is the grading system; at the end of a stage, players are graded on how long it took to beat the level and how many rings they currently have, and earning an A or S rank can net Sonic extra lives.  On that note, Sonic Colors is not a terribly difficult game; enemies don't put up much resistance and all of the bosses go down rather easily, the real challenge comes from finding the previously mentioned coins or trying to get a high rank.

Visually, Sonic Colors just might be one of the best looking titles on the Wii with colorful and varied worlds large in size, as well as a smooth framerate.  Sound design is also solid, featuring solid performances from the likes of Roger Craig Smith, who voices Sonic, and Mike Pollock, who delivers a fun performance as Dr. Eggman.  However, the highlight of the sound is the soundtrack, which is an eclectic mixture of jazz, shredding guitar riffs, thumping techno, and grand, orchestral music, resulting in very catchy and memorable tunes.

Although the game has its issues, Sonic Colors is nevertheless a fun experience.  The mixture of 2D and 3D platforming is handled well, mostly, and the Wisps and their abilities are used creatively during the stages.  Though the game is fairly short, taking around three to four hours to beat, the multiple pathways, hidden collectibles, and grading system are a strong incentive to go back and replay levels.

Final Score: 7/10

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