Release: Out now
I have to admit my hopes weren’t particularly high when I heard this game was in the pipeline, having become largely immune to the seemingly diminishing charms of the speedy blue erinaceid. A series of mis-steps have dogged the series ever since it’s transition to the third dimension, with RPG elements, annoying new characters and poor level design among the offenders. If Sonic was a pop star, his reputation has fallen to the extent that he tours working mens clubs, scrimping by on the odd guest appearance on the records of more successful rivals – Mario and Sonic at the Olympics on the Wii being analogous to Jason Donovan calling up Kylie and saying ‘How about one more duet, for old times sake?’, and her actually agreeing, probably as much out of pity as anything else.
All that changes with the release of Sonic Colours. Obviously his long suffering sidekick Miles ‘Tails’ Prower has found our eponymous hero being sick in the bins behind China White one too many times and has heroically dragged him back to the studio to perform what could be a real kicker of a comeback. Sonic Team have invested heavily in getting this right – the first new Sonic game since the widely disliked Sonic Unleashed means that it will inevitably gather a lot of attention, and they’ve made sure that the spotlight won’t reveal any flaws.
Plot-wise, the story is happily pretty much the same as ever, a fact alluded to humorously in the game’s knowing cut scenes. Dr. Eggman (or Robotnick, as us old-timers know him) has created an interstellar amusement park, ostensibly as cover for him stealing the powers from a little alien race called Wisps. With this power he is attempting to manufacture a mind-control device to try and rule the world, or perhaps just to persuade someone to cut his considerable nose hair for him. Sonic must save the Wisps, and in the process probably the galaxy, by working his way around the various attractions of the park which form the different levels for Sonic to race through.
The first thing that struck me was how apt the title is. This game is an eyecatching number and one of the best looking games on the Wii this year. The level of detail in both the foreground and background, coupled with the immense speed of the game and the ability to seek alternate routes round the Acts means that you are still marvelling at the graphical touches even after playing through a level several times. Awesome set pieces such as the ship emerging from a black hole in Starlight Galaxy, scooting down tubes deep underwater in Aquatic Park, or fighting the huge Ferris wheel-style bosses at high speed, keep the interest levels up and break up the frenetic sprinting.
The ‘colours’ in the title also has another connotation – the latest innovation in collectable power-ups sees Sonic absorbing the powers of the friendly Wisps. Various brightly coloured diversions include yellow wisps for digging down into the crust of the levels, cyan wisps for firing yourself as a laser at high speed, pink for wallclimbing and my favourite, the purple wisp which transforms you into a rampaging creature, smashing your way through obstacles. These work well for the most part and add an extra dimension to the gameplay that increases the replay value; the ability to go back and use newly-earned abilities to capture previously unavailable bonuses means you will revisit favourite courses several times.
Speaking of bonuses (and we’re always on the lookout for big bonuses), I found ‘Dr. Eggman’s Sonic Simulator’ a nice addition, consisting of 7 worlds of psychedelic construction much like what you imagine the Grateful Dead would have seen, had a Lego set landed in their Haight Ashbury house whilst they were under a strong dose of Owsley Sunshine. Initially you are allowed to play the first act of each of the 7 simulated worlds only, however by collecting various coins (sorry, rings) throughout the main game you can unlock further acts, effectively providing a whole other quest on top of the main adventure. The reward for finishing these sub-levels? The much sought-after Chaos Emeralds…
The speed of the game is immense – whether sliding down rails and riding rollercoasters, looping the loop through giant doughnuts or freefalling through lunar landscapes, the 3d and 2d integration is superb, switching between viewpoints often several times per act without jarring you from the immersive experience. A downside to the manic speed and shifts in perspective is that sometimes there’s so much going on you miss the little hazard signs that pop up warning you of imminent possible death, and lose a life without really seeing what your mistake was, but seeing as continues are plentiful this is only a trifling annoyance. The control system is effective for the most part – a few grumbles including the precision of jumps (and the propensity for accidentally using the slam move that directs you downwards) and the use of the B button on the Wii controller a bit awkward. You are able to use the classic controller or the old Gamecube pad so give them a try and see which you prefer.
An added selling point, the game possesses some of the best Sonic music heard since the original run of games on the Megadrive – stupidly catchy, deliriously upbeat and able to lodge itself in your brain in an instant. It adds to the good feeling of the game, and personally I think this is the best title in the series since Sonic 3. I will have to admit certain things are oddly reminiscent of Mario games – the switching of coins to solid blocks and vice-versa, the hub set-up for choosing your levels, the co-operative mode using the bubbles as seen in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a tribute to Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road, and the occasional fiendish jumping section. Still, refinement of existing mechanisms, wherever their source, should in theory lead towards perfection and although there are still minor niggles, this title is a huge leap forward for the series as a whole. Kudos to the Sonic team for resurrecting what I thought was perhaps a franchise on the edge of extinction, with Sonic Colours they have managed to prove that the little blue hedgehog is a species that is on the verge of a population, and indeed popularity, revival.