Faster than the speed of light, yet with a recent back catalogue that’s as bleak as a Winter’s evening, Sonic The Hedgehog has become one of the most maligned characters in all of video games. While criticism for the Blue Blur’s recent efforts are justified, for the most part, it hasn’t stopped Nintendo and Sega teaming up to attempt a renaissance for the Mega Drive’s mascot. Exclusive to both Nintendo platforms – the 3DS version’s levels are similar in theme, but are different in design – old-school fans are looking for some reason to care about this aspect of their childhood once again.
Thankfully, Sonic Team has not only breathed new life into the spiky mammal, but they’ve also created one of the Wii U’s better titles. Admittedly, the system’s software stand-outs are slim-pickings, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sonic Lost World is proof that this twenty year old property can still matter in today’s market.
One common theme runs through Sonic Lost World: change. One welcome shift is that the artist formerly known as Robotnik isn’t the hedgehog’s main threat. Instead, Eggman, Sonic and Tails must all co-operate in order to rid the world of the impending threat known as the Deadly Six. Initially under the mad scientist’s control, the colourful sextet quickly acquire one of the moustachioed antagonist’s world-ending machines and decide to take matters into their own hands.
The Zeti (as their species is known), all resemble bad guys from Saturday morning cartoons and fit in with the universe – there’s the fat one, the emo one, the seductive one, the wise one, the crazy one and the leader of the pack. Apart from rare instances where things take a dark turn, Sonic Lost World’s narrative is fluffy and nice. Sonic himself isn’t quite as annoying as he has been since they gave him a voice, but there’s no question that Eggman is the star of the show. Seeing the certifiable genius focus his hatred on someone other than Sonic is refreshing and adds some depth to a character that’s surrounded by a predominantly one-dimensional cast.
The worlds, on the other hand, are packed with life and contain some of the most vibrant environments you’ll see this calender year. Nearly every world (made up of four levels, or”zones”) has its own distinct theme, separating it from the rest of the pack. Clichéd as they may be, staples such as the desert, ice and forest worlds all feature. There can tend to be a disconnect between story and the areas in which Sonic is freeing cute, little animals from their robot prisons, but the vivacious splash of pigmentation is so beautiful that it’s forgiveable. Nods to Casino Night Zone and Ice Cap Zone are clear, yet all of the settings feel new and exciting.
One of the main reasons for this is the exquisite level design. Sonic Lost World’s zones flip between 2D and 3D planes at random. The two dimensional stages are like a time-travelling vehicle, allowing older players to remember and appreciate gaming days of yore. The most pivotal variance, however, is in how the hedgehog travels across the colourful, 3D landscapes. One or two efforts have been honourable, but there’s no doubt that this is the best implementation of Sonic in a 3D platformer. For the past fifteen years, Sonic’s fall from grace has been down to the fact that his translation from 2D to 3D struggled with the high speed, frenetic action. In what can only be classified as a bold move, Sonic has been slowed down to a brisk jog in Sonic Lost World, making it possible to create a tightly-controlled platformer akin to his long-time plumbing nemesis-turned-Olympic buddy.
By holding the right trigger, you can burst into a sprint and race through levels like you used to. Of course, the spin dash is also here, resulting in three gears of velocity that all have their place. Curbing the ‘hog and his love of all things fast is not just a good thing, it’s the best thing that’s happened to Sonic in years. The three dimensional stages contain areas that are spherical in shape (again, like one of his Italian buddy’s most popular outings), which means there are sections that contain multiple paths to your goal. Some of these ideas have obviously been “borrowed” from other successful Nintendo games, but their execution is one that Sonic Team should be applauded for.
However, cheap deaths are regular, annoying occurrences. On numerous occasions, the now-standard homing attack lead me to an early grave. Once in the air, a reticule appears over nearby enemies and when you press the jump button once again, you cannonball into their metal heads and normally dispose of them. Some clever situations arise wherein the homing attack is used as a platforming mechanic, but it remains one of Sonic Lost World’s biggest flaws. Double jumping and the homing attack are associated with the same button pattern, therefore, when trying to reach a higher ledge, Sonic can tend to dive spikes-first into a neighbouring foe, rather than leap up to where you desire. If that particular enemy has landed somewhere off-screen, Sonic will follow, resulting in the loss of a precious life.
The Sonic Colors Wisp powers make a return and utilise the GamePad’s touchscreen, but to very little effect. While some powers, such as the Eagle – which allows Sonic to fly – use the pad’s gyroscope (and control poorly), others such as the Rhythm power see players tapping on musical notes that appear on the controller’s touchscreen. Most of them are a nuisance and, sadly, poor inclusions that add very little to finished product. Sonic’s new parkour skills see the hedgehog running up walls and trees and, unlike the aforementioned Wisp powers, are a decent new talent that will hopefully be employed in future outings.
As previously mentioned, with the Deadly Six filling in for Eggman as the Blue One’s adversaries, you must defeat each member throughout the course of the game. You will commonly face off against one of the Zeti twice in specific worlds. In a peculiar design choice, the first encounter can tend to be tougher than the second, and final, confrontation. Rather than build up to an epic duel, there are moments where a world’s decisive boss battles feel flat in comparison with the earlier meetings. It’s not all doom and gloom in this department and there are some clever battles, but the inconsistency is disheartening.
Although, if you find the in-game melodies to be any less than sublime, you more than likely don’t have a heart. Covering all musical genres imaginable, the soundtrack of Sonic Team’s latest release can be, and should be, praised for it’s catchy ska-infused tunes and beautifully crafted orchestral pieces; a musical accompaniment that compliments the chromatic glow of your surroundings.
VERDICT: Even though the hedgehog’s deceleration is a resounding success, that precision in gameplay is hindered by a temperamental homing attack and subsequent cheap deaths. That aside, though, Sonic Lost World is unquestionably a return to form and a reason to care again – thankfully without the rose-tinted specs.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.