Pros: + Only Sonic is playable + Great music + Sense of speed mixes well with slower platforming segments + Good boss fights + Embraces the silliness of the franchise + Fun, detailed levels with a lot of variety
Cons: – Not all control schemes are viable – Frustrating multiplayer
It’s easy to bash the Sonic franchise, especially after 2006’s abominable Sonic the Hedgehog and the phenomenally mediocre Sonic Unleashed. With Sonic Colors (not to mention Sonic 4 and All-Stars Racing), it seems like Sega decided to make good on its promise to produce more high-quality titles featuring its mascot. And sure, it’s not a done deal that Sonic is “back,” but this is at least a big step in the right direction.
Sonic Colors gets back to basics, throwing out all of Sonic’s friends but Tails, who only appears in the story’s endearingly campy movie scenes. In every stage, you play only as Sonic, hopping and sprinting your way through increasingly elaborate levels that make use of a new, more involved physics engine. You’ll run into some light puzzle-solving sections, most of them based around—you guessed it—jumping. It mixes things up a little and, while it’s a callback to some of the 2D Sonic games, it manages to seem fresh in contrast with more recent efforts that involved mostly holding up on the control stick and using the homing attack on everything that moved.
Helping you get through these levels are power-ups from the quirky alien characters called Wisps. Wisps are Sonic Colors’s new gimmick and something of an extension of the old-school shield powers. As you progress through the game, you unlock new Wisp powers like the ability to temporarily create new paths or turn into a drill or a laser. These powers allow you to not only skip over parts of levels, but also to return to early levels and uncover secret paths and items that unlock co-op challenge levels.
Not that hidden items are the only positives to backtracking; you can also go back through all the earlier levels to improve your rank. Based on how many rings you collect and how quickly you complete the stage, you get an S-to-E rank to make you feel good or bad about your performance. Getting high marks in every stage unlocks the ability to play as a secret character—while you can do it only after you’ve all but beaten the game, the nod to fans is nice.
Needless to say, every zone has a boss fight, and they all incorporate elements from their zones’ respective acts. Early on, you’ll just deal with a simple jumping puzzle (on a freaking weaponized ferris wheel!). From there, it only gets wilder: The second boss is a robot pirate on a ship made of desserts and covered bow to stern in cannons. Not all of the bosses are tough, but they’re fun and involved, and you can’t float through them like in some previous 3D Sonic games.
There are some cheap deaths, though. It’s obviously been toned down since the artificial difficulty of Sonic 2006 and Sonic Unleashed, but there are a couple places in the later levels where you’ll die without warning. It’s not nearly as frustrating as in the past and you’ll catch on after losing one or two lives, but the occasional out-of-the-blue death won’t fail to annoy.
Even more irritating is the aforementioned co-op levels. Unlike other recent co-op enabled platformers, one screen doesn’t suit the game very well. In a slower-paced game like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, keeping up usually isn’t a problem, but the acceleration and momentum that are core to Sonic’s gameplay make it easy to fall behind and die. Split-screen would have made the levels a bit less punishing, but a lot of them are still frustrating and unfocused, lacking the superb level design of the single-player modes
Possibly one of the best things about Sonic Colors is that it finally seems to acknowledge that the premise is (and always has been) ridiculous. The goofy puns, hammy one-liners and slapstick gags fill the game with an approachable whimsy. Finally, Sega’s throwing out all the seriousness that became so prevalent in Sonic Adventure 2 and hit a moronic all-time high in Sonic 2006. Colors is, as its name suggests, bright and cheery and optimistic. Make no mistake if you’ve grown accustomed to the super-serious idiocy of other Sonic games: Colors is the best Sonic game since the Genesis days.
Colors has pretty much every Wii control option under the sun: GameCube, Classic Controller, sideways Wiimote and Wiimote/Nunchuk are all here, but some are less viable than others. While the NES-style sideways Wiimote has the least buttons, the D-pad offers superior handling in 3D segments. Options like the GameCube and Classic controllers give you more precise jumping in 2D segments, but their handling in 3D speed sections is a little awkward. The Wiimote/Nunchuk setup is the red-headed stepchild of the bunch, as holding two controllers makes some of the platforming segments feel awkward and the analog stick doesn’t feel right in the 3D sections.
Whether you’re in 2D sections or 3D ones, Sonic Colors looks great and has a ton of level variety, despite its limited amount of worlds. Call it a Mario Galaxy rip-off if you want (it takes place in an interstellar amusement park run by Dr. Eggman, by the way), but its visual design is bursting with creativity. You start off in a familiar tropical resort/casino-style level, but it’s not long before you’re racing through a mountain range made of—no, seriously—snack foods, where roads of cake and ice cream weave in and out of colossal cheeseburger mountains.
Environments are huge and vibrant, packed with details even in the background. Detailed as the environments and lighting are and quickly as everything moves, the framerate stays smooth from start to finish. Even tearing through the 3D speed sections at top speed, you won’t lose a frame.
The sound is every bit as good as the sights. Sonic Colors skips the butt rock from nearly every 3D game in the series and opts for an upbeat retro soundtrack filled with catchy and memorable tunes reminiscent of the classic-style soundtracks prevalent up through Sonic Adventure. The voice acting is also strangely tolerable, albeit delivering silly dialogue on a regular basis. It’s well-delivered and has sort of a Saturday morning cartoon vibe.
Sonic Colors is a gleeful, goofy return to what made the old games great. Even better, it manages this without relying on nostalgia to win you over. For the first time in years, a Sonic game feels like it should. It has the sense of speed, the thoughtful platforming and the extra goodies that’ll win over long-time fans and newcomers alike. It doesn’t hurt that there’s enough content to keep you coming back for a while. If you want to get everything, expect about 20 hours of content—no slouch for a platformer with speed as its claim to fame. Despite a few nags, Sonic Colors is the best the series has been in more than a decade and it’s well worth your time.