This is the part where we bemoan the sorry state of Sonic the Hedgehog and grumble, deservedly so, about the recent, seemingly unending line of mediocre games to bear his name. We ask ourselves where things might have gone sour: Sonic Adventure, perhaps; maybe Sonic the Hedgehog 3? Even without pinpointing an exact site of derailment, it’s apparent that, for the most part, Sonic’s games from the last few years aren’t that good (with the blessed exception of several handheld entries). We can hardly blame him, though; burdened with a clown car’s worth of superfluous side characters and shackled to mismatched, hopeless concepts (Werehog, anyone?), it looked as though Sonic was headed for a future of bargain bin triviality.
And this is the part where I tell you that Sonic Colors is really good. Almost excitingly so, even.
If the success of the Super Mario Galaxy series has proven anything, it’s that a cosmic setting — replete with unique planetoids, bright colors, unpredictable gravity, and adorable-yet-beneficial life forms — is the new manna for platformers. In Colors, Sonic co-opts heavily from from the successful formula of his former rival, and the result, though less groundbreaking than its inspiration, is an equally refreshing change of pace for a character and series that needed it badly.
The reasoning behind Sonic’s beneficial ascension is, much like Mario’s, fantastically contrived and inconsequential. Longtime foe Dr. Eggman seemingly expiates for his past transgressions (which include blowing up a chunk of the moon) by building an orbiting amusement park for the people of Earth to enjoy. Compared to the overwrought nonsense of Sonic Unleashed or Sonic and the Black Knight, the way this simple, by-the-villainous-book premise unfolds is mercifully brief and inoffensive, as are the occasional scenes of dialogue between Sonic and Tails. No unnecessary exposition or logic is heaped upon the plot; it’s threadbare, yeah, but all it needs to accomplish is getting Sonic to space, which it does without a fuss of any sort.
There’s an old argument as to what Sonic games should focus on — careening at blazing speed through a level, or more subdued platforming. The answer, of course, has always been both, a fact practiced on a near-perfect scale in Colors. Each planet tethered to the amusement park contains six acts and an accompanying boss. Such an amount could’ve easily made for a somewhat bland, bloated experience if they were paced and charted equally. Contrarily, these instances have range in both length and activity; a demanding stint in a jump puzzle-filled outer space enclosure is often followed by a cathartic sprint on a highway paved with light, and vice versa. It’s a refreshing, often surprising balance, and one that Colors strikes with consistency and verve.
The levels, in turn, blend several types of motion and accompanying perspective; shorter, platform-heavy sections are commonly shown from the traditional, 2D-style side view, while faster paced lane-changing sections usually opt for a pulled-out or trailing shot. The abundance and frequency of sudden shifts in Sonic’s speed and direction necessitate a sort of rolling fluctuation in perspective, though, which creates an almost giddying sense of speed as the scenery whips by.
Apart from eyeing the competition, Colors also adopts a few mechanics from recent games in its own series: wall jumping and stomping for platforming sections, sliding and drifting for straight-ahead running, and a homing attack, air boost, and double jump for just about everywhere.
The latter is particularly useful for negating a misplaced jump or clearing an unexpected gap in your running path, and eliminates more than a few frustrating deaths. Sonic has always had a strange inertia to his jumps and movements when he’s not at his fastest that made delicate platforming work something of a chore; although this trait carries over into Colors, it’s largely alleviated by the well-rounded selection of both normal moves and gained powers.
After a brief introductory phase, Sonic gains access to the titular “Color Powers”, supplied via the friendly alien “Wisps” Eggman attempts to enslave. Each of the seven unique types grants Sonic a pertinent navigation ability, like hovering, drilling through land and water, or transforming into a wall-grabbing spike sphere, á la Metroid’s Spider Ball. These power-ups are more situational than optional; certain sections do require their use, though you can complete just as many without the additional aid (albeit with slightly more difficulty).
Unfortunately, Sonic’s ability to use the Wisp powers is timed — an otherwise sensible restriction that nonetheless initially undermines their effectiveness; little in-game instruction is provided, and having a limited time to figure out how to employ each Wisp correctly was not at all conducive to effective on-the-fly use. Sure, they’re handy in certain situations, and they contribute to the game’s “space” quota, but all things considered, the Wisps come off as more of a harmless by-product of the environment and story than an meaningful addition to the already-solid gameplay.
At any given moment, Colors fronts a gleaming, candy-colored aesthetic, with pop and detail that rival even Super Mario Galaxy. It doesn’t go as far as to plumb the same depths of visual wonder and cuteness that either Galaxy game does, but the handful of vistas it presents are just as comfortable, detailed and appropriate for a playful romp through space. Even more glorious and noteworthy is the soundtrack, which is usually the straw that truly breaks the more recent Sonic games for me. After several games chock full of woeful, ‘tude-filled butt rock (and occasionally nonsensical rap), the thrilling menagerie of styles present in Colors (which includes several Galaxy-esque orchestral pieces) is a reminder of how integral and complementary good music is to the series.
Even though many of its better qualities stem from imitation, Sonic Colors stirs in enough internal creativity and long-lacking competency to make what is undoubtedly the finest Sonic product in years. Provided Sega recognizes and develops the high points of Colors, we might see a new standard for Sonic games emerge in the near future.
Things We Liked: Tighter, refined move set. A variety of vibrant courses. Ditches any semblance of story or crappy characters for good, unspoiled fun.
Things We Disliked: Wisps feel tacked on. Platforming is still a bit imprecise. Cheap-feeling deaths near the end.
Target Audience: Anyone looking for a solid, fast-paced platformer. People who enjoyed Sonic Rush and/or Super Mario Galaxy.
(Sonic Colors – Developer: Sonic Team. Publisher: Sega. Available for Wii. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)