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Sonic Colors (Wii) artwork

Sonic Colors (Wii) review

"Tails makes an appearance, but he’s a plot device and the role he plays is almost completely non-annoying. As you complete the various stages, you’ll rely on the franchise’s true star, not second-rate bit players who a part of you wishes would die horrible deaths. It feels almost like you're getting away with something that you shouldn't as you play through the game’s 36 main stages and don't hate the bulk of them."

I’ve never been one of Sonic’s foremost champions. When he was at his most successful in the Genesis days, I was hoping for his failure because his success left me fearing that Mario and friends wouldn’t be around to entertain me in a few years. Time changed me, though, and it changed Sonic. The famously blue hedgehog went from being a relevant mascot to… well, let’s just say that the years did him no favors. After playing a string of Sonic games that were too often nothing more than a cut or two above passable, I began to believe that a hedgehog revival simply wasn’t possible.

Sonic Colors made me reconsider. I believe in the franchise again, and now I find myself hoping for a sequel that continues along the same promising path. No other Sonic title has brought me this much enjoyment since Sonic 2 on the Genesis, and the most welcome surprise is the apparent ease with which the game achieves so much. This is the one that could change things, the best installment in the series since it first abandoned its 16-bit roots so many years ago.

The reasons for that success aren’t immediately apparent, partly because Sonic has tried several times to leap into the third dimension and always has met with varying degrees of failure. It’s confusing to find him succeeding here, then, in a game that on the surface of things looks little different from its immediate predecessors. The difference, no matter how much the lush three-dimensional environments may try to disguise the fact, is that the action in each of the distinct worlds that Sonic explores is completely two-dimensional. Some stages consist almost entirely of stretches where Sonic works from left to right in traditional platformer style. Even stages where the camera spends most of its time over the hedgehog’s shoulder play out in two dimensions when you get down to the heart of things. The player is never asked to do more than run in one direction, leap or use homing attacks. It sounds almost too simple, but it really works.

The careful restriction has given the developers the opportunity to focus on the things that Sonic has always done so well. One predictable result of that focus (and the thing that fans have been asking to see for years) is a genuinely fast game where the player is actually in control. There are still rare moments where Sonic navigates loops or races along pathways without any controller input, but such instances are bookended by more exciting moments where Sonic doesn’t move at all unless you tell him to. There’s a difference between watching a hedgehog cruise along a loop or clear a ridiculous gap and actually directing him as he does so. Playing Sonic Colors makes that difference crystal clear.

Besides speed, Sonic has another thing working in his favor: the lack of characters such as Knuckles, Amy, Big the Cat and assorted others who in the past worked so hard to deprive the series of its necessary focus. Tails makes an appearance, but he’s a plot device and the role he plays is almost completely non-annoying. As you complete the various stages, you’ll rely on the franchise’s true star, not second-rate bit players who a part of you wishes would die horrible deaths. It feels almost like you're getting away with something that you shouldn't as you play through the game’s 36 main stages and don't hate the bulk of them.

The only thing that keeps the whole adventure from being a pure Sonic-fest is the inclusion of the colorful alien wisps from which the game derives its title. You’ll encounter these critters as you make your way through six main worlds. Each time that you find a new one, you’ll know it because you’ll gain a new ability. For example, Sonic will come across crystals as he travels through various stages. The cyan wisp allows him to focus his energy, aim at a nearby crystal, then launch toward it and from there ricochet through adjoining corridors like an out-of-control pinball. Another wisp allows him to assume the form of a giant purple mouth that grows larger as it gnaws through the architecture and demolishes the robotic enemies that are trying to thwart Sonic.

Some might suspect that the inclusion of the wisps will harm the gameplay, rather than helping it. That’s not the case, though, because wisp use is typically optional. You’ll want to use the friendly critters anyway because then you can take shortcuts and follow alternate routes that would otherwise be out of your reach. For instance, you might launch over a speed pad and up a hill, then find yourself descending toward a valley with blocks that you must dodge to avoid. That can slow you quite a bit. If you have that cyan wisp in your possession, though, you may be able to launch across the gap to a crystal on the far side, all without slowing your approach even a bit. Any initial trepidation that you may have felt when first faced with the notion of wisps disappears the minute you find yourself looking forward to the next opportunity to put their power to use, not dreading it.

Another thing that I like about Sonic Colors is the way that it refuses to force filler on the player. The developers present plenty of collectible goodies, but they’re all optional. Each regular stage includes five red stars that you can gather, and several typically can’t be claimed unless you revisit a stage much later in the game with new wisp powers. Gathering all of the rings can become a source of obsession, particularly since you’re rewarded with some super rewards, but if you don’t care about bonus stages and the like, you can just keep advancing through the game and you’ll soon enough reach the closing credits if your skills are up to the task.

Fortunately, there’s little reason to fear on that front. The level design in Sonic Colors has its occasional faults and can be responsible for occasional frustration, but for the most part you’ll find that the game contains some of the most tightly constructed stages that Sonic has traversed in a long, long while. Environments are built for speed, so there aren’t a lot of instances where you are punished for moving too quickly. It’s certainly possible to run into walls of spikes or to drop into bottomless pits if you’re not paying attention. I saw the “Game Over” screen more than I care to admit. However, my deaths almost always felt justified. I ran into a few too many enemies without gathering the shower of rings that resulted from a previous collision, or I missed a simple jump because I lost my groove. Some of the chases near the end of the game feel a bit cheap at first, but even those can easily enough be mastered once you learn to watch for obvious visual cues.

With so much to like about Sonic Colors, then, what does the game do wrong? Not much. Some players will probably find the main adventure’s length disappointing, but there’s no reason to stop playing just because you’ve beaten a stage. Besides the collectible red stars, those stages feature score objectives. You’d be surprised how hard it is to resist another run at a stage when you’re confident that you can shave a few seconds from your time.

Another minor flaw, the lack of creativity on a handful of the final stages (there’s one where you essentially just run in circles and dash against robot cycles, for instance) can feel unfair after all of the exciting content up to that point, but the fact remains that the game still presents a wealth of content with almost no filler. Besides, even the worst of those problems are easily overshadowed by other strengths that I’ve not even mentioned yet, things like some of the sharpest and most vibrant visuals yet featured on the system and a soundtrack with some of the most atmospheric music I've heard in a Sonic game to date.

I really like Sonic Colors. Give the game a shot and I bet you'll like it too.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 07, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Masters posted November 07, 2011:

Nice review Venter. You have me wanting to check this game out, especially if it's the most excited you've been about Sonic since Sonic 2...

The ending here is a bit odd though: "I have my reasons..." after you've done a good job of already TELLING us your reasons. They should be our reasons now too. It seems a bit awkward and self-effacing, like you're worried you didn't do a good job convincing us, when in fact you have.
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honestgamer posted November 07, 2011:

Thanks for reading, Marc, and you're right. I've cut a few words out of that final sentence and I think it reads better as a result. Also, you really should check out Sonic Colors. It's the Sonic game that a lot of fans have been waiting for but don't realize actually released a year ago. I still need to give Sonic Generations a shot.
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Masters posted November 07, 2011:

Much better.

Incidentally, you said you had corrections for my Daytona review, but you never said what they were.
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honestgamer posted November 07, 2011:

Look at the "like clipping abound" portion of your second sentence. There's trouble with that sentence and that particular phrase is largely responsible. I'm not sure what fix to suggest, but it seems like you may have started to write two separate versions of the sentence and when you settled on one, it didn't quite get tweaked all the way. That's just my guess based on how most errors find their way into my own reviews. The reality may be quite different.
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threetimes posted November 07, 2011:

Got my hopes up after reading this review, only to have them dashed after realising the game was on the Wii. Though I always loved Knuckles' levels in SA2.
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Masters posted November 07, 2011:

I double-checked the sentence and saw no error. Weird.
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SamildanachEmrys posted November 07, 2011:

I double-checked the sentence and saw no error. Weird.

Ok, I see what's going on.

I think "and had major graphical issues, like clipping abound" doesn't work as a sentence. I agree with Jason's assessment of it: it looks like you started writing "had major graphical issues, like clipping" then by the time you reached the end of the sentence had changed it to "major graphical issues, like clipping, abound" but forgot to edit the beginning accordingly.

What I think you actually did was just phrase it awkwardly. I think you said "it had these problems abound" in the same way that you might say "I had Dave come over". It does sound wrong here though. It would read much better to say it had them in abundance or something of that nature.
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Masters posted November 07, 2011:

I think "and had major graphical issues, like clipping abound" doesn't work as a sentence.

This is not a sentence at all...

The whole sequence seems pretty straightforward to me, but I've tweaked it slightly anyway.

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zippdementia posted November 10, 2011:

Not enough to get me to play another Sonic game, but I'm glad to hear all his little friends took the day off.

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