Mixed reviews or not, I say this is very promising. I'm looking forward to this.
It's been a rather turbulent time for Sonic the Hedgehog over the last two decades. Leaping into the platforming scene in 1991, the SEGA mascot was primed to ignite the living-room with liquid smooth gameplay that coupled together speed and obstacle precision in a truly harmonious way. Along the years there have been great titles in both 2D and 3D, but a handful of considerably less enjoyable feats of engineering disaster. Enter the much talked about "Sonic Cycle", where fans ride an initial wave of excitement, continue to delve into a bevvy of screens and videos, climaxing into a dull ache upon release.
In recent years with the release of Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations, however, the cycle has been brushed aside in favour of games that appear to have sustained the good word. Now it's time for the Nintendo-backed Sonic Lost World to step into the fray and do battle with expectation. How does the new Wii U version of the game hold up - is it a smooth ride or have the chains come undone?
Sonic Lost World is the latest set of games to grace both the home and portable console, as part of an on-going relationship between Nintendo and SEGA. The last generation also had a handful of exclusives including Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic Colours, the latter of which took the 3D series forward, patching up a fair few of its faults. The new game falls around the same mark as the most recent outings - there is a considerable portion that handles well and invites new mechanics, but others that are mind numbingly frustrating in design.
This time round there's an enjoyable shake-up of the core formula. Good teams up with bad against a new formidable foe, the Deadly Six. This horde of monsters is a devious collective of scheming creatures and series antagonist Dr. Eggman initially has them at his control by use of a swanky mind control wand. However, thanks to a mishap or two from our heroes, the Deadly Six rebel against their new master and plot to destroy Sonic and Eggman's world by draining the planet of its natural energy. Trees turn to dust; grass fizzles in the decaying wind and the natives feel a little worse for wear, so it's time for the newly formed alliance to step up and save their home from bitter destruction.
Surprisingly one of the title's strongest cards in its deck is the cheesy yet compelling dialogue and scripted scenes. These can all be skipped in favour of getting stuck into the actual game itself, but do offer morsels of fun and pull the storyline together with some hilarious moments that simply wouldn't work in the likes of Super Mario Bros. Sonic and lifelong sidekick Tails have a strong knack for sarcasm and it plays well to the setup. Cocky but with an air of humility, Sonic braves his new foes each in turn - one wants to literally gobble him up, another demands respect, a lady of the group turns on the flirt routine and the boss simply wants to obliterate our hedgehog.
The animated scenes use the same game engine and visual style throughout, which weaves a bright, bold and more cartoon-like design into the world of Sonic the Hedgehog. Even at a quick glance it's easy to see that Nintendo had a strong, influential role in the art style this time round. Effortlessly full of colour, Lost World shimmers with designs that generate a large sense of scale and adventure, rather than enclosed set pieces. From fairly standard to quirky and compelling, each level comes with its own palette and direction, but seemingly pieced together as whole. There are, however, a glowing amount of elements that could have come straight out of Super Mario Galaxy: fluffy clouds, smaller spherical planets, gravitational logs with protruding mechanical cogs - Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto would be proud.
The entire experience runs at 60fps for the most part, looking its best during the more enclosed portions, side-scrolling sections and where there aren't as many enemies or obstacles on the screen at one time. However throw in a large wad of relentless chicken, rolling motor bugs in the foreground with flowing water in the distance and the game starts to judder, causing Sonic to fumble about like hedgehog that's been turned upside down. Even the splash screen that introduces a level can be noticeably slow at times. For the most part these moments aren't too detrimental to the gameplay, but on occasion can cause a distraction and for Sonic, or the player rather, to run into a trigger happy enemy.
The gameplay is, like the art style, a large bag of variety throughout each of the different levels. The premise is still very much the same as the past and more recent Sonic the Hedgehog titles: control our hero in either third person or side-on and get him from A to B with a minimum of fuss, collecting rings and freeing captured animals along the way. What SEGA have attempted to introduce here are various gravity-driven mechanics that open up multiple routes and secrets to discover. It, in theory, sounds like a concoction for a Super Mario Galaxy styled game that's been injected with a little speed and attitude. For the a fair portion of Sonic Lost World, that's exactly what it is - revolving planets, notoriously tricky jumping sections, homing attacks on enemies and enjoyable pockets of speed. Each of the levels tries to invite something new in the mix - in one Sonic blitzes around a literal candy land of treats, in another it's a mammoth task of deep-sea grind rails. He'll be rolling around as a showball, yes a snowball, in one level and running away from a hurricane in the next - not a bad day's work for a hero that's been at it for years. There are even classic enemies that make an appearance, from the traditional Buzz Bombers to the Gohla and Clucker from Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
The 3D sections will mainly have sonic dashing through obstacle filled tunnels or using his new parkour ability to run up trees and sail along walls, with the side-scrolling areas dropping the pace down to a more classic flavour. Here players will have to better consider jumps, waiting for enemies to display a weak point and use speed sparingly. The switch doesn't occur in every level, but there is a balance of both gameplay styles to keep series traditionalists and newcomers satisfied. There's also the return of certain power-ups from Sonic Colours like the drill and rocket, plus newcomers like the ability to turn into a bird. These are occasionally forced onto players, but are so sporadically placed that they generally become a hindrance because of the need to look down at the GamePad controller to use them.
There is, however a "but" that almost derails what may sound like a fairly comprehensive Sonic the Hedgehog experience. Controls have, ever since the hedgehog's first polygon steps in Sonic Jam, been a problem for the series. Despite developer Sonic Team and Dimps's best efforts in the past, the hedgehog is reluctant to stay on the right platform, or make a well timed jump. Colours and Generations did improve Sonic's movements considerably, creating more linear designs in levels to keep the focus on moving in one direction, occasionally side-stepping.
With Sonic Lost World, it seems as if there's been a leap back in terms of handling. Gone is the ability to side-step either left or right in favour of a more Sonic Adventure like approach. It causes him to become far looser in control, with adjustments needed from players on the fly to accommodate Sonic's movement shortcomings. For example leaping along a set of clouds is a breeze in Mario, but requires a great deal more thought with Lost Worlds due to Sonic occasionally jumping too far, or the jump button not responding in the way that it should. SEGA have also tried to address these niggles by incorporating a switch for running - by holding down the right shoulder button Sonic will start to speed up into a full running animation. Generally this does help in manoeuvring about narrow ledges or avoid moving obstacles, but falters when more momentum is needed to jump across a bottomless pit. Unfortunately the very mention of bottomless pit will cause a shudder or two from fans. There are still a huge number of ways to lose lives in the game, and the awkward controls certainly don't help to alleviate those moments.
One element in Sonic Lost World in particular that isn't with any faults or issues is the game's part orchestral, part jazz/funk soundtrack. Sonic has always had a reputable sound selection and in with the latest game, resonating the same memorable melodies as the past titles. Delicate piano flourishes, some string and bouncy bass elements help complement the already vibrant world.
Sonic Lost World can be completed fairly quickly, the boss sequences are enjoyable for the most part and the storyline is compelling enough to keep players braving the trickier later levels. There is also the ability to race a friend locally, global level rankings plus support for Miiverse to incorporate a more solo experience to what would normally be a very solo driven game. There are some collectable and bonus levels to unlock scattered about the overworld, plus hidden emblems within each of the main levels, extending the game past the ten to fifteen hour total.
Sonic Lost World is one of those games that does sparkle with moments of brilliance and enjoyment at times, but also gives off a foul stench of flawed and problematic gameplay at others. SEGA have introduced a greater amount of variety and what appears to be a more consolidated sense of direction and themes in Sonic Lost World. It's certainly not without its numerous issues, but is a worthy entry to at least try first.
Mixed reviews or not, I say this is very promising. I'm looking forward to this.
It's a decent game and one of the best 3D Sonic games in my opinion, but it is flawed. Part of its problem is that it apes Super Mario Galaxy and (understandably) fails to match it on any level. Playing reminds me how good Galaxy is and how hard it is for other companies to match Nintendo game design.