Friday, November 26, 2010

Sonic Colors Review

Cut me in half and call me a munchkin because ding dog the cycle is dead. For those who don't know, the Sonic Cycle has become an almost certainty in gaming. Here is a link for those who are unaware of what it is . Every game since Adventure has been like that.

Now, let me preface my review with an opinion of the Sonic franchise. Each console Sonic game since Sonic 3 and Knuckles has been a disappointment. I thought Sonic Adventure was alright at best. When it came out I thought "Wow, that's Sonic's first 3D title, pretty good first try, I'm sure the following games will be even better." Needless to say, they weren't and I stopped playing Sonic games after Adventure 2. Other games kept trying to be better at 3D to the point where it doesn't even seem like an innovation, but Sega kept trying to rehash their initial mediocrity by adding more insufferable characters, insufferable hub worlds and insufferable gameplay. I find it irritating that many gamers praise Adventure as if it's the pinnacle of 3D sonic games. It's terrible by today's standards. I can't help but think that most opinions are altered because of nostalgia and the fact that it's Sonic. If Adventure featured the same gameplay but a different character, people wouldn't be praising it as much as they do. Then again, most Sonic fans are insufferable, so what can one expect? Look, when the pinnacle is mediocrity, then you aren't going to get anything truly outstanding.

The last great Sonic game was Sonic 3 and Knuckles. I know I sound like an "only retro games are good" moron, but hear me out. That game came out 16 years ago, and the experience, while dated, is not diluted. The controls, graphics, and camera won't surprise in the same way that they will in Sonic Adventure. Now, I try to take my nostalgia out of it as much as possible. There are things about Sonic 3 and Knuckles that aren't very good. The Chaos Emerald special stages were unbelievably annoying, and there were a few levels that were so tedious that they didn't feel in place with a Sonic game generally.

What I'm trying to get at here is that I am by no means a Sonic fanboy. I think that's important for anyone reading this review to realize. Sonic fanboys will praise anything Sonic related and as such their opinions are really hard to trust. I'm very reluctant to praise a Sonic game. I've done it three times in the past 10 years, and I've regretted it twice. Sonic and the Secret Rings was nowhere near as good as I initially thought, and neither was Unleashed. Sonic 4 is really good so far though.

So where does Sonic Colors Stand? Colors is certainly not superior to Sonic 3 and Knuckles, not by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is the best Sonic game released since then. Then again, that's not saying much, is it?

Sonic Colors was made in response to fan response of Sonic Unleashed. Sonic Unleashed had two types of gameplay, day levels and night levels. During the Night you played as a Werehog, and actually this part of the game was most like the 3D iterations of Sonic until that point, except with an added God of War element. What was new was the day levels. These were a reimagining of what a 3D Sonic experience could be. It's difficult to get in to the nitty gritty of what makes these sections such a departure from what the series had been doing. They essentially borrowed elements from the Burnout Racing series and put it in a Sonic game, namely drifting and boosting, while splicing in some of the tropes of the 2D title. There was a sense of speed and you could see the potential in the day levels.

Here are some examples of the Day Levels from Unleashed
The 360 and PS3 Day levels

The Wii Day levels

It was only marred by some control issues for the PS3 and the 360, and the Wii wound up being the better version of Sonic Unleashed. As long as you played with a Gamecube controller, because you had to waggle to boost and use homing attack. I'm sure some people enjoyed the waggle, but when a game demands a certain amount of precision, waggling just doesn't work.

Anyway, those day levels were a step in the right direction and were realized far better on the Wii. Sonic Colors takes another step in that direction on the Wii.

Here's a sample (not a speed run though)

This game allows for three types of controllers, the gamecube, the classic controller, and the Wiimote and Nunchuck. They refined the controls on the Wii to the point where the Wiimote and Nunchuck feel the most natural of the three. The button placement and the precision just feel correct. Thankfully, waggling is kept to a minimum, it is just used to activate wisps and that requires almost no precision. You move sonic with the analog stick (obviously), jump and use homing attack with the a button, boost with the b button, and slide and stomp the ground (while in the air) with the z button.

Likely you've heard conflicting stories about how Sonic handles; Gametrailers said the control was not precise, IGN said it was. I think that the differing opinions may be a result of using differing control methods. The worst review I read was from a reviewer who said "the game must be played with a Gamecube controller." Ultimately, I can't say for certain, but after playing through the first few levels with all three control types, I wound up just sticking with the Wiimote the rest of the way through. The button placement on the Gamecube controller is by far the worst. That isn't to say that there isn't a learning curve with the Wiimote. Definitely, one thing you'll have to become accustomed to is accounting for momentum. I fell off a ledge more than once because of that, but I never felt that it was poor design just my mistake. Also, the jumping is very... malleable. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. All in all, the control experience felt on par with Super Mario Galaxy.

When it comes to level design, once again, you've probably heard conflicting stories.. To be honest, it's hit and miss. The level design is great insofar as Sonic games have always been about getting from point a to point b. To the developer's credit, there certainly are a lot of ways to do that. You can use wisps, or totally ignore them for the most part. There are sections where wisp use is mandatory, but thankfully, those are few and far between. However, these levels aren't without their pitfalls, both literally and figuratively. Every once in a while you'll run in to a "GOTCHA!" death. These moments are holdovers from the very first Sonic games and I really wish that Sega would stop using them. When you have a game that is all about momentum, and that momentum is broken by a "GOTCHA!" death, then it breaks up the flow of an otherwise great game.

The spikes in difficulty in this game come from the level design and inexperience. When you are inexperienced, and what comes next is a "gotcha!" death, the game can be pretty infuriating. Especially on the last couple of levels. The second to last level almost had me hurl my controller at something. Thankfully, the game encourages re-playability, and if you do replay those levels, they become loads easier thanks to your experience.

Protip for the second to last level: Do what this guy does for the level that starts at 0:43.

These difficulty spikes are few and far between, and harping on them is nitpicking at best. In point of fact, it isn't difficult by any stretch of the imagination though. I was able to get through it REALLY fast, and infact, that's my one complaint. I beat the game in about 4 hours. If you don't replay old stages, then the game is short. Which is how it should be as far as I'm concerned. Each stage was about 2 to 5 minutes, and when you do the math, 4 hours is actually quite a lot of content. Moreover the replayability is immense. I'm not done with this game, not by a longshot.

So how about the story? To be honest, I find any presence of a story in a Sonic game kind of insipid. The Sonic cartoon was alright, for a kid, but it's terrible in retrospect. Sonic 3 and Knuckles had kind of a story, but it was never a deal maker or breaker. Since Sonic Adventure, however, we just have to have some crappy psuedo anime story to go along with out Sonic games, don't we? The stories thus far aren't childish so much as just plain terrible. Thankfully, the story is more along the lines of the Saturday Morning Cartoon show insofar as it's simply childish instead of atrocious. The actors are surprisingly not annoying, though their lines will make you facepalm. Thankfully, there aren't many characters you'll have to keep track of. That's right, Sonic's cavalcade of annoying woodland characters has been cut down. It's just Sonic, Tails, Robotnik, and his Robots. There are the side characters of the wisps, but they don't actually have any intelligible dialogue, so they are tolerable. The story is pretty straight forward, servicable, and childish. Which fits since Sonic is supposed to be more about the game than the story, and the story should be aimed at children. As opposed to the grim dark BS of Shadow, which just comes off as pathetic or the melodramatic Sonic 06 story which was just... disturbing.

All in all, this is hands down the best Sonic console game since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. It's a Sonic game that doesn't require the caveat "if you're a die-hard fan, you'll like it." Even if you don't like Sonic, I highly recommend at least trying it out. Hopefully, Sega has learned its lesson. It's evident that they didn't rest on their laurels and rely on a rehash to make this game. Even between the Unleashed Day Levels and the Sonic Colors level there is still an enormous advancement in design. Here's hoping the Sonic cycle is truly and forever broken and that Sega will continue to refine this gameplay. If this keeps up, eventually Sonic will be a real rival to Mario once again.

Verdict: Buy it.

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