Date Released: November 16, 2010
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2010
Players: 1 Player / Unlockable 2 Player levels
Length: 3-10 Hours
Sonic Colors (or Sonic Colours as it is spelled in British English releases) is the first platforming centric spinoff Sonic the Hedgehog game on the Wii console. Aimed at a younger audience, it was designed with the intent of gaining more interest from Wii fans with borrowed elements from Super Mario and Kirby titles, among other Nintendo releases in hopes of bringing the franchise back to it’s acclaimed roots.
Sonic Colors is mostly a 2D platformer with sections that are also playable in 3D. It is the first game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series to directly require power-ups in the form of “Wisps”, a type of alien similar to the small friends from the original Genesis/Mega Drive Sonic games. Once you rescue them from capsules (and sometimes from inside robots) you will get some power added to your boost/wisp bar that depletes when you are boosting or use a special ability.
The design is awkwardly unlike what has come to be expected from a Sonic title, with the perfect example being that Sonic cannot roll without a power-up. This is the entire reason he was designed as a hedgehog at all, and is especially annoying when his slide move works exactly like the roll did in earlier games. Influences from multiple Nintendo titles is all too obvious and sometimes borderlines on plagiarism, but it is hard to argue with the results. Almost all of the concepts new to Sonic Colors are actually very good, even if previous concepts could have been revisited instead, it is obvious that a lot more love was put into this release than Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I.
As he claims to feel bad for his previous schemes, Dr Robotnik (AKA Dr Eggman) has opened up an Interstellar Amusement Park in space for everyone to enjoy, made up of several planet sized attractions, each with their own style and themes. Sonic and Tails become suspicious and meet up with Yacker, who comes from a species of aliens known as Wisps. Along the way Tails is trying to invent a communication device to talk with these creatures and soon realize that Robotnik has actually tethered these planets to the park to kidnap the wisps and steal their energy to create weapons of mass destruction.
Nothing really happens in the story, which is refreshing and somewhat disappointing at the same time. Dr Robotnik’s special robots Orbot and Cubot initially seem like will be a big part of the game, but are never even seen inside actual gameplay, which is a major waste when they could have at least been part of boss battles. Most cutscenes are boring, but can be skipped so it is not really a problem.
Most of the writing is not very interesting or all that good, but Dr Robotnik on the other hand is better than he has been in a very long time. In almost every level he makes random announcements through loud speakers stating something like how he found all of the rarest fish in every ocean in the universe and how they can be enjoyed at the sushi bar. None of this interrupts gameplay, but it is a really nice touch and adds a lot a personality to a character that has not been very interesting for years.
Sonic Colors features a very similar style of gameplay to that of 2008′s HD version of Sonic Unleashed day stages, but with simplified concepts to better streamline the experience. The majority of the game is presented on a 2D plane and will perfectly move into 3D with enough visual ques for the player to understand which perspective they are in. The boost button also returns, but it does not completely steal the show this time, as instead of building up your boost bar by collecting rings, you now need to collect fairly infrequent wisps.
Each of the six worlds featured in the game have six separate acts to complete. Most are the perfect length, usually lasting anywhere from three to five minutes with a good amount of checkpoints along the way. However, some rare levels last less than a full minute which is really strange and is seemingly pointless. Along with the strangely high amount of acts for each zone, it is a shame these were not just scrapped to make some even just one more playable world, but it is hard to complain about when the level design is constantly very good, some of the best in a Sonic game this entire decade.
Bosses however, are not anywhere near as good. All of them are done poorly, either being far too short and easy or far too long and boring. Some are not bad, but in total there are only seven – Three of which are practically just complete copies of another three. Almost none of them are even Dr Robotnik, but instead just random robots he made to attack you that are not part of the story at all.
Every level has five special red rings to find that help bring your overall score up, as well as build up in order to unlock special “Sonic Simulator” levels. These are special levels designed by Dr Robotnik with robot Sonics (or your choice of one of your Miis) that run around in a very bland-looking “Retro videogame” design that does not really work for a Sonic game, but is easy to ignore as you can play them with a second player either cooperatively or counter-operatively. It is not really a bad feature and they do have some nice nods to previous Sonic titles that only some of the most hardcore fans will notice, but they should have just been special stages instead.
With all of that said, the majority of Sonic Colors’ gameplay is assembled wonderfully and will with time win over even the most negative minded fans of the series. Simple additions such as the Challenge Mode (an option that lets you play every level in a row without stopping) should become standard to the franchise from now on.
Easily one of the most impressive features of Sonic Colors is how many control options are given to you. At any moment in the game you can change between the four control options (Wii Remote sideways, Nunchuck + Wii Remote, GameCube controller or Classic Controller – The later of which is the worst as it has horrible button mapping) and continue playing without even pausing the game. Even more impressive is that all of the buttons that come on the screen that tell you what you need to do in an area change depending on what controller you are using – They even recorded new voice clips for each hint orb to reflect this.
As impressive as that all is, the controls themselves need a fair amount of work. As described earlier, the functions are very similar to the HD release of Sonic Unleashed, so people familiar with that title will be able to wrap their head around everything very fast, but it still can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers. New to the series is a fairly hard to stabilize “Double Jump” that actually adds a lot to the gameplay. In all of the past 3D Sonic games when you pressed the jump button twice you would do the homing attack, which spins you into your enemies or just shoots you forward a little bit. In here, you can only be pushed forward by pressing jump a second time if an enemy locked on with the targeting reticule. This makes falling into holes or sections you do not want to visit rarely ever your fault anymore while giving a purpose to the reticule for the first time in the series at the same time. It is impressively smart design, very unlike what is expected with Sonic Team in the past few years.
Being designed specifically for the Wii console, it is disappointing that none of Wii’s special features were taken advantage of. When you use a wisp with either the Wii Remote by itself or with the nunchuck you have to shake the controller, but that is it. The pointer could have been used for menus or helped you use the wisps, the Wii Remote’s speaker could have broadcast Dr Robotnik’s announcements, tons of things could have been done. It is nice that Sonic Team focused on the basics, but everything found on here can be done the same way if not better on any other major platform out now. It was a hugely missed opportunity.
The engine used with Sonic Colors works best in a 2D perspective (which is reflected by the game being mostly 2D sections), so the 3D platforming segments do not feel very solid at all. Worst of all there a some automated moments in the 3D areas where you need to use the “Quick Step” to dodge or collect things in your path. If you are using a controller with an analog stick this can cause problems as you have to hold forward and then tap left or right on it to instantly move to the side, when with a dpad it is fairly seamless. Even then, these moments of the game are easily the worst and should be abandoned in future releases as it has always been the worst portions of every game they have been in. The concept especially does not work when you lose every ring when you are hit again, and constant quick stepping can boost your score (it is possible to go through one section doing this constantly, then going backwards to do it again constantly to max out your score counter, ruining it’s purpose). It certainly is not game-breaking, but it most likely would have been better for the game if it was strictly 2D platforming and did not try to blend all of these styles together, especially not into the same levels.
The one thing the Sonic the Hedgehog series was always known for is that they almost always have great soundtracks, and Sonic Colors is no exception for the majority of the game. Keeping with the positive setting of the game, much of the music is very upbeat, positive and very fast paced, but uses many different styles and instruments throughout the game. Even many of the separate acts have their own variations of a world’s theme, along with some being remixed in an 8-bit style for the Sonic Simulator levels. A few of the songs – Such as the orchestrated tunes just do not work well at all in a Sonic the Hedgehog game, but still remain enjoyable to listen to.
Not all is great however. Foremost the theme song that plays when you boot up the game (it can be viewed at the top of the page) is most likely going to turn off many potential players. Another issue are the Wisp jingles that play when you use one of their powers. These are usually around two seconds and when some of them are used for up to a minute or more, it can get extremely annoying very quickly. Many of the Wisps can be avoided in any playthrough and the introduction screen is skippable, so much of this will not bother most people at all.
As the title implies, the game is incredibly colorful, featuring rich and detailed textures that fill up the screen from all different angles. Many of the levels are so nice looking in fact that it is actually fairly disappointing that you cannot interact with the majority of the background as most of the game locks you onto a fairly straight set of roads, very unlike most earlier 3D Sonic games.
Sonic Colors features some of the best visuals on the Wii platform. The art style, as with much of the rest of the game is very different from the rest of the series, but that does not make it inherently bad. With the exception of the candy themed level with clashing burgers or the bland Sonic Simulator levels, most look great with wonderfully designed buildings or spaceships filling up every inch of the screen.
There is also a Nintendo DS release of Sonic Colors, but it is mostly a very different game. It features similar gameplay to the Sonic Rush titles, but includes the wisp gimmicks, featuring some wisps not seen in the Wii release. The art, setting and music are extremely similar to one another, but the way the story and levels progress is very different. It even features special stages and missions with cameos from over a dozen Sonic characters not found in the Wii release.
As the games are very different but still both very high quality, it is justifiable to buy both releases.
Many of the complaints the series has had for over 12 years now have been addressed here while some have been removed entirely for new concepts. Some fans will be upset by many of the changes, but it is hard to find any major complaints with this release on a technical level. Sonic Colors is not the brilliant return the franchise needs, but it is certainly the first in years that is unquestionably good and is a big step in the right direction. Speaking on just console releases, this is the best Sonic spinoff since Sonic Chaos on the Master System from 1993. Sonic Team has the perfect launch pad now to make a truly fantastic game for Sonic’s 20th anniversary next year.
Formats: Wii and Nintendo DS