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Sonic Colors

Score: 84%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sonic Team
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:

For me, one of the greatest pleasures of reviewing games is being surprised by games that I either fail to catch on my radar or flat-out underestimate. Sonic Colors is one of those happy surprises. It might not have been quite so special if it wasn't a Sonic game, but this Wii game would be great even if the Blue Blur wasn't the star. This is the closest Sonic the Hedgehog has come to an official return to form, and it's a must-play for anyone who's had experience with this once-great gaming icon.

Though it's pleasing to the eyes and (yes) colorful, there's nothing distinctively next-gen about Sonic Colors. In order for developers to visually impress on Nintendo's home console, they've got to focus on the art design to the point where players should be able to look past the jaggies. Sonic Team succeeds in delivering a vivid and undeniably bizarre set of landscapes for Sonic to speed through. By using an interplanetary theme park as the setting, they're able to (somewhat) plausibly string together worlds that range from exotic to electronic to... well, edible. The wisp powers activate with 60s-worthy displays of color, and the sense of speed really satisfies when delivered in large-enough doses.

Sonic Colors features the best soundtrack in the series since its 16-bit days. No, it doesn't require chiptune in order to pull that off. And no, I'm not talking about the game's theme song "Reach For The Stars." If you're sick of the pseudo-punk that accompanied most of Sonic's recent adventures, you might be happy to know that Sonic Colors features a delightful soundtrack that isn't afraid to get experimental with the instruments and talents behind them. Sure, there are guitars, and yes, there are synthesizers, but none of the main instruments overpower the other sounds that most definitely deserve to be heard. What's even better is how the music fades and loses balance when you boost; giving the impression that Sonic is too fast for it. Finally, it will come to everyone's surprise that the voice work is (gasp!) above average. Sonic comes across as a total wise-ass, but it isn't a painful experience to hear him talk -- as it was during his last five or so adventures. Also, Tails is no longer a whiny tagalong bit player. In Sonic Colors, he's a modest whiz kid with more than a touch of skepticism in him. And Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman...) -- well, he's an overzealous windbag with evil intentions -- how do you expect him to sound?


Gameplay:

Sonic Colors doesn't bother with impenetrable cringe-worthy melodrama, and instead opts for something that feels straight out of a cartoon. Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman...) has constructed the so-called "Amazing Interstellar Amusement Park." He's done all this with the purest of intentions, well apart from the enslavement and exploitation of an alien race (known as Wisps) and aspirations of universal dominance. The whole thing is just pure idiocy to begin with, but who knows that better than Sonic the Hedgehog and his pal Tails? Conveniently enough, they show up on the scene and begin undoing the damage before it gets bad. This means speeding across the amusement park, freeing Wisps, and kicking robot butt.

It seems Sonic's tried everything -- from hoverboarding to the bloody Winter Olympics (with Mario, of all characters) -- in several attempts to keep the franchise powered with ideas. Sonic Colors is the result of Sonic Team putting its collective finger directly between the two-dimensional formula of the Genesis-era games and the three-dimensional action of the Sonic Adventure days. The object of each level: get to the end. That always involves a lot of running from left to right, jumping when the situation calls for it, and a bit more. That extra bit is best saved for two sections down.


Difficulty:

From the outset, Sonic Colors is a breeze. Early levels are all about the joy and thrill of speeding through the levels. They don't offer much in the way of reflexive platforming or combat (if you really want to call it that). However, at about the halfway mark, things start to get iffy. Inconsistency is better than straight-up punishing, but Sonic Colors features some instances of bad level design. These levels unwisely focus on the game's weakest elements. Sonic's not built for precision, and that was never his strong suit. However, Sonic Colors occasionally sinks low enough to play a few tricks on you; one level has you speeding around what looks like a giant death trap. You'll fly through a number of tight corners only to be suddenly slapped in the face with a difficult moving platform segment. These level design flaws show up too often in the game's second half and they break up the pacing -- a serious no-no for a Sonic game.

Sonic Colors has more bright spots than dark spots; one of its greatest strength is in its replayability. You'll hit up the early levels only to find that certain paths are conspicuously out of reach. Once you free certain Wisps, you'll be able to more fully explore previously completed levels. And yes, there are rewards to be earned as a result.


Game Mechanics:

Frustrating parts aside, there are some smart design decisions at work in this game. First off, I applaud Sonic Team for giving gamers the choice of controller. I don't hate the Wii-mote, but I will take my trusty Wavebird over most anything these days.

In Sonic Colors, the two-dimensional action outweighs the three-dimensional action. What makes the three-dimensional stuff so great is that just enough of it is taken completely out of your control. Those who have played 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog have seen what kind of disasters can unfold when Sonic can turn on a dime without losing his momentum. When the camera is at Sonic's back, you only have as much control over him as you need. As a result, these segments feel like something out of a racing game, which is appropriate.

Sonic's got his usual repertoire of abilities, including his sliding and homing attacks, but what makes Sonic Colors unique (and indeed, what gives the game its name) are the Wisp powers. You see, through some (thankfully) unexplained process, Sonic can harness the energy of the Wisps and use them for his own benefits. The color and shape of the Wisp dictates what ability he can use. White Wisps fill Sonic's Boost Meter and can be used independently of other Wisp powers. Others directly affect how you traverse certain parts of each level; for example, acquiring a Cyan Wisp gives Sonic the ability to transform into a laser beam, which can then be bounced along a network of reflector crystals or into a special energy circuit. Yellow Wisps transform Sonic into an earth-ravaging drill form. Orange Wisps rocket Sonic into the sky, allowing him to free fall back down while collecting out-of-reach rings and red coins. Blue Wisps transform special blue cubes into coins and vice versa. Green Wisps transform Sonic into what looks like a blimp; hitting a button while traveling along a line of rings quickly shuttles him through that line. Pink Wisps turn Sonic into a spiky ball that clings to all surfaces. And finally, the Purple Wisp turns Sonic into a giant head with a seemingly bottomless appetite. Weird, I know. Yes, some Wisp powers are better than others (I don't much care for the Blue Wisp power), but each of them serves a valuable purpose that helps you uncover the secrets of each level. In the end, these abilities help define Sonic Colors -- more so than any other of the game's components.

I really hope Sonic pulls through and becomes the Mickey Rourke of the video game industry. Redemption is a treasure hard-won, but Sonic Colors proves that Sega intends to fight tooth and nail in order to return its mascot to relevance. For all we know, Sonic is on a twelve-step program. However, if Sonic Colors is any indication, he may have just sped right past a few of those steps.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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