Sonic Team has made some terrible missteps since the heyday of the Sega Mega Drive. Unlike the franchise that he was conceived to rival, Sonic has always struggled with the transition to 3D, right back to his first attempt, Sonic 3D Blast. Mario, on the other hand, has yielded countless groundbreaking 3D games and has never had trouble adjusting to the latest console.
With that in mind, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that Sonic Colours is the best entrant into the franchise since SEGA bowed out of the hardware business. More importantly, it’s fun. Really fun.
The story follows Sonic as he uncovers another devious plot by Dr. Eggman who has now set up an evil amusement park to harness the power of aliens called wisps. It’s contrived, poorly written and poorly animated but is served up with merciful infrequency.
Besides, the marked tone change in the story is welcome. The Sonic concept is inherently ridiculous and the Sonic Team has finally begun to embrace it so that today we’re far removed from the appalling seriousness of Sonic the Hedgehog for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. No creepy Sonic make-out sessions present here.
The wisps are another Sonic gimmick in a long line of poorly-received gimmicks. Sonic Team apparently loves tacking on additional elements that frequently deviate from – and rarely add to – the core gameplay.
Not so this time. A substitute for power-ups, the wisps are aliens, whom you are trying to save, and who will temporarily lend Sonic their powers, whether it’s the ability to turn into a laser, a rocket, a frenzied purple shark or a big blue block.
This adds simple puzzling elements to an otherwise fast-paced platformer. At a few select junctions you are given a choice of which wisp power to use, which takes you in different routes throughout the level.
Sonic Colours fine tunes gameplay elements of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Heroes, Sonic & The Secret of the Ring and Sonic Unleashed, resulting in a very fast and very polished gaming experience. The core gameplay is punchy, rhythmic, and primarily in the third person, with the camera switching around for extended periods to a rendered 2D platformer.
These 2D elements may be the most enjoyable parts of the game, rivaling Sonic 4 Episode 1, but the third-person gameplay is at its best since Sonic Adventure. The decision to keep the vast majority of it simple seems fairly obvious, but it has been easier said than done in the past.
The game is naturally fast-paced, but even on the comparably underpowered Wii, it never skips a beat. Levels load fast and the backgrounds in the third person sequences are lush, especially on the wisp planet.
The Sonic Simulator mini-game, designed to be an attraction at the in-game amusement park, is a fun distraction. It's all rendered 2D with simplified level design and the chiptunes treatment of the other zone music in the simulator is a nice touch.
But Sonic Colours is not without its flaws: The impressive sequences of Sonic running around loops, traversing instantly materialising roads and avoiding exploding aircrafts are auto-play sequences abruptly shoved in amidst gameplay. It can be frustrating not realising when your control ends and the game takes over. Worse still, it can lead to some sudden death traps.
The prompts to crouch and jump are helpful but at best hide key flaws in the game design, particularly those moments where you are given too little time to react.
In the final zone the on-rails elements become more common. Sonic is constantly moving forward and you’re left to decide when to move left or right, when to boost and, very occasionally, when to jump. The checkpoints become less frequent and patterns must be memorised because real-time reaction is impossible.
Bosses are finely balanced to provide the right kind of incremental challenge. They’re drawn out with multiple phases and call upon differing styles of gameplay. Only one steers directly into the familiar territory of “jump and hit the boss” but others build upon it in creative ways.
The only problem is that you’re either fighting an airship, fighting someone who comes off an airship, or an evil Ferris wheel. This means every second boss is a re-skin of a past boss, which lacks imagination at best and is outright lazy at worst.
It's a pity as the bosses in Sonic had been one of the things that set the franchise apart from relatively unimaginative Mario boss battles in the era before the Nintendo 64.
There are also some small, odd inconsistencies in the game. For example, gameplay is has infrequent interrupted by an anonymous announcer who lets you know if you have pulled off a good jump combo or what wisp you have just turned into. Other than that he remains disconcertingly silent.
This is illustrative of many of the inconsistencies in Sonic Colours, but it’s still a remarkable game, one that’s too good to be a Wii exclusive. Perfect for old-school Sonic fans.