If Sonic The Hedgehog were a fizzy drink, then he’d have started to go flat approximately 16 years ago. After three thrilling adventures on the Sega Megadrive, the blue blur headed off down a blind alley of dodgy spin-offs and abortive attempts at 3D, seemingly never to return.
Where Mario made the jump to the third dimension with aplomb, Sonic struggled. It’s ironic then, that after years of mediocre series entries, it’s taken Sonic’s old rival, Mario, to show him how to regain his fizz.
The debt Sonic Colours owes to the magnificent Super Mario Galaxy is obvious. The bite-sized levels. The constant shifts in perspective and styles of play. The luminous, shining environments. But by filtering Galaxy’s ideas through the filter of Sonic’s sugar-rush, ADD persona, developer Sonic Team has finally delivered something hedgehog fans have long been waiting for: a 3D Sonic game that actually works.
At last, here’s a series entry that understands what a Sonic game should be: fast, bright, and most importantly, fun. Sonic Colours fuses the 3D platform hopping action of old with the sensibility of a racing game – its twisting, obstacle-filled stages hurtle by in a blur, requiring fleet fingers and a keen memory to complete.
At scripted points in each stage, the camera will switch from a traditional side-view perspective as Colours lurches between different modes of play. There are Sonic Adventure-style sequences, where the camera chases Sonic along circuits of chicanes and jumps, and 2.5D platforming sections, filled with all the bouncing pinball bumpers, loops and enemies that have been a series staple since the 16-bit era.
In a further nod to Sonic Adventure, spin-attacks now automatically lock on to the nearest enemy, allowing Sonic to crash his way through ranks of monsters with a few rapid taps of the jump button. As was the case with Sonic 4, pulling off a chain of attacks, and using enemies as a ladder to get to areas of the map otherwise out of reach, feels slick and keeps the hectic pace of the game at boiling point.
Sonic Colours rarely settles down to a simmer, and for the first time in years, it’s a series entry that feels like its creators had genuine confidence in what they’ve created – it simply ploughs on through each of its seven worlds, flinging colour at the screen with gleeful abandon. There are no annoying side quests and, best of all, no werehogs.
Sonic Colours’ big contribution to hedgehog lore is its Wisp mechanic. Collected as you traverse each of its stages, these eight multi-coloured power-ups give Sonic temporary powers. Pink Wisps turn Sonic into a spiked ball that can roll up walls and across ceilings, while orange ones turn him into a rocket.
The Wisps’ effects are garish and varied, but all perform the same function – by using them at key (and frequently signposted) sections in the game, Sonic can reach otherwise hidden areas of the map to gain extra points. It may sound like yet another redundant gimmick, but Sonic Team has made sparing and tasteful use of this new mechanic, providing an added reason to revisit earlier levels multiple times – it’s only once all the Wisps have been collected that Sonic can access all the hidden areas in each act.
Sonic Team has got so much right with Colours, but that’s not to say the game isn’t entirely without fault. Most levels are well designed, but a few have some nasty, potentially frustrating spikes in difficulty, including a singularly irritating stage where Sonic has to bounce on a moving trampoline to get to the final checkpoint.
The game as a whole also lacks the polished gleam of the Super Mario Galaxy games – though I suspect Sonic Colours was made on a considerably smaller budget – with cluttered stage select screens and some occasionally grating theme music.
Nevertheless, Sonic Colours’ weaker moments are more than outweighed by its sense of fun and exuberance. As its name implies, Colours’ levels are a polychrome riot, an acid-infused rollercoaster of twists and traps. The Wii may lag way behind the current console generation technically, but Sonic Team has wrung some seriously pretty visuals from Nintendo’s machine, from lush aquatic worlds populated by giant jellyfish to curling race tracks among the stars.