Release Date: October 29, 2013Developer: Sonic TeamPublisher: SEGA/NintendoPlatform: Wii U (Reviewed), 3DSGenre: Action-adventure, Platformer
There seem to be very few gaming mascots who have had such an up and down career as SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog has. The speedy blue guy was on top of the world back in the SEGA Genesis days, and even upped the ante further in the fantastic Sonic Adventure series on the Dreamcast and Gamecube. But then the gaming great entered into some dark days, with the infamous Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, and a slew of other equally uninspired and forgettable titles. But Sonic has still managed to stay around, and the latest Wii U and Nintendo 3DS exclusive looked to be one of the most promising entries that Sonic fans have seen in years. So now that we’ve had some time to parkour around the richly imagined world of the Lost Hex in Sonic Lost World, how does this new change of pace really hold up against Sonic’s vast and somewhat wavering legacy?
The storyline of Sonic Lost World starts out with Sonic and Tails chasing after the evil Doctor Eggman, as he’s trying to do whatever it is that he does with those capsules full of animal babies, before they all stumble on a network of mysterious worlds known as the Lost Hex. It also turns out that Eggman has enslaved six Zeti creatures known as the Deadly Six to do his evil bidding, but one thing ultimately leads to another, and Sonic and friends soon find themselves being forced to work alongside Eggman to put a stop to the Deadly Six’s evil reign. The story is honestly nothing that special, but it still serves a nice enough purpose, and it brings with it all of the expected Sonic fun and humor, along with some quality voiceover work and cinematics (although Amy’s voice might be a little bit too high-pitched and grating this time around).
The first thing that you’re likely to notice about the game is that Sonic Lost World is a significantly slower-paced experience than any Sonic game that has ever come before it, and admittedly, this might be an immediate turn-off for some Sonic veterans who are all about the speed. Sure, there are still the expected time trial challenges, and a lot of it depends on how you choose to play the game, but it’s still apparent from pretty early on that getting to the end of each zone has taken a backseat here to exploration and discovery. So half of the zones in Sonic Lost World play a bit like something out of Super Mario Galaxy, while the more “traditional” 2D sidescrolling zones have an inherent Super Mario Bros. feel: but of course, with all of the classic Sonic mechanics replacing jumping on Goombas and scuttling down green warp pipes.
It’s certainly a different change of pace for the series, but one that actually works once you start get the hang of it. And it’s actually a good thing that exploration has been given such a big emphasis here in Sonic Lost World, because these are easily some of the most wonderful and creative level designs that we’ve seen from the Sonic team in years. The alternating nature of the Sonic Adventure-esque 3D zones and the more traditional 2D ones really allowed the developer to try some exciting new things, and it’s safe to say that you’ll never encounter the same zone twice.
One moment you’ll be dashing across the blistering sands of the desert, and the next you’ll be winding down a trail that’s completely made of licorice and hopping across cakes and other sweets in a purely dessert-themed area. Another moment you’ll be leading giant apples and watermelons into a whirling ground fan to send you soaring through the sky in a torrent of fruit juice, and the next you’ll be encased in a giant snowball and forced to maneuver through a careful platforming course like some of the best Super Monkey Ball stages. The level designs are easily the best part of Sonic Lost World, and they’re not only an absolute blast to play through, but they’re positively lovely to look at as well.
The core Sonic gameplay is accentuated by the new parkour mechanic, which allows Sonic to run straight up various environmental objects like trees and walls without even breaking his stride. Enabling the slick parkour moves is as simple as holding down the right trigger and running into an object, although like everything else in this game, it’s going to take a lot of getting used to before you actually start to get good at it. Luckily for you, a lot of the zones in Sonic Lost World are pretty nice and lengthy, with tons of different change-ups to really let you get a feel for everything that’s going on around you and take the proper time to get acclimated to this new style of gameplay.
While the storyline may be a little on the short side, with seven initial worlds containing four different zones in each (and trust me, the level designs are so stunning that you’ll be going through these many zones like they’re candy), some nice replay value can be had from finding the five cleverly hidden red rings in each zone. A Chao baby will also regularly give you some optional objectives to work towards as you play through the game, such as “Collect 750 Rings” or “Jump 30 Times,” and completing them will net you some bonus power-ups and unlockable vehicles for transferable use in the Nintendo 3DS version of the game. Better still, most zones can be replayed in 2-Player race mode, with one playing looking at the GamePad screen, and the other player at the TV.
Sonic Lost World throws a lot of new concepts at the player right from the onset, which makes it kind of strange when you realize that their methods of tutorials and instructions are almost nonexistent or completely cumbersome to access. Every time a new gameplay mechanic pops up in the game, a question mark will appear somewhere on the game screen. You’ll then need to stop the action and tap anywhere on the GamePad touchscreen to pause the game and read the accompanying next section of the poorly implemented tutorial. You’re also seemingly expected to know about each one of the Color Powers and how they function from previous Sonic games, so hopefully for your sake you made a point to dabble in Sonic Colors at some point over the last several years.
One thing I found to be particularly annoying about this overall setup is the game’s constant pushing and prodding for you to “Wisp Away” your various earned power-ups to other players via the Wii U Miiverse. After every single time you complete a zone, you’ll be rewarded with one of these modifiers for your hard work, such as an extra ring boost or cluster of free lives. But since you’re only allowed to carry a mere five or six of them on you at any one time, compared to how many that are constantly being thrown at you, this almost always forces you to either discard an item or choose to send it to another player in a back-and-forth process that slows down the action in between the gameplay even more. The persistent hounding reminds me of those nosy mobile games that try to get you to connect to Facebook at every turn and bug your friends to download the game themselves: certainly not something we want to see in a console experience.
The use of the Wii U’s GamePad here in Sonic Lost World also feels a bit contrived, and it’s almost like they added in the touchscreen functionality just for the sake of having it. You’ll primarily be using the touchscreen to complete a number of optional bonus stages that pop up around the world map, which typically involve you sliding a balance beam or a cannon along the bottom of the screen, to keep Sonic and Tails bouncing around the inside of a circus tent so they can gather up as many rings and baby animals as they can before falling.
But the biggest misstep comes when you’re forced to use the touchscreen to control the various Color Powers that Sonic earns along his adventure, which are often broken and unresponsive, to put it lightly. By far the worst example of this comes from controlling the Yellow Drill power-up, where you simply need to “use the touchscreen” to maneuver the drill as it careens through the dirt, and there’s really no rhyme or reason on what to do in order to tell the drill to turn left or right. At all other times, the touchscreen simply shows a very vague and unhelpful map of the zone that you’re currently playing through.
So in the end, I think Sonic Lost World will definitely be regarded as a polarizing entry in the long-running series of action games. On the one hand, it offers a breath of fresh air in the gameplay department, and some of the most creative and varied level designs that we’ve ever seen in a main entry Sonic game to date. But on the other hand, there’s simply no denying that Sonic Lost World is still a little rough around the edges, with a lack of proper instructions, a poor use of touchscreen controls and GamePad implementation, and constant hounding to interact with the Miiverse.
What it simply boils down to is whether you want your Sonic to be fast or slow. If you want him fast, then you may want to zip right on by this title for now; but if you don’t mind stopping that speeding blue bullet to look at the scenery every now and again, then I couldn’t imagine a better world for Sonic to do some sightseeing than right here.