Sonic Colors is perhaps one of the most frustrating games I’ve had to review, although not necessarily always for the wrong reasons. To be sure, there are more than a few moments where the latest Sonic game will make you want to hit your head against the wall in frustration, but that isn’t the whole story. Mixed in with these moments of failed game design are a sizable of number of times when the latest 3D Sonic game works really well. However, failure comes far more frequently in Sonic Colors than success, making the lasting impression one of disappointment both at potential squandered and yet another failed attempt to recreate the magic of Sonic Adventures.
The biggest feature added to Sonic’s repertoire this time around is the ability to gain powers (wisps) ranging from pinballing around at light speed to turning into a rocket ship and slowly floating down through ring circles. In theory this idea should have been successful: it gives players a change of pace while introducing some new gameplay mechanics to the series. It even lives up to this potential on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately, in most cases, use of the new abilities is extremely limited and feels both forced and unnecessary, almost as if someone at SEGA felt the need to seem innovative and just gave Sega's flagship character some new skills without considering how well they fit in with the title’s atmosphere.
The addition of powerups is one of the ways that Sonic Colors takes its cues from Mario and tries to become a precise platformer, a direction that results in problems for the little blue hedgehog. This transformation continues on the act selection screen, a hub and spokes affair that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Super Mario Galaxy. True to the Sonic Colors’ name, each of the spokes will plop you into a colorful world somewhere in between outer space and the bottom of the floor of the ocean. These levels are beautifully rendered affairs, as everything from the moving backgrounds during the 2D portions to the full 3D sections pops off the screen thanks to a vibrant color palette that fits perfectly with the Sonic atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the level design is not as universally top notch as the graphics are. To be sure, the game has its moments; it isn’t uncommon to be grinding down a rail at top speed, jump off the end, fly through a set of boosting rings, demolish a line of flying enemies, bounce your way to another track only to have to avoid a set of enemy laser attacks with quick thumbstick flicks. When these sequences do happen, you can’t help but stand there, Wii Remote in hand, and utter “holy @!#& that was awesome”. Granted, there are a couple of hiccups in the control scheme, but these can be overlooked by just how plain fun these parts are. The developers seem to not have been able to leave well enough alone though, as they have also inexplicably included a substantial amount of poorly executed 2D platforming into the game.
The parts where the game goes 2D aren’t problematic because they are poorly designed; instead, the controls just aren’t up to the challenges these sections pose. Time after time you’ll find yourself attempting to land on a platform only to have Sonic slide off to his death or overshoot his destination thanks to the ridiculously floaty controls. Platforming only becomes harder when the broken auto-targeting system rears its ugly head, sending you 10 feet over your intended target and into an enemy when all you wanted to do was double jump and bring yourself up to the next platform. Besides engendering the predictable controller throwing rage at being unable to complete even the simplest of actions, the frustrating 2D sections kill all of the momentum created by the 3D portions.
Equally unfortunate are the game’s voiceovers and story. Having not played previous Wii Sonic games, I can’t comment on how they stack up against previous games in the series. I can however tell you that the story, which revolves around Dr. Robotnik attempting to collect the wisps for his evil plans, is predictably bad. To compliment the laughably lame story, Sega has chosen to voice both Sonic and Tails with a pair of ridiculous sounding voice actors, making them both seem like something out of the 90s cartoon Rocket Power. Both of these shortcomings are especially disappointing because they overshadow some truly adorable and humorous moments created by a surprisingly solid script.
This type of dichotomy underscores the major problem with Sonic Colors: it just isn’t a complete package. It certainly has its moments in the form of a superb soundtrack and gameplay segments with all the speed of an F1 racer. However, for every time that you find yourself impressed with one of the technical or design features of the game, there will be at least two occasions where you find yourself angered by 2D platforming or gimmicky wisp powers. This prevalence of frustrating features makes Sonic Colors worth at least a cursory glance from Sonic fans but other gamers would be best to look elsewhere this holiday season.