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Sonic used to be so awesome. Back in the early nineties the blue blur starred in four of the best 2D platformers ever made but the shift to 3D proved too difficult for him. High-speed platforming in the third dimension is unquestionably a tricky thing to do well but Sonic Team have had more than enough attempts at getting it right but time after time their games have been let down by unrefined controls, strange and unwelcome gameplay gimmicks and an uninspired and seemingly ever-increasing cast of dull characters. While the 2D series has continued to do pretty well on handhelds  the enigma of a home console 3D game has yet to be cracked. Now with the excellent Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 1 available to download the team are having another crack at making a main series title that recaptures past glories and it’s called Sonic Colours.

So does the game suceed? Well, there’s progress and it’s often fun but this is no golden dawn for the series. Sonic Colours is an action-packed platformer that has it’s thrills but it never excels. The story sees Sonic and Tails investigating a huge outer-space theme park created by Dr Eggman where they discover a number of alien creatures called wisps whose power is being exploited for the scientist’s nefarious purposes. To foil him Sonic must run very fast through a number of themed worlds and shut down the park’s several generators. Significantly, and to this game’s credit, the myriad superfluous characters the series has vomited up are absent from proceedings – you only play as Sonic and cut scenes are kept to a minimum, though they’re still not great. The voice actors playing Sonic and Tails have changed since last time and while they’re not as annoying you still can’t help yearning for the days when Sonic was a silent protagonist. The script is lame and the whole presentation of the thin story is poor, but at least there’s not much of it.

The gameplay. The most important thing here is that this game isn’t ruined by its gimmick. Sonic Unleashed did a half-decent job of the speedy sections but the whole thing was ruined by the horrendously dull were-hog levels which made up about three quarters of the content. No such radical departure here, instead the new gameplay device involves those wisps. The different coloured little aliens can be freed from capsules during the levels and each colour gives you a different power-up, yellow ones allow you to drill through the ground, cyan ones can turn you into a laser to fire you at massive speed through the level, pinging off walls, while the  orange fellows turn you into a rocket to gain some serious height. So they’re just power-ups basically and they’re mostly optional at that. While the wisps don’t add a huge amount and some are better than others they don’t ruin anything.

The red wisp power-up lets you cling to walls.

 

Sadly Sonic Team didn’t use this opportunity to refine the basic controls. Running through the 3D environments may be thrilling but you never feel fully in control. The 2D sections are a bit better with the speed but when Sonic slows don’t and starts doing some precision platform jumping, which happens surprisingly often it falls down somehwat. I can’t help thinking while playing this game that if Sonic had a tune-up and real, thoughtful work was put into his controls we could yet have something spectacular, but it hasn’t happened yet.

It pans out like this, there are six worlds to work through, only one of which is accessible to begin with. More than one is unlocked at a time allowing you to plot your own route through the game. Each world contains six acts, some long, some short, some speedy, some slower and full of platform jumping. There are five cunningly hidden red rings to find in each act and often multiple routes to explore. You’re graded at the end of the act on your performance. Beat the acts and you square off against the boss. It’s not very long, I beat the game in five hours. There are no Chaos Emeralds to find and very little unlockable content. Finding the red rings and getting the best grades might keep you playing but there’s very little incentive. The best bits come when you’re blitzing through a level grabbing rings, bouncing off series of bumpers, stringing up enemy takedowns and making good use of your wisp power-ups. It can be exhilerating but the sloppy level design doesn’t always allow it. The graphics are technically great but the art direction seems rather half-hearted and the levels can look a little dull. The developers seem to be slowly moving away from the kid-friendly rock music that has plagued the last decade of titles and there are some fairly decent tunes here.

 

Lovely vistas feature throughout.

So all-in-all Sonic Colous is a half-decent, playable effort that’s consistently fun but let down by a lack of refinement. If more time had been spent on the game maybe it could have excelled. Maybe the next one will.

Presentation – 5

Small improvements over Unleashed including marginally better voice acting and more user-friendly world navigation can’t mask the fact that this is still a rather anaemic package.

Gameplay – 6

Fast and fun but frustratingly unrefined. There’s thrills aplenty but they’re tempered by fiddly controls.

Graphics – 8

The real highlight of the game is its pretty pictures that appropriately fill the screen with colour but the art direction could be much better.

Sound – 7

Bouncy, often catchy music and voice acting slightly better than previous outings round out a satisfying audio package.

Difficulty – 7

You’ll lose plenty of lives as you progress and boss battles can be challenging but a skilled player should be able to beat the game without too many problems. Huge difficulty in a game about speed would be disastrous so the challenge level here is about right.

Longevity – 6

Rather on the short side even for a Sonic game. Some players will find reasons to keep playing after the credits roll but the game isn’t good enough to warrant proper replays.

Verdict

Sonic Colours represents a few baby steps in the right direction for the series and most gamers will find things to enjoy but it’s still a missed opportunity and there’s nothing here to make you fall in love with Sonic again. One piece of advice for long time fans, download Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 1 first.

7.3

out of 10

 

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