Developer: Sonic Team
Review Platform: Wii U
Review Copy Provided By: SEGA
Release Date: October 29, 2013
One of the easiest things a game writer can do is start an article about a Sonic game. A little “this game maybe isn’t as bad as the last one I guess”, a pinch of “lol furries”, and maybe some “hurf durf Big the Cat” and you can sit back and watch as the online ad revenue rolls in. I, however, don’t have any intention of insulting your intelligence like that. I’d even go so far as to say Sonic Lost World, despite it’s grammatically awkward title, deserves better than the rote checklist of jokes and snark that is the usual Sonic title review. Sonic Lost World is the newest Sonic title, and in a move that still manages to upset and confuse my inner eight-year-old, it’s a Nintendo exclusive. Much has been ballyhooed about the game’s supposed resemblance to the Super Mario Galaxy titles, what with their 360-degree rotating levels, variety of environments, and colorfully alien enemies. Certainly, it has its similarities, but it sets itself apart in a number of significant ways that make it worth far more attention than that.
As mentioned, Sonic Lost World is a fully 3D platformer at its heart, but it takes a variety of forms. Some levels have you dashing across a series of small rotating planetoids like the aforementioned Galaxy games. Others place you on more of a Crash Bandicoot-style 3D ‘track’ where your path is pre-determined but the environment and gameplay still takes place on a 3D plane. Still others play in a 2.5D style reminiscent of Klonoa or the ‘classic’ segments of Sonic Generations, a game that seems to be a blueprint for Lost World in hindsight. This sort of variety permeates through the entire game and influences nearly every bit of its design. Environments take on all shapes and sizes, from standard-issue grassy hills and deserts, to moons made out of dessert that you travel between on huge licorice straws, to giant gardens full of comically huge and surprisingly lethal fruit. Colorful well-done graphics dot the landscape, providing plenty of distinction not only between separate zones but the individual levels within each, giving each area a wholly unique feel and appearance. This sort of variety really goes a long way to help keep you interested; if nothing else, you want to keep playing just to see what the game will throw at you. I don’t know about you, but a Sonic game hasn’t made me feel like that since Sonic Adventure, and it’s rare for me to see a lot of mainstream titles these days that instill that feeling.
Luckily, the gameplay matches well enough, aside from a few un-ignorable hiccups. As mentioned, there are several viewpoints to go through, sometimes changing in the span of a single level, and they all offer their own specific challenges. The 3D levels focus more on exploring an environment to solve simple puzzles, in between moments of dashing about, dodging/attacking enemies and gathering all the rings you can. The 2D areas provide challenges not unlike older Sonic titles, but thanks to Sonic’s new-found agility including a pseudo wall-jump and the ability to grab onto platforms you nearly missed, you’re given more options than in older titles which limited you to “jumping”, “spinning”, and “jump-and-spin”. These upgrades to Sonic’s bag of tricks don’t come without some downsides, though. For example, the ever-present homing attack is still around and its just as fussy as ever. The game makes a very clear distinction between your homing attack and your regular jump and there’s a surprising number of enemies that cannot be killed with your homing attack, forcing you to just jump on them. It never goes well. Doubly so for the frequently clumsy boss fights, which typically boil down to you frantically following some brightly colored DreamWorks alien around until you can find the teensy split-second window with which you can fumble around trying to jump on their head. And even the enemies that CAN be killed with the homing attack typically cause more problems than they’re worth, resulting in a high amount of enemy avoidance. Higher than the usual Sonic game, at least.
Those gripes aside, Lost World plays and feels appropriately tight and responsive. Sonic controls well and responds quickly to any button press, allowing you to react to sudden obstacles and other issues with enough time to properly handle the circumstances. The Wisp-based power-ups from the so-so Sonic Colors return add more spice and options to your dashing about (a friendly hint: don’t bother using the touch-screen to control them). And while the enemies aren’t anything new, that’s sort of the point: a lot of returning faces come back to torment Sonic, such as those bastard windbag chickens from way back in Sonic and Knuckles.
The game also keeps up with its presentation. The graphics are cartoonish and colorful, calling to mind the brightly-painted abstract landscapes of the 16-bit era while eschewing the needlessly urban landscapes of many 3D Sonic games. Cutscenes are frequent and surprisingly entertaining, displaying a sense of humor not typically seen in modern Sonic games; in particular, the interplay between Robotnik, Cubot, and Orbot will call to mind the glory days of Scratch and Grounder. The voice acting is tolerant and Sonic remains charmingly arrogant even when he totally blows it (which manages to be a major plot point). Lost World’s overall vibe is pleasant and nostalgic, and instills some kind of vague…positive feeling in the player, especially one with any kind of history with Sonic games.
Of course, as the detractors could argue, every Sonic game (other than CD) has to have its downsides, and this game isn’t exactly exempt. There’s the aforementioned jumping/homing issues, of course, and then there’s a bit of a sense of deja joue that permeates the entire thing. While I would argue most of the game is a little closer to Super Mario 3D Land than Super Mario Galaxy (which is a good thing, as 3D Land may be my favorite Mario in recent years), there’s always the nagging suspicion you’ve seen and played all this before. The map screen, while a worthwhile addition to Sonic, is still ripped straight from other platformers, and the worlds even progress in the same fashion as a Mario game – grassland first, then desert, then water, etc etc. Nostalgic bad guys are fun to encounter, but you remember exactly how to defeat them from before and it’s not a lot different in 3D. Sonic’s reputation, at this point, is such that adapting new ideas from other successful games isn’t the worst idea in the world, and hopefully Lost World 2 (if we see it) will build upon these foundations to make something more original.
Now, let’s get serious. Sonic Lost World has its faults, but every game does and none of them are enough to completely ruin your fun. Sure, you’ve played most of this before. Sure, you’re absolutely right to not be excited about a Sonic game. Lost World probably isn’t going to completely turn your opinion on Sonic and his pals around, but it’s a good first start. And, if it helps at all, I can’t help but feel as though somewhere between the varied environments and the shifting camera angles, this is the closest we’ll probably ever get to playing the legendary canned Sega Saturn title Sonic X-Treme. If Sega can crap out a few more like this, maybe our old blue friend can start to see his fortunes come back. Worse comes to worst, it’s a fine WiiU game to kill some time with between Wind Waker HD and the sure-to-be-awesome Super Mario 3D World.