There’s a good chance you’ve now spent longer staring at the back of Sonic’s head than the side of it.
Obviously this depends on the number of times you replayed the original, but the fact is that between the bonus levels of Sonic 2, 3 and 3D, racing spin-offs like Sonic R and Riders and the numerous forward-facing next-gen outings it seems those pangs of nostalgia are actually correct – Sonic has been running in the wrong direction for a long time.
It’s an accepted truth that 3D Sonic doesn’t quite work. Mario made that jump with confidence but Sonic faltered with the never-released X-treme, and – with the possible exception of Sonic Adventure – has never truly recovered. However, unlike history’s numerous platformer protagonists Sonic has never faded in to complete obscurity. Aside from the popularity of his family friendly tie-ins with a certain plumber, Sonic also continues to shine in 2D releases like Sonic 4 and Rush, proving an interest in the blue hedgehog still burns in many a gamer’s inner-child. So with Colours clearly taking a leaf out of Mario Galaxy’s 2D/3D pop-up book is this finally a step in the right direction?
From the offset, Sonic Colours makes a bold departure from the traditional grassy verge and drops you in to a vibrant theme-park complete with popping balloons and a foreshadowing announcer over the tannoy. Familiarity is quickly recovered though, as the forward-sprinting gameplay soon leaves the beautiful environment in a blur of the titular colours and the traditional lane-switching and twitch-platforming make an unwelcome return. The dynamics are the same as those that have been regularly mishandled since they originated in Sonic Adventures, but here they are the closest yet to recovering the simplicity that made the Dreamcast releases so playable. Speed obviously remains the unique selling point of the Sonic series, and while the pace you’re encouraged to keep can often lead to blind jumps and awkward breaks in stride, on those lucky occasions where you react in time you are rewarded with the smooth Sonic experience we’ve all been waiting for.
Unfortunately it will indeed often be luck rather than any masterfully controlled platforming that leads to your success. At some point in Sonic’s history it was decided that his appeal was in his speed rather than finesse and successive titles since have been designed to match that model. This is no more apparent than in Colours, which compensates for the inherent human error of lightning-fast decision-making by repeatedly guiding Sonic through prescripted loops and paths which are visually arresting but nevertheless leave several seconds of completely uninteractive play. Often these will then end abruptly, leaving you disoriented and pushing the wrong direction, breaking Sonic’s momentum.
These moments do, however, have the benefit of allowing an opportunity for smooth transitioning to the 2D sections. The experience here is less taxing as the fiddly directional controls are gone and it is easier to see obstacles approaching. Undeniably this where Sonic Colours is at its most simple and enjoyable, and so it’s wise that it’s largely in these sections that the added complexity of power-ups is introduced. This time around, Sonic’s special abilities come from absorbing the alien ‘Wisps’ he rescues from Dr. Eggman, and the features they enable – especially the drill and the rocket – are genuinely exciting new additions to the Sonic arsenal. Unfortunately, the 2D environments are not free from irritations as Sonic will often appear too small to make out in the bright landscapes and simple jumps between platforms can be a far greater struggle than they should in a game of such heritage.
Aside from the patchy gameplay, Colours’ story-mode offers plenty of neatly animated cut-scenes that deliver the same campy dialogue and over-egged performances of its predecessors. Fortunately, this time they are framed by some legitimate wit and a story that sets out to start a fresh mythology, far from the storybook antics and hedgehog/human romance of previous titles. Once the surprisingly satisfying story is powered through there is a significantly extended game-life in returning to previous levels with the full array of alien ‘Wisps’ to navigate them. Collectibles can be easily sped past in the games and so the remarkably Nintendo-esque hub world is a welcome tool for those lucky enthusiasts who can see past the game’s faults.
Ultimately, Sonic Colours carries all the same bothersome flaws that have plagued the 3D incarnations since Adventures, but never before have the rewards for bearing with it been so rich. The game remains a misstep, and perhaps one which shows that, even when perfected, the format cannot amount to an entirely satisfying experience. But for those looking to simply run fast and spring high, Colours offers everything you’re looking for and a few extras you didn’t know you wanted. Nevertheless, as platforming experiences go this reviewer is happy to see the back of it.