Sonic Colors takes a few cues from the Super Mario Galaxy games, which isn’t a bad idea — it’s a great one! Interplanetary travel, colorful aliens in need of rescue, helpful transformations for the hero and lovely orchestrated music… If Mario’s formula works for the Blue Blur to make a good game again then Sonic should ape the plumber on a more consistent basis as Sonic Colors is the hedgehog’s best packaged video game in years (or months if you count the downloadable Sonic 4).
A hybrid of classic 2D Sonic platforming and the 3D business he’s been up to lately, Sonic Colors succeeds in each respect. The on-rails zoom-through-the-scenery parts thrill, while the jump-from-floating-square-to-floating-square parts challenge. Later levels “challenged” me enough to crush the Wiimote in my hands, though some of that frustration could be attributed to getting used to the game’s wonky jumping.
Sonic has three ways to jump — a simple hop, a longer jump and a double-jump. You have to hold the jump button to do the longer jump, which is the preferred way to clear platforms most of the time. Thing is, there’s a slight delay between pressing and holding the jump button and actually doing the longer jump, which can make all that platforming tricky. It’s nothing that one can’t get used to once you get the rhythm of it all. Then again, I’m one of the few to forgive Sonic 4′s loopy leaping, so mileage may vary.
The on-rails bits — rushing through levels in a behind or in-front-of-the-hedgehog view — are usually pretty fun, providing nice twitch-based play, such as abandoning a rollercoaster just in time because the rail’s out. (Yeah, the on-rails parts have actual rails.) A lot of it’s trial-and-error, but that’s usually the case when there are bottomless pits around.
The presentation’s great, far and away better than Sonic 4‘s. Music ranges from passable to fantastic, with driving bass, guitar and a healthy dose of keyboard — totally “Sonic.” The theme song by Cash Cash is a little too Disney Channel and auto-tuned for my taste, but the music from Planet Wisp, Starlight Speedway and a few other areas helps Sonic Colors stand up there with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game as one of the best video game soundtracks of the year.
The story is strictly for the kids. Sonic and Tails (and no other lousy friends!) drop into Robotnik, er, Eggman’s new amusement park to see what’s what. They find out he’s enslaving colorful airborne aliens called Wisps, and try to rescue them. Nice and simple. Cutscenes are brief, thankfully, yet Sonic still finds a way to cram as much surfer bro dialogue into them as possible. Considering how closely the scenario hews to The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon from the 90s it’s a shame they didn’t go all the way and replace Eggman’s bland sidekicks with Scratch and Grounder, and the autotuned theme song with In the Hall of the Mountain King.
The only other strike I can think of would be the repeated bosses. They’re the equivalent of the palette-swapped ninjas in Mortal Kombat. Sure, they’re a different color but they each have the same basic look and moveset. The final boss is another endurance match like Sonic 4‘s, though not nearly as infuriating and it has the class to unify the story and gameplay in an almost-satisfying way. What happens is nice for Colors, but still not as exciting as past Sonic finales (Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure).
Otherwise, Sega’s done very well lately. Sonic Colors isn’t just good for a Sonic game, it’s a good game. Not great, good. Which, ah, is great for a Sonic game. Sonic 4 started their mascot back down the path towards Genesis-era glory, while Sonic Colors — brisk, vibrant and fun — provides a well-earned checkpoint. Rest well, hedgehog, before your next run. You don’t want to hit a wall. Have a chili dog or two. You earned it.