Now we know how to make a 3D Sonic game, right? Well yes, but one thing all those wildly diverse Sonic games were good at was getting your hopes up. Maybe the next game will work better than the last. No? How about the next? They can always come up with new ways of making fans hopeful and thus still interested in the franchise, but it seems to me like the one thing SEGA are truly afraid of is Sonic becoming stale and same-y.
Why else would you make the new Wii U game, Sonic Lost World, one of the most different Sonic experiences yet after finally finding a gameplay mechanic that works? Gone are the frenzied euphoric dashes through detailed environments, boost button firmly under finger. It's a game that for the most part relieves the blue blur of a lot of his speed and traditional momentum physics, and puts him in a far more simplistic, fanciful and less ordered world than he's accustomed to. Yet at the same time, it emphasises, more than any other game in the series, the technical joy of proper platforming and an ingenious variety of objects, hazards and gimmicks the likes of which have been few and far between until now. One could say it's the absolute antithesis of "boost to win" gameplay.
With such a varied fan-base to contend with, Sonic Lost World was always going to be a game that divided opinion. Whether you're a classic purist, a modern speed freak, or someone just looking for a great technical platforming experience, whatever your first thoughts were on seeing the game in action, I would imagine they would not change much upon playing it.. But let's find out anyway...
So we begin with the story. The opening cutscene certainly has a ring of nostalgia about it, as we find Sonic and Tails chasing Eggman across the skies on their trusty, original, Tornado, hoping to secure a last capsule full of animals. Apparently Eggman has taken an endearingly back-to-basics approach with his latest evil scheme. A scuffle sees our heroes hurtling towards a floating land called Lost Hex - and that's pretty much the only background we're given on what the hell this place is and why it's here.
It transpires though that alongside turning Sonic's thousands of furry friends into nuts and bolts, Eggman's also acquired the subservience of the Deadly Six, a colourful cast of villains whose powers are controlled by blowing into a mystical shell. Early on, Sonic makes the mistake of relieving Eggman of this shell, causing the Deadly Six to go nuts, take control of the hoards of vintage badniks that have been shipped in straight from the 90's, and generally run amok. Queue the unlikely teaming up of Sonic and his oldest foe to foil the Six's dastardly plan of sucking up all of the energy from the planet below to make themselves ever more powerful.
Though things start out quite cheesy, the numerous cutscenes actually begin to demonstrate some interesting character development (well, by Sonic game standards anyway) as the three main protagonists progress through the story. Eggman at one point demonstrates some surprisingly violent anger, and the whole situation actually causes some noticeable tension between Sonic and Tails. It's also quite interesting to see how Sonic, not known for his emotional displays, reacts to everything going wrong, and for once being in the wrong himself. It's not exactly Shakespeare, and the dialogue isn't as funny as Sonic Colours, but it's not bad. I felt the ending somewhat lacking and anti-climactic though.
Now the world of Lost Hex is a curious place, and unlike any other from Sonic's world. In what is at least partially an attempt to increase the length and variety of the game by making levels easier for the developers to build, the zones are minimalistic, abstract and perhaps child-like. The ongoing theme is that, although Lost Hex is an incomplete globe of hexagons, most of the places Sonic seems to visit are above this surface, spread out across floating platforms amongst the clouds, leading to level design reminiscent of what a lot of Sonic Heroes levels turned out to be.
As is now very much the norm, the game's zones divide themselves fairly evenly between 2D and 3D portions - some are entirely one or the other, others mix and match at certain points. In both dimensions though, many platforms and chunks of ground tend to employ the use of gravity in ways that will be extremely familiar to anyone who's played Mario Galaxy 1 or 2, and the comparisons are hard to ignore when you see Sonic running around huge spheres with their own gravity field. Other examples are more Sonic-ified, such as long looping cylindrical structures that only Sonic's speed could traverse quickly, and the 2D camera will often twist with Sonic as curved walls become floors while you walk across them. I suppose it's a shame that they've had to borrow so heavily from another, very popular game that's very well known for using this effect - It's almost a little embarrassing actually. If you can get Sonic to dash across these structures then it's at least interesting to see what he can do with them that Mario can't.
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