Sonic has undergone many changes over the years. The blue hedgehog’s career has spanned over two decades with games that have evolved from classic 2D side-scrolling to 3D action-adventure platforming. In recent years, Sonic Team connected the two styles to meet with complaints that have been put forth by fans and critics. After the universally panned eponymous Sonic the Hedgehog in 2006, the series needed a form of salvation. A gleam of hope came from Sonic Unleashed in 2008. During half of the game, Sonic had a behind-the-back 3D perspective that could transition into 2D platforming sections reminiscent of the roots of the series. This half of the game had great level design with great color, music and gameplay; Sonic was fast and controllable again. Unfortunately, the other half of the game involved a Werehog with the less said the better. Sonic Team has since used the 2D/3D style gameplay in Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors. These two games both received praise and for good reason. After years of people saying the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was dying, Sonic Team had finally breathed life back into the series.
This brings us to the end of 2013 and the advent of Sonic Lost World for the Wii U and 3DS. Since I only picked up the Wii U version, that’s what this review will cover. The story begins with Sonic and Tails using the Tornado to chase down their nemesis Doctor Eggman. Eggman has returned to his old tricks of using animals to power his robots. Sonic and Tails are shot down in the chase and land on a floating continent called the Lost Hex. Eggman also lands on the Lost Hex and subjugates six of its inhabitants, the Deadly Six, using a device called the Cacophonic Conch. Sonic must best these new antagonists to stop the Extractor, a machine Eggman has built to siphon energy from the Earth below the Lost Hex.
The gameplay offered in Sonic Lost World is similar to the recent successful Sonic titles. 2D/3D style transitions return. They are very smooth, and allow for varied platforming and style within a level. If you’ve seen any gameplay for Lost World, you most likely saw the 3D cylindrical and tubular sections. These cylinders and tubes offer Sonic a few different paths to choose from as you make your way through the level. Although the game can feel and look like Super Mario Galaxy at times, it certainly has its own Sonic spin (heh) on things. As Sonic progresses through levels, he comes across the roboticizer containers holding animals. Animals can be saved by jumping on the top of the container just like in the old games, but also from busting up classic Badniks like Choppers, Moto Bugs, Caterkillers and more! These animals actually serve a purpose now! A running total of animals is displayed on the overworld, and a certain number must be freed before Sonic can progress to the next level. I never ran into this being a problem, but if for some reason you need a few more critters to get to the next level, there are breakout-like minigames you can use to score some additional fuzzy friends. With four levels in each of the seven worlds, the game offers 28 levels plus a few bonuses. The third and fourth levels of each world each contain a boss fight at the end. These boss fights consist of one of the Deadly Six coming to try and stop Sonic with different gimmicks. These fights are hardly challenging, but at least offer some variation in the way you must defeat the bosses.
Sonic Lost Worlds incorporates some new mechanics into its classic controls. First, the game has Sonic moving at walking pace naturally. You’re required to hold down the right trigger of the Wii U gamepad to make sonic burst into a sprint. The great part about the running in this game is that when you’re holding down the right trigger, Sonic performs his Figure Eight/Super Peel Out technique. However, it becomes frustrating to hold down a trigger every time you want to run. I found myself holding down the trigger most of the game except the rare instances of precision platforming. Ideally, you would be able to switch which speed Sonic moves at when not holding the trigger, but you do become used to it over time. Secondly, Sonic is able to employ his homing attack when enemies are locked onto, but when they are not, Sonic double jumps. There are actually two jump buttons: one that is specifically for double jumping and one that is for doing a homing attack. This allows you to make careful jumps without accidentally performing a homing attack on an enemy and falling to your death. This is another feature that takes a while to get used to, but I did find myself actually being able to control Sonic much more carefully than I had in previous games. Sonic’s arsenal includes other recurring abilities like bouncing and the spin dash. The new parkour mechanic allows fluid movement throughout the environment, allowing Sonic to run over small obstacles as well as run up walls and run along walls preserving your momentum. It took me until I completed the game to truly feel like I mastered this mechanic. The game offers little in the way of tutorials on how to use this mechanic, and when you are searching for secrets, mastery of these controls becomes crucial.
New parkour mechanic allows Sonic to maintain momentum while running through the Lost Hex.
Color powers return with the Wii U version including the yellow drill, orange rocket, green hover and cyan laser from previous games. New powers include the magenta rhythm (Sonic becomes a music note to bounce across predetermined gaps), indigo asteroid (Sonic becomes a levitating planet that can pull pieces of the level and enemies into its gravity), and crimson eagle (Sonic can fly along new paths in the level). Red rings also make a return as the collectibles with five in each level. Collecting all the red rings in each world unlocks a certain object, one for each world. (Seven objects, what could those be?)
Final Verdict: 8/10
I have only a few issues with this otherwise well designed, well-thought-out game. A stronger emphasis on tutorials for using the new abilities could be useful to speed up the learning curve on some of the more challenging techniques instead of button commands displayed on the screen. Another issue is the weak dialogue. The dialogue in Sonic games peaked in Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 with the age of Sonic fans coinciding with the intensity of the plot. Now, our protagonist and Tails have some pretty terrible one-liners as do the Deadly Six. I know that Sonic Team is appealing to kids, but Sonic still has a strong fanbase that are adults now, and some of the dialogue is just painful to listen to. There is one level that I really disliked. Sonic wraps himself in a giant snowball because… I honestly don’t know why. He becomes unwieldy and truly is a struggle to maneuver. A better option in my opinion would have been to do a great snowboard level like City Escape or Ice Cap. Besides that level, I truly enjoyed every other level offered. Although not composed by my personal favorite Sonic music director Jun Senoue, the variety of music produced by Tomoya Ohtani for Sonic Lost World suits it nicely.
The game is also supported by the most interesting Sonic DLC to date. An add-on for the Deadly Six bonus edition of Sonic Lost World had a crossover into NiGHTS into Dreams where Sonic undergoes a single Boss Rush-style level with elements of the NiGHTS series. Recently there has been a very unusual but delightful crossover where Sonic has been transported to a Yoshi’s Island based level. In this free DLC, you must try to save Yoshi eggs while fighting off Shy Guys, Piranha Plants and the like. Both of these DLCs are short and sweet but give you a nice dose of nostalgia. A second Nintendo-themed DLC has been announced as well with the teaser giving evidence for it to be Legend of Zelda themed. If it’s anything like the either DLC provided, I have very high hopes.
It seems Sonic Team has finally listened to fans and been able to improve their standing even among critics of the franchise. They have been able to generate a solid formula for gameplay and tweak it accordingly to keep the games feeling new and fresh. I hope they are further able to blend what works from Sonic Lost World into what we have seen in Sonic Generations. A mixing of old and new that provides gamers a stable footing in something they know and allows new mechanics to fit in while cleaving off the undesired pieces.