Life has been rough for the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog over the past ten years. Year after year, another title in the Sonic series has released, with reception ranging from mixed to utterly awful. While the console editions of Sonic games tarnished the series’ legacy, a smaller developer known as Dimps quietly created the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush series, which found commercial and critical success. Now, with Sonic Colors, a console and handheld edition have both been released at the same time, with Sonic Team working on the Wii version, and Sonic Team and Dimps collaborating for the DS effort. And even though the Wii version has stolen almost all of the press time and advertisements, Dimps’s latest handheld Sonic game not only holds its own against its console partner, it trumps it in several ways.
Dr. Eggman has built Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park, claiming to build the space theme park to make up for his past transgressions over the years. This does not fool Sonic and Tails, who head to the amusement park to investigate. Once they get there, they meet a race of aliens called Wisps, who grant Sonic special powers for use in the game. Dr. Eggman is also looking to harness the power of the Wisps for his own nefarious plot.
The story is simple and easy to understand, in contrast to some of the more realistic, serious stories of Sonic games’ past. The dialogue is full of cheesy jokes and one-liners, some of which just don’t work out too well. Younger players will find it all funny, while older players may cringe at some of it. Most of the dialogue is done through text instead of voice acting, dampening the pain.
Gameplay is of the 2D variety, akin to that of the Sonic Rush games. That means the basic Sonic 2D formula with some modifications, such as the boost meter that lets Sonic boost his speed at any time the meter has power, and the Homing Attack to fend off enemies. One complaint about the Sonic Rush series is that there were too many levels that could be won just by running, with less platforming. While Sonic Colors doesn’t deviate away from this entirely, there are more alternate paths to explore in each level, as well as more platforming elements that keep the game from being a simple case of “hold right on the D-Pad to win”.
What sets Sonic Colors apart from previous Sonic games is the alien race known as Wisps. Different colored Wisps grant Sonic different power-ups. The DS and Wii versions share four colors: White (powers up boost meter), Cyan (turns Sonic into a laser), Yellow (lets Sonic drill through the ground) and Orange (turns Sonic into a rocket). The DS version has two more colors: Red (turns Sonic into a fireball that can burst on the ground or in mid-air) and Violet (turns Sonic into a floating purple void monster that can suck in objects and enemies). These Wisps are used to progress through the levels, and Dimps has created excellent and fun levels revolving around each Wisp power. Whether you’re bouncing about the level as a destructive laser, drilling through the earth, or sucking in enemies as the demonic void monster, there is plenty of fun to be had as the level becomes your personal playground.
Do well enough in a level and you’ll be able to enter the special stage. These special stages require you to collect certain amounts of colored orbs while running through a half-pipe (similar to Sonic Rush’s stages where you had to collect rings). Complete the stage successfully and you’ll get a Chaos Emerald.
In addition to the main gameplay, there are also missions located in each world. You are challenged, often by Sonic characters from past games (I can hear the groaning already), to pass certain challenges, such as collecting all the wisps in a time limit, or collecting 200 rings. Some of these missions can be quite difficult and frustrating, as you are often on an unforgiving time limit, trying to accomplish goals in levels that do not feel designed for these missions. If the missions (or the presence of Sonic side characters) become too annoying, know that they are only optional challenges in terms of the main storyline.
Time Attack and Versus modes are also included in Sonic Colors. Time Attack is as simple as it sounds; a race through each level to complete it as quickly as possible. There are online leaderboards that let you compare your times to see who the fastest hedgehog on the planet is. Versus mode lets you challenge either the computer or another player in a race through a level. Each player can pick up powerups from capsules throughout the levels, which will hinder the opposing player's progress. Versus can be played locally or online. It is a very bare-bones mode that feels added for fluff, and most players will likely not play through this mode very often.
Graphically, this game looks similar to Sonic Rush. The environments and sprites are vibrant and appealing. The handful of 3D moments in the game (specifically the boss fights) look a little sketchier, but it doesn’t affect enjoyment of the game. The background music is well done and enhances the atmosphere of the quick, action-packed game that Sonic Colors is. The tunes are based on the music from the Wii version, which has the same worlds as the DS version (but different levels).
The main story of Sonic Colors can be defeated in less than five hours if you rush through each level of the game once. However, doing so would not give you the fullest experience of this game. Some Wisps in earlier levels are not unlocked until you are introduced to them in a later world. This means when you replay levels, there will be new Wisp powers available that were not there in your first run. As mentioned before, these levels were designed not only for classic Sonic gameplay, but designed as a playground for the Wisp power-ups. Tearing through the levels in new ways with new powers is not only fun, it also lets you access different paths through the levels. So even though the game itself is short, the replay value is easily increased by the Wisp powers and the alternative routes they lead to. There are also red rings scattered throughout each stage that will often test your abilities. Collecting them unlocks secrets, such as new events, sounds, and illustrations in the gallery.
Sonic Colors is the Sonic game that long-time fans have wanted to play for years. It takes the solid 2D Sonic gameplay that we all know and love and improves on it with new gameplay mechanics, adding new elements of exploration and environment manipulation to the core experience. While the Wii version may be getting the most press, it is the DS version of Sonic Colors that is the most in-tune with what the Sonic fanbase has been clamoring for, and towers above the ghosts of Sonic games past.