In many ways Sonic the hedgehog reminds me of England midfielder Theo Walcott. Obviously they both possess the same unnaturally fast running abilities, but the similarities don’t end there. Another trait they have in common is that, even when hurtling along at full tilt, it only takes the slightest of taps from an opponent to knock the pair down on their backsides. Perhaps the most significant likeness between young Theo and Sonic though, is that you don’t sense with either of them that they are fully in control of what they’re doing. It’s more momentum than judgement. Just like many ex-professionals have accused Walcott of lacking the grey matter to change matches, over the years various tough critics have slated Sonic Team for giving us a hero who’s something of a runaway train without a driver at the helm.
But enough of this comparison. Yes Sonic has always been about ridiculous acceleration, but that never stopped his early games from being good clean fun. The question is, can Sonic Colours relive those glory days on the Mega Drive or are we still stuck in that confused Sonic Adventure territory?
Well I’m not going to keep you in suspense, the DS version of Colours is definitely, both in design and execution, far nearer to the originals than the disappointments of recent times. In my opinion, Sonic will always be more suited to two dimensions, simply because such velocity levels cannot be harnessed when a third plane is incorporated. Having not played the 3D Wii version, I can’t comment on whether or not Sonic Team have discovered a way to make it work but if, as I suspect, it isn’t as good as this 2D handheld cousin, let’s hope the penny finally drops and any future updates stay confined to the xy axis.
The story sees Doctor Robotnik up to his old tricks, albeit this time under the guise of starting a theme park in outer space. Accompanied by Tails, Sonic decides to take a look around and soon discovers that the cute local aliens, the Wisps, are being mistreated by the portly megalomaniac. Yes, it’s all a bit clichéd and the dialogue is rather cheesy, but younger players should lap it up and older gamers will appreciate some of the cameos of several characters from the supporting cast of previous instalments. There’s also one or two nice comic touches in the script, including Robotnik’s claims of remorse for his past indiscretions and Sonic teasing Knuckles about how gullible he is.
The main twist compared with earlier versions is the range of powers Sonic can obtain from different coloured Wisps. These are unlocked over the course of the six worlds and really open up the various acts. By the end of proceedings Sonic can drill underground, morph into a fireball, propel himself upwards like a rocket, shoot like a laser and even turn into a floating black hole, swallowing anything in his path. Some of these are definitely more interesting than others (the black hole felt like they were running out of ideas), but each enable different routes to be taken and freshen up the dynamic significantly.
All of the worlds feature two acts and a boss, plus a handful of small missions where players must fulfil a given objective, like collecting a set number of rings, within a time-limit. Essentially the missions are padding, but they do add some extra variety and generally prove more of a challenge than completing the acts themselves. The locations might not be as memorable as Marble Zone or Labyrinth, but there is a healthy range of settings and each world contains lots of clever surprises. Sadly, the last one, Asteroid Coaster was a bit weaker than what had gone before, with too much time spent on roller-coasters, but overall the quality was right up there with that of the early titles.
The bosses are done in psuedo-3D, and while they can look a touch untidy in places, Sonic Team can’t be faulted for effort. It’s fair to say there not anything here that’s quite as memorable as the giant egg robot from the end of Sonic 2, but nonetheless the variety of machines Sonic must destroy is impressive and they do feel quite fitting for a series that has always taken its end of level baddies seriously.
The game also makes a reasonable fist of utilising all of the hardware’s extra capabilities. Having the action switch between the dual screens is confusing at first, but as you become accustomed to it, being able to see what’s round the corner proves quite valuable. The stylus is also employed for guiding Sonic through a set of nostalgic special stages (half-pipes like those seen in Sonic 2) and this works surprisingly well.
In the end, it all boils down to how you viewed Sega’s hedgehog back in the early 90s. If you found those games akin to be inside a glorified pinball machine, then you probably won’t have developed a taste for it two decades on, but if you enjoyed that raw unpredictable speed, Colours will certainly not disappoint. I can happily say, I fall into the latter camp.