It's no secret that Sonic the Hedgehog has had a very rough run post Sonic Adventure 2. As the Blue Blur found himself exploring the (then) new world of 3D - Sonic Team was trying their hardest to find a formula that worked.
That led to a sporadic onslaught of game after game; all different from the last entry. Unlike Nintendo EAD and the "Super Mario" franchise - Sonic titles have gone through many different formula changes as you go up the line. For instance, compare Super Mario 64 to Super Mario 3D World. While they are quite different games; the basic formula and conventions have still remained intact - despite the age difference in the two titles being a whopping 18 years. Sonic's downfall was mainly caused by doing the EXACT OPPOSITE - with most old formulas being changed or completely removed, as the games continued to be developed.
It took him almost a full decade; but in 2010 - something happened.
After the blueprint that is Sonic Unleashed was created - Sonic Team decided to take what the fans loved about it, and roll with it. Thus - Sonic Colors was born. Exclusive to Wii & DS - this Super Mario Galaxy-esque adventure was the game that finally ended the infamous "Sonic Cycle". So, how good was it?
► STORY & PLOT FLOW:
Sonic Colors has a very light-hearted storyline. It wasn't trying to be serious, or realistic like past games. It took Sonic back to the point in time that we loved; a fantasy adventure filled with wonder and imagination.
Sonic Colors follows the classic duo of Sonic the Hedgehog and Tails "Miles" Prower - who have find themselves busting the latest evil scheme of Doctor Eggman - their infamous arch nemesis . This takes the duo riding high, miles above the surface of their planet - to an intergalactic amusement park that puts anything Disney has put out to shame. While Eggman insists that it’s his way to apologize for his past crimes - Sonic and Tails know very well not to fall for his facade. So, objective in hand, the duo set out to see exactly what Eggman is up to - and put a stop to it. As it turns out - he's really using this park as a way to capture alien life forms, called "Wisps", which possess great power. Using them as an energy source, Eggman schemes to take over Sonic's world by means of a mind-control device.
The way in which the story was presented, was actually rather nice. As said before - it's a very lighthearted storyline; lacking any form of realism. But it's this approach that made it so fun. It was presented almost like a Saturday-morning cartoon. There were witty jokes and unnecessary banter. No weird human- anthropomorphic animal relationships or doomsday by means of some kind of gigantic creature.
While the lack of any notable depth may bother some, it fit the whole theme of what made Sonic so popular back in the day. The "don't think, just do" approach is what made him cool - and Sonic Colors portrays that beautifully.
Sonic Unleashed had set the groundwork for a new kind of formula that fans responded well to. Super-fast speed with a little hint of platforming obviously worked, so Sonic Team decided to take the "Unleashed formula" and re-invent it for Sonic Colors. It possessed the same gameplay, with a little more of a push on the platforming side; which was good fan-service to "Genesis Generation" of the Sonic Community.
Sonic Colors' gameplay has Sonic being propelled forward at great speed - ONE PART of the Sonic formula that has never really changed. A lot of the mechanics introduced in Unleashed were re-introduced here. Sonic is much faster than he was in previous titles, and continues to flaunt his wide array of classic abilities such as the Homing Attack, Slide, and Stomp maneuvers, as well as newer ones such as the Sonic Boost.
While Unleashed mainly had the action in "3D mode" - Colors definitely pushed more on the 2D side. The constant switching between 2D to 3D was a little annoying at first, but quickly became a natural shift in gears. For the real speed-freaks, Colors does have its moments - but for the most part, you will find yourself bopping on enemies and jumping between platforms a little more often than charging through objects at mach speed.
What really sets Colors a part is its inclusion of the aforementioned Wisps. They aren't just introduced for the sake of the plot - they actually play a very important on the gameplay side of things as well.
Sonic is able to absorb these Wisps for a limited period of time. Here, they grant him a special ability that allows him to traverse the various stages in very interesting ways. There are 8 Wisps, all of which have a specific ability:
Cyan Laser - Transforms Sonic into a beam of light that allows him to shoot through prisms and electrical wires.
Yellow Drill - Transforms Sonic into a drill that allows him to dig through soft ground and water in any direction he wants.
Orange Rocket - Transforms Sonic into a rocket which blasts him into the air at a fast rate of speed.
Pink Spikes - Transforms Sonic into a ball covered in spikes, allowing him to scale walls and ceilings, and grants him the ability to use his Spindash maneuver.
Blue Cube - Transforms Sonic into a cube that allows him to change special blue rings into cubes to access new areas. Also destroys all breakable boxes and enemies in its range.
Green Hover - Transforms Sonic into a small alien creature, capable of hovering like a balloon, and grants him the ability to use his Light Speed Dash maneuver.
Purple Frenzy - Transforms Sonic into a shark-like creature that destroys anything in its path.
... With this plethora of power-ups; Sonic is quite the handy-man. This adds a sense of originality to the game, as well as a very fun (and fast) way to clear stages. Unlike in games prior - these abilities are more-or-less ENCOURAGED to be used, instead of feeling completely forced down the player’s throat. There are many occasions where you really DON'T have to use them - but it's always cool too. Of course, not all are amazing. Some of them seem quite unnecessary, like the Blue Cube and Green Hover. Others like the Yellow Drill and Purple Frenzy are a little difficult to control. Even so, these add to the already fun gameplay of Sonic Colors.
As mentioned before; Sonic Colors takes the Hedgehog to an interstellar amusement park. This too, was a very welcomed change in scenery. It's quite reminiscent of the Sonic worlds of the classic titles. They all had this fantasy-adventure feel to them, and Colors reintroduces that marvelously. There are 6 (technically 7) worlds that Sonic explores - all of which have a different theme.
Tropical Resort ~ A beautiful resort setting in space that serves as sort of the "tutorial world", which will introduce you to most of the games mechanics, allowing you to develop your skill before going into the rest of the game.
Sweet Mountain ~ basically the number one place that encourages diabetes. It's dressed up in a fantasy-like setting with candy, and sugary sweets everywhere.
Starlight Carnival ~ a world possessing a gorgeous, futuristic array of starships all inter-connected by light beam roadways. It's like a really colorful/neon version of Star Wars.
Planet Wisp ~ the home world of the Wisps, which is still under construction by Eggman. This world is cascaded with beautiful, scenic grassy vistas, slowly being covered by the industrial construction of Eggman's work forces.
Aquarium Park ~ an underwater world with a Chinese-oriental theme. Like many of the "water levels" in past games, you will spend most of your time underwater. But don't feel bad - as you're in the middle of a giant aquarium filled with fish and other sea life. When you're above the surface, Sonic will be running across sections of Chinese-like villages. Think of Chun-Nan from Unleashed, but underwater.
Asteroid Coaster ~ a rollercoaster ride set in space, surrounded by asteroids. Yeah. I - Want.
... The change of pace that Colors takes with these stages is gladly welcomed. Recent titles prior to Colors had Sonic running around in worlds quite reminiscent of our own. They lacked the fantasy and imagination of the classic titles. Colors break all bounds of realism, and take you on a fantastic adventure with these different "theme parks". They add a sense of wonder to the game that hasn't been there in quite some time. My only problem is the difficulty spikes of it all. No world is harder than the last, especially considering you CHOOSE which world you want to go to next. There's no set path to take, like in past games.
Each world has about 7 acts along with a boss battle. Act 1 could be a breeze, but Act 2 could be a total nightmare. And to sum it all up - the boss battles are quite easy, and are repetitive. For instance - Tropical Resort's boss appears again in Planet Wisp. Same with Sweet Mountain and Aquarium Park, as well as Starlight Carnival and Asteroid Coaster. This inconsistency seems to be present in all of the worlds. On top of that, many of those 7 acts don't last more than 2-3 minutes, as they're either just complete platforming or just incredibly short and unnecessary.
In the end, Sonic Colors' gameplay isn't perfect by any means - but it is a significant improvement from his past outings. He returned to his roots in an amazing way, and introduced a lot of modern mechanics to the classic set-up. They mesh well together, and that's what gives Colors its style and flare.
Colors may have a few hiccups in the gameplay department - but as far as its graphics go - this game is phenomenally beautiful. Super Mario Galaxy showed us that despite lacking HD capabilities, the Wii still packed enough juice to produce some pretty sweet-looking visuals. Colors completely reinforce this. While being a little jaggy; the game possess a fantastic use of bright, vivid color and even a few cool lighting and shading effects, and even a few particle effects. Environments are bright and beautiful - but they also feel alive, with a lot of objects moving around in the background. Character models are also well detailed, much more so than any Sonic game that graced the Wii in the past.
To the untrained eye - Sonic Colors could definitely pass for an early 360/PS3 title, as it really showed off what the Wii could do in a fantastic way. The framerate does slow down when things get hectic - but for the most part, it's smooth and enjoyable.
► MUSIC AND SOUND:
One thing is for sure - even if the gameplay is terrible - you can always be sure that a Sonic game will have some top-notch music. Just look at Sonic '06. That glitch-fest has a pretty wicked soundtrack!
Thankfully, Colors sounds just as well as it looks and plays. This is arguably the best soundtrack in a Sonic game (not counting Generations, which wasn't around at the time) - from since the classic Genesis titles. As each stage had a visual theme, it also had a sound theme. Tropical Resort has edgy, active, beach-like rock. Starlight Carnival has techno-futuristic tunes. Sweet Mountain has lighthearted soft-rock. Planet Wisp has soft, calm, outdoor adventure music. Aquarium Park has dramatic, yet soothing melodies. Asteroid Coaster has fast, metallic rock.
Colors' soundtrack has just as much personality as the rest of the game, and that's what makes it pop. It keeps your blood pumping as you race through the various stages. I don't think there's one 'bad' track in the entire game! The menus also offer some really good orchestrated melodies that sound very akin to that of Star Wars and Mario Galaxy.
As far as all of the other sounds go; the character voice cast is top-notch. The change in cast which was done in Free Riders was re-introduced here in Colors. We really got to hear Roger Craig Smith voice Sonic here, and he did a great job. Kate Higgins also did justice to Tails. Mike Pollock still rocks Eggman just as well as he's done for well over a decade.
► THE BOTTOM LINE:
So - with all things considered, how good is Sonic Colors? Can it really be considered Sonic's main boost back to greener pastures? 1,000 times yes! This game not only completed was already a fantastic year for the Wii - but it showed that Sonic, despite his several shortcomings, still had some 1UPs left. Sonic Team took what the fans approved of in Unleashed, and pushed it hard here with Colors, even to the point of re-introducing the classic side-scrolling gameplay.
In all, Sonic Colors is a fast-paced, action-adventure platformer with a lot of style, flare and attitude. It makes great use of the power-up system in the form of the Wisps, and finally had a formula that everyone could agree - WORKED. Sonic hadn't been so fun to play from since the days of the Adventure saga. With its light yet well-done story, fun gameplay, beautiful graphics, and amazing soundtrack - it's no wonder why this game sold over 1-million copies.
While it does still carry some errors in its code, overall - even 4 years later - it's still a blast to play.