By Reagan Morris
It's strange that the highest rating Sonic game in the last 10 years is one where Sonic doesn't even use his legs to go fast.
Sonic and All-Star Racing Transformed was one insanely fast Sonic experience, but it can barely be called a Sonic game.
What I'm trying to say is, since Sonic Adventure released onto the Dreamcast back in 1998, there really hasn't been a Sonic title that has been universally praised. Okay, so Sonic Colours on the Wii did well too, but that's more the exception than the rule.
Here we are, 15 years since the last proper great Sonic game, as Sonic: Lost World launches exclusively on Nintendo machines. Surely, this is the one we've all been waiting for?
There's something Sonic games do better, in my eyes, than the majority of Mario games: story-telling. Beautifully rendered cutscenes book-end the majority of stages found in Lost World, with Dr Eggman (seriously, when can we go back to Robotnik?) exerting power over six other intimidating characters.
Dr Eggman has put together some form of contraption that can harvest the energy of the world, and - despite using the energy for malevolent things - he shuts down the contraption due its ability to destroy worlds.
When Sonic gets a little too confident in his dealings with Eggman, the controlling device is broken and the Zeti (aka The Deadly Six) decide to do what Eggman won't: destroy everything. So it's up to Eggman, Sonic, and Tails to team up and put a stop to the Deadly Six's actions - although, ultimately, Sonic is the one doing all of the work.
The story-telling, albeit clearly aimed at children, does a great job at not only pushing the player through Sonic's journey, but also in helping create character in the six main boss fights.
Comparing this again to your usual Mario games, boss fights are usually just giant enemies Mario stumbles across. In Sonic: Lost World they are characters with backstories, unique traits, and abilities, and fighting them is something you want to do - rather than something you have to do. It's just a shame the journey there is so frustrating.
There's a reason I've been referencing Mario games in this review. As soon as you begin the first stage it becomes painfully obvious that Mario Galaxy was the inspiration here. The majority of the stages are set on floating worlds, which Sonic can traverse around. Some of them are even spherical in nature, and involve bouncing between planet-like objects, collecting rings, killing enemies, and hunting down five red star coins. While Mario Galaxy is a great game to mimic, Lost World somehow manages to never cross the line and become a straight copy.
There's still all the usual bouncing off pinball-esque bumpers, zipping through / along passageways with all but steering controls taken from you, and the completely rudimentary "one hit, lose all rings" punishment system that Sonic is known for. Seriously, if collecting 100 rings doesn't give me a new life, why do I need to bother collecting any more than one ring at a time?
The game isn't all Mario Galaxy though. There are stages where you're watching more than you're playing - and those levels are FAST - and there are stages where the game reverts to the old-school side-scroller Sonic experience. Due to the red star coin pick-ups, and the mini-games and Chaos Emeralds you unlock for picking them up, the game is at its most fun when the pace drops, you get a chance to explore a bit more, and the stages resemble that of a certain fat plumber.
It's even more unfortunate that, even when the game is at its best, you'll be almost constantly hindered by the sloppy controls. More often that not death is the result of Sonic just not doing what you want him to do, which can be a giant source of frustration. Thanks to the incredibly unintuitive hint system, you'll quite often miss an important control detail as well, or be left in a situation where Miiverse is your only chance to get some answers.
What's unintuitive about the hint system? Firstly, there are no tutorials or a tutorial stage. When you get to a point where the game wants to give you information, even if it's just to tell you which button jumps, instead of pausing the game and delivering on screen text, a small icon appears on the screen.
What does that icon mean? Who knows? The game certainly hasn't told you. Oh the icon is on the gamepad as well? That's nice. It's not until you push the icon on the gamepad that the game pauses and informs you of some important detail.
Oh, and the detail is only on the gamepad. I'm not sure the last time I thought "you know, this tutorial is just too helpful, I wish it was harder to get the information I want".
Completionists have a lot to do here, they'll just require a similar level of patience to get through it. And for those who have multiple Sonic fans using the same console, progress through single-player mode unlocks a two-player race mode; with one using the TV and the other using the Gamepad, it's split-screen done right.
If you manage to ignore the control issues, there's actually a lot to like here. As I mentioned, the boss fights and characters in the game have their own style and charm, and the graphics and pacing of the game is, for the most part, spot on.
While the game doesn't reach the heights of Sonic Adventure, it does manage to fit nicely alongside most of the recent Sonic offerings.
Sonic: Lost World
:: Publisher: SEGA
:: Developer: Sonic Team
:: Format: Wii U
:: Rating: G