It’s a widely known fact among gamers that the past decade has been tough for Sonic the Hedgehog. After jumping ship from Sega systems to become a third-party franchise, there have been numerous games in the series ranging from mediocre at best – Sonic Unleashed & Sonic Heroes come to mind – to complete disasters, such as the infamous self-titled 2006 game Sonic the Hedgehog, at worst.
Yet, with the last two proper home console entries in the series, Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, something strange happened – Sonic got good again. As someone who would never bother defending the majority of the Blue Blur’s 3D outings, I can honestly say that those two particular titles were well-crafted all around, and a lot of fun to play.
It’s because of these past two games that I went into Sonic: Lost World, the first Wii U game in the series, with somewhat high hopes. As it turns out, though, Sega has given the gameplay and control scheme quite the revamp, and the result is a title that, while still enjoyable at many points, lacks the polish and precision that is necessary for a glowing recommendation.
Story and characterization is fairly sparse, following in the footsteps of the scripts for Colors and Generations, which also took a decidedly more comedic and lighthearted approach. The opening cinematic starts with Sonic already pursuing longtime nemesis Dr. Eggman to save some captured animals, only to stumble upon a hexagonal tile-shaped floating world known as the Lost Hex, where Eggman is commanding six of its more evil inhabitants, a group known as the Deadly Six.
So what’s the history behind the Lost Hex and the new baddies? Unfortunately, we don’t get one at all, and it really makes the plot feel more threadbare than it should. There are still some funny lines, and while a few of the Deadly Six members, like the super-serious leader Zavok, are unfortunately far from memorable, some of them do leave a good impression. I was particularly fond of both the hyperactive Zazz and the perpetual downer Zor.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, for anyone who played Colors, Generations, or the non-Werehog sections of Sonic Unleashed, and remembers elements like the boost meter and the relatively more realistic environmental style, say goodbye to all of that. Environments here are more compact, abstract, and overall out there, with a focus on floating planetoids, cylinders, and individual level sections, separated by those familiar springs that have become a series staple.
Comparisons to the Super Mario Galaxy games are inevitable, but I’d say Nintendo’s plumber easily has the upper hand in this case, as the controls here just don’t feel precise enough. Sonic’s default speed is indeed much slower, as is his max speed, which is activated by holding down the right trigger on the GamePad (there’s no boost equivalent this time around). The problem is that he doesn’t turn quite fast or sharp enough a lot of the time, and this is especially evident in the occasional auto-running levels, where you’ll need to manoeuvre him precisely towards springs or openings in the wall to prevent an instant death.
Speaking of death, expect to see a lot of it. While the first two-thirds or so of Lost World are mostly well-balanced in level length and difficulty, things take a severe spike in the latter three worlds, with levels stretched out to the point of feeling like endurance runs, even with multiple checkpoints. This might be more forgivable if extra lives were in plentiful abundance a la most recent Mario games, but not only are they harder to find, but now, collecting 100 rings no longer grants a 1up. I eventually had to resort to looking up a trick on YouTube to collect multiple lives quickly in the second world to stem my frustration. Thankfully, the game does offer the option to skip to the next checkpoint if you die enough times during one section, which did reduce the frustration I experienced while playing through its entirety.
I will say, though, that despite levels not feeling quite as intricate or well-designed as Colors and Generations, there are still plenty of branching paths and secrets to find, mainly in the form of the five special red rings hidden in every level. Unfortunately, they don’t offer much in the way of rewards, save for an occasional touch-based minigame used to free animals, which certain amounts are required to proceed at specific points, and eventually unlock the iconic Super Sonic powerup if you get every one. In other words, they’re only really there for completionists, and can often add to the frustration if you try to get them all in one go.
The alien Wisps from Sonic Colors also return in this game, albeit once again with no explanation as to why. As in that title, they can be found placed at specific points in certain levels, and allow Sonic to transform into such things as a laser, an eagle, and a bomb. Some of them are obviously more enjoyable to use than others, and they also tend to rely on the GamePad’s tilt functionality more than I’d like, but they do help add to the game’s variety.
With all the problems I’ve listed above, you might think that this game is a complete miss. That isn’t really the case, though. As I stated before, the difficulty spikes at a certain point, but up until then, I was having a pretty good time. There was the occasional cheap death and spot of wonky controls (I never did get a good grip on Sonic’s new wall-running technique), but there was enough creativity and unique level design for me to want to keep playing. It’s just unfortunate that the latter parts end up feeling more like a chore because this game could have earned a slightly better rating.
Lastly, there are some side features that I should bring up before I close out this review, like the ability to store and share items online via Miiverse and the ability to have 2-player races through certain levels a la Sonic 2. While it’s nice to have them included, they aren’t quite substantial enough to bring the game noticeably up or down. I should also mention that the game’s soundtrack is overall excellent, a common trend that I’ve noticed even among the worst Sonic games.
I’ll be honest, Sonic: Lost World is definitely a disappointment, especially after the last two games in the series. With luck, in future titles, Sega will either return to what worked in Colors and Generations, or address some of the problems this game has. I don’t think it’s time to completely write Sonic off again, given that there are numerous positives to this title, but unfortunately, I can only give this one a partial recommendation.
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.
Both far from the best and far from the worst title that the hedgehog's been featured in, Sonic: Lost World settles for being merely a decent but flawed game.