Like the loops and hills and valleys that scour the levels of Sega’s countless titles, Sonic’s had plenty of highs and lows over the course of his two decade-long career. It’s been a road incredibly well-traveled: Sonic has seen his classic days of vintage 2D platforming, his travels into 3D action-adventure, and his more recent excursions into mixes of the two genres, bringing Sega’s latest effort to revitalize its flagship franchise, Sonic Lost World.
Over the last several generations, it’s tough to say what Sonic HASN’T done at this point: he’s been running, jumping, kart racing, skating, fighting, and even competed in the Winter Olympics (with old pal Mario) for the better part of 20 years. Despite Sega and Sonic Team’s ambitions to make Sonic appeal to a broader audience, it’s clear that Sonic has been stretched too thin, and at this point, it’s hard to see exactly what else that the team has in store for their iconic mascot and what they want to do for him.
Sega’s often over-eager nature to throw Sonic into wildly-different game types with tons of newer, more colorful characters has often clashed with the true desire of many gamers: to bring Sonic back to his gaming roots of wickedly fast-paced platforming. This has resulted over the last several years in a mish-mash of Sonic titles that have wavered over the line in quality, often resulting in more of a blue streak than the blue blur we all know and (well…used to) love. For every great Sonic game, like Sonic Colors or Sonic Generations, there have equal amounts of duds, like the Sonic reboot in 2006, or the painfully misguided Sonic Unleashed. With Sonic Lost World, Sega has tried to tackle some of those complaints head on by keeping the experience focused primarily on Sonic, but also by bringing in some new gameplay mechanics and features that make Sonic’s new 3DS title entirely appealing, colorful, and daring.
At first, Sonic Lost World completely gets this right by bringing in plenty of new ideas and perspective (both literally and metaphorically), and switching things up a bit for Sonic’s speed and platforming with uniquely-designed levels. In distorting perspective and levels that often take you upside-down, twisting, and funneling down corridors at breakneck speed, the first few levels feature some inventive and puzzling new twists that Sonic has needed badly over the last few years. Recalling some of the antics from Super Mario Galaxy’s unique spin on the Mario experience by using broken apart worlds and gravity to change your orientation, Sonic Lost World gives Sonic a chance to slow things down and use some puzzle solving mixed with speed for a different kind of take on the blue hedgehog’s adventures.
Recalling some of the best of Sonic’s past, the title shows a lot of early promise with some great levels…at first. Unfortunately, while the first few levels give a great taste of what to expect, the gameplay and level design in the later sections just can’t keep up, with confusing paths, a frustrating sense of direction, and most of all, clumsy controls that make Sonic feel sluggish and unresponsive, when clearly the opposite should be expected.
Taking cues from much of Sonic’s past endeavors and bringing them in full force, Lost World brings the titular hedgehog up against his old nemesis, Dr. Eggman, and a colorful collection of villainous baddies known as “The Deadly Six” to team up and prevent them from taking over both the “Lost World” itself, known as The Hex, and Sonic’s world back home. Teamed up with longtime partner Tails, Sonic must travel through each world to take down the members of The Deadly Six and prevent all from going wrong by running, sliding, skating, and dashing through each level as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It’s a standard Sonic premise, but the bright colors and energy of Sonic’s adventure with The Deadly Six make it appealing in its Saturday morning cartoon cheer and sense of fun. Unfortunately, the game’s presentation and design bring most of the experience of Sonic Lost World down crumbling with it – poor resolution cut scenes try to bring the story together haphazardly, becoming more of an afterthought compared to the game’s drive in trying something new with the gameplay.
Unfortunately, it gives way to the biggest present conflict – it’s a game that just doesn’t know what it wants to be, and ultimately suffers for it. Sonic Lost World brings plenty of cool levels and unique puzzles that we haven’t seen before in past Sonic games, but the ambition and innovation fall flat once the poor controls, confusing later level design, and frustrating lack of direction come into play: which, unfortunately, is all too often.
Using Sonic’s usual combo of running and jumping with his signature homing attack, the combat works effectively in the beginning, but later on once spiked enemies and other enemies with different attack patterns appeared, it felt more like an endurance test of hoping I had enough rings to carry on without dying than any sense of real “challenge.”
With unclear direction about the attack patterns or weaknesses of fighting certain enemies and defeating them, frustration came way too often more than any satisfaction did of figuring out how to get past an enemy. This was only equally frustrating with the odd button layouts and combinations for Sonic’s attacks, generally sluggish response time, and a maddeningly-long recovery animation after Sonic is hit by an enemy.
In the same way, while the visual direction and color of each world and level is well-made and creative, the game often fumbles when it comes down to basic level design and player progression with confusing goals and unclear paths. While in the winter-y snow levels of World 4 in the game, I was stuck midway into a level that, after several minutes of wandering and figuring out just how to progress past a snowy ice wind trap, eventually found I had to roll snowballs to get past them…only for the game to glitch its collision detection and lead to an icy wind shoving Sonic over into a chilly falling death of nothingness.
Sonic Lost World’s ambition and drive to bring something new to the Sonic franchise is both its strongest asset and its crippling weakness. For Sega and Sonic Team’s latest title in the series, it represents the unfortunate clash between creative art direction and style against poor game and level design that bring out the biggest flaws in the game, and what unfortunately dampen an otherwise exciting premise for Sonic and company. Despite its best intentions for bringing Sonic into a bright new world, and even featuring compatibility with the Wii U version of the game (along with completely unique levels to the 3DS edition), the game often feels like it tries too hard to get in the way of its own fun.
Sonic may have picked up the pace a bit and found some new footing in Sonic Lost World, but it’s an experience that surely had some bumps and trip-ups in store for him along the way.