Back in 2010, when the original Sonic Colors debuted, the twisting 2D/3D platforming, Wisp-infused powerups and sassy Sonic-flavoured writing made it one of the most positively received outings that the blue hedgehog had seen in a while. Now, more than a decade later, the game’s Ultimate treatment freshens up the graphics, adds a few small bells and whistles but largely remains that same good game that Sonic fans will continue to adore. That said, if like me, you prefer a more considered pace to your collectable-heavy 3D platformers or the very tightest of controls in your side-scrollers – then Sonic’s trademark speed and slightly floatier jumps will likely mean that despite all that Colors gets right, it still doesn’t quite rank among the genre’s best.
Cool colourful comedy
When it comes to cartoony platformers you usually don’t need much of a story. So while it won’t be winning any literary awards, Sonic Colors has just the right amount of light narrative and some very on-brand cheeky humour to weave the unique worlds together and make it a fun adventure to play out. This time around, Dr Eggman has managed to tractor-beam in a few planets under the guise of building a wonderful interstellar amusement park. Of course, behind this supposedly noble intention, he has also secretly kidnapped a bunch of cute but powerful aliens (called Wisps) and ultimately has a nefarious plan to wield an appropriately comic-sci-fi-looking mind-control device against the world.
There’s a graphical sharpness to the gamplay and enough sarcastic comments from Sonic to keep me awed and giggling.
Each of these planets is, of course, aptly themed and all look gorgeous in the new HD version – especially within the gameplay sections. My particular favourites were the wonderfully lush grassy areas that made up the Wisp homeworld, the candy-themed Sweet Mountain and the spacey neon-lit Starlight Carnival. As Sonic makes his way through the different worlds, the story is revealed in a series of animated sections featuring Robotnik, his bumbling robotic henchmen, Tails and, of course, the Wisps themselves. A few times I seemed to notice that cutscenes didn’t have the same graphical sharpness that the gameplay now boosts. That being said, they’re short and never so bad that I was overly concerned about it. Plus, there were definitely enough sarcastic comments for Sonic to keep me giggling. (On a side note – I should mention that despite all the serious graphical issues other people have reported having (especially on the Switch version) my PS4 playthrough was glitch-free and only on two occasions did I even notice a little visual slow-down. For 99.9% of the time the game looked fantastic).
Despite these obvious plusses – I did find things on the audio side of things a bit of a blessing and a curse. On the positive side of things (and as mentioned above), the writing is witty. For example, when you hear Dr Eggman’s amusement park safety announcements within the levels for the first time – it’s great. The different worlds also all have their own unique musical themes. And in isolation, I quite enjoyed these too. Unfortunately, when you hit a section where you die repeatedly (which I found did happen now and again but more on that later) – the same announcement and same 30 second-long music track restart each time. Even good jokes aren’t that funny once you’ve heard them 17 times in a row and eventually, hearing the same Sweet Mountain section (that coincidentally I’m pretty sure samples the Ocean’s Eleven title track) again and again – started to break my brain.
Super signature skillset (sometimes)
On the gameplay side of things – the general level design in most of the worlds is wonderful. The original Colors game was praised for the enjoyable switching between 2D & 3D and it’s clear to see why. Sure, there are still moments where it feels like you’re mostly bashing the jump button while clever computer Sonic does all the real work. However, around those almost auto-play moments, each level is carefully crafted. Sections that take advantage of both the 3D and (almost 2.5D) side-scrolling views (and everything in-between) teach you to move fluidly as the spiky speedster learns new moves and abilities. The 2D stuff harks back to the original games well, while occasionally providing a refreshing take on the traditional moveset. The 3D sections, on the other hand, give you almost a ‘movie version’ of the hedgehog in question and new interesting lateral movement, rail-grinding and jumping attacks spice up the newer-old-formula well. I always found Mario games made their levels more interesting thanks to how they handled power-ups. And thankfully, the temporary Wisp abilities (like drilling underground when empowered by a Yellow Wisp while in 2D mode or phasing through walls as the newly included Jade Wisp) give this Sonic title the same kind of mid-level freshness.
That being said – I still found myself struggling with the identity of the game as a whole. As mentioned, level designs are ingenious – especially early on when your first goal is simply to get to the end in the smoothest, quickest way possible. However, each level also has several collectables and secret areas. So if you want to collect everything, you’ll need to return (probably) several times. And while the addition of the Wisp abilities to previous levels as you unlock them, means returning is a little more interesting because you use the new skill to discover new areas – I found the actual exploration at odds with the general pace of the game. I couldn’t decide whether to go fast or slow. I’d find myself instinctively jumping onto a rail, only to realise I missed a red star ring or Wisp powerup down below and have to start the whole section again. And I often found this struggle frustrating. Plus – while this might be contentious – I still feel like Sonic’s jump is too floaty. But I think we can at least all objectively agree that water levels are just the worst, right?
A few levels are a lesson in frustrating repetition. Some checkpoints, or maybe actually seeing hazards before needing to react to them, would’ve been helpful.
Each world also ends in a robotic Boss fight. The first three of these are actually quite clever and fun to tackle. However, those same bosses are repeated again with just a few small alterations – so I found this a little disappointing. The Wisp powerups were also a mixed bag. Some are a heck of a lot of fun; while others felt useless or at least underutilised. I can’t really once remember feeling like the Orange Wisps did anything worthwhile. And yet, Spiky Pink Wisps or the Eat-Everything-In-Sight Purple Wisps were a joy to inhabit and brought a very different dynamic to Sonic’s movement. Unfortunately, while the Ultimate edition has eliminated the ‘lives’ mechanic and provided instead a ‘Tails -coin’ saving feature (which gives you a free restart if you fall to your death) – the game still shows its age…and a few levels are a lesson in frustrating repetition.
I’m all for increasing-level difficulty. However, adding an element that basically feels broken because A) There’s no way to avoid it and B) You’re never given any helpful instructions… is just a recipe for a rage quit. For example, there’s a mini-boss (I’m looking at you Big Chaser) you need to defeat in order to continue the story. And no matter how many times I tried I couldn’t work it out. Eventually, thanks to a whole lot of dumb luck and advice from those who had played the original, I got through it. But despite the obvious wave of relief at completing it, there was no real sense of accomplishment: it didn’t take any particular skill from me. In fact, I’m still not sure there is a way of finishing without brute-forcing certain levels repetitively and I couldn’t help but wish some tweaks – including some checkpoints and maybe actually seeing hazards before needing to react to them would’ve been helpful.
Despite these drawbacks, it’s still hard to argue with what you’re getting in the remade Ultimate version of this game. It’s gorgeous to look at. They’ve improved a little on some frustrating elements and – for those who like that sort of thing – there are now even customisation options that will mean you can ditch Sonic’s traditional red sneakers for something flashy and gold. The truth is: Colors was already a good game – arguably one of modern Sonic’s best. Plus, even if (like me) you care about those specific issues with gameplay that stood out to me and the odd niggle that comes from a 10-year old game, you can still appreciate the combination of classic and modern elements that are finely fused into a really interesting 2D/3D platforming adventure.
A combination of classic and modern elements that are finely fused into a really interesting 2D/3D platforming adventure.
For those who love Sonic games, post the story that there’s so much to do that you’ll have enough content for a long time (including the quest for the Chaos Emeralds and the addition of new Rival Rush levels where you compete against Metal Sonic for best clear times). In short, while Sonic games are probably never going to be my specific flavour of platforming, Sonic Colors: Ultimate is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. For fans, this is definitely one of the best editions of one of your favourite games and therefore well-worth checking out.