Developer: Sonic Team, Dimps
Publisher: Sega (NA/JP), Nintendo (PAL)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: Oct 18, 2013 (EU), Oct 29, 2013 (US)
Sonic Lost World marks the blue blur’s debut on the Nintendo Wii U, but it’s also the first time the speedy hedgehog has had a fully 3D adventure on the Nintendo 3DS. In the run up to the game’s release, Sega have made it clear that Sonic Lost World is a bold new chapter in the franchise. But does Sonic Lost World have what it takes to hop, skip and jump its way to success, or does it stumble as so many 3D Sonic games have done in the past?
Sonic Lost World sees Sonic and Tails crash land on the Lost Hex; a strange, fragmented world comprised of large hexagons and other geometrically pleasing shapes. Their aim is to free the woodland creatures captured and roboticized by the nefarious Dr. Eggman.
The plot soon thickens as Dr. Eggman’s plan is overtaken by six mysterious creatures known collectively as The Deadly Six. With the fate of Sonic’s home world hanging in the balance, the blue blur has no choice but to team up with his long time rival, make his way across the Lost Hex, and defeat The Deadly Six once and for all.
Looking from the outside in, Sonic Lost World‘s core gamplay mechanics don’t seem to have changed much from those found in Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors. However, by the time the initial tutorial level is complete, it becomes glaringly obvious that Sonic Lost World is unlike any Sonic game before it.
Instead of centering Sonic Lost World solely around the concept of speed – as was the case with the last handful of Sonic titles – Sega have decided to slow things down in order to put a greater emphasis on platforming and exploration. The levels are often curved, cylindrical or spherical, a la Mario Galaxy, with the center of gravity existing where ever Sonic puts his feet.
The once standard boost system has been scrapped in favor of a slower Sonic who can only reach max speed if the R button is held down. This is defiantly jarring at first, but makes a hell of a lot of sense when combined with Sonic’s newest ability – parkour.
With enough speed, Sonic can run up and along walls and haul himself up ledges. In early levels, Sonic’s new found athleticism is used primarily for exploration. Stashes of rings, lives, shields and Wisps which are often hidden atop rectangular mountains and floating platforms that can only be accessed through parkour. In later stages however, an almost instinctual usage of Sonic Lost World‘s parkour mechanics are required overcome the game’s more unforgiving obstacles.
As previously mentioned, the Wisps from Sonic Colors return with all new powers. Although the majority of Wisps are one trick ponies whose use is restricted to certain sections of a stage, the use of others such as the Indigo Asteroid and Gray Quake, which turn Sonic into a tiny floating planet and a 3DS gyro controlled ball of steel respectively, are weaved directly into the levels in which they feature. In these particular stages, large portions can be tackled using one of the aforementioned Wisps or can be completed on foot. Unlike the stages in previous Sonic games which, while offering alternate paths, went by in blur, Sonic Lost World encourages exploration and path finding – especially when on the hunt for the collectible Red Rings.
Sonic Lost World also sees the return of Sonic Color‘s double jump and also features a new homing attack that can target up to three enemies or items at once and can also be “charged up” to defeat larger baddies. In theory, the new jumping and attacking mechanics work just fine – double jumping helps alter momentum and the homing attack negates the need for repetitive attacks on groups on enemies – but fails in practice. All too often Sonic will shoot towards an enemy or object outside the player’s field of vision while performing a homing attack – which can put the player in danger or send them hurtling off the edge of a platform and into oblivion.
Sonic Lost World‘s mechanical issues don’t stop there. Although Sonic can run along almost every wall, the direction he runs in is always predetermined – resulting in scenarios where trying to run up a wall sends Sonic running along it and into a bottomless pit, and vice versa.
Even so, Sega have finally developed a modern Sonic game that draws from his original adventures. It’s a common misconception that Sonic’s 16-bit classics were all about speed, as they were actually about fluidity and momentum. Sonic Lost World isn’t the fastest Sonic game of recent years, but its emphasis on constant movement rather than raw speed makes for a much more involving gameplay experience.
Those who enjoyed the soundtracks of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors will feel right at home listening to Sonic Lost World‘s cheerful soundtrack. Opting for “real” instruments over electronic tones, Tomoya Ohtani’s compositions range from fully orchestral movements to upbeat ska tracks complete with catchy bass lines and brass horns. It’s all very fitting considering the bright, carefree environments of Lost Hex, but none of the tunes are particular memorable. That’s not to say the soundtrack is no good, just that those thinking of buying the Sonic Lost World‘s OST might want to think twice before spending their cash.
In the same way that Sonic Lost World incorporates the feeling of momentum from classic Sonic games, its aesthetics successfully straddles the line between the old and the new.
The iconic checkered pattern of the ground sits beneath thick, luscious carpets of bright green grass while fluffy white clouds float blissfully across a clear blue sky. Badniks return as the game’s regular enemies, each sporting a range of dazzling colors and adorably nonthreatening, angry eyes. Sonic Lost World is a very cartoonish affair which perfectly matches the game’s jolly, carefree parkour gameplay mechanics.
The same cannot be said of Sonic Lost World‘s FMV cut scenes which have been taken directly from the Wii U version. Under normal circumstances this would have been an improvement over the still, text based cutscenes of previous hand held Sonic games, but poor compression results in constant pixelation.
Overall, Sonic Lost World‘s bold colors and minimalistic approach to fine details leaves the game looking more like a Mario title than a Sonic one. Although Sonic Lost World lacks graphical innovation , it’s a huge improvement over the many previous Sonic games that tried far too hard to emulate our own world.
Sonic Lost World looks good, sounds good and has managed to revitalize the Sonic franchise with a bold new creative direction – but is it fun enough? For a good 60-70% of the game, the answer is “yes”. However, the finicky controls become a major hurdle in the games later stages starting with Silent Forest Zone 2. And it really is that easy to make the distinction between when Sonic Lost World shifts from being fun to downright frustrating.
It’s in Silent Forest Zone 2 that Sonic Team and Dimps decided to include an atrocious series of grind rails and overly challenging wall running sections which will see even the most competent players repeatedly fall to their doom. Similar sections plague the later stages of the game, which either require far too much trial and error to beat, or simply don’t have an obvious solution. This wouldn’t be an issue if there was a moment to survey the situation, but grinding and wall running doesn’t allow for that, resulting in a monumental waste of lives.
Additionally, each and every section of Sonic Lost World that utilizes the 3DS gyro controls is an absolute nuisance – a problem that is most evident during the game’s tricky, free-flying special stages. While gyro controls are a nice touch if implemented properly, an option to use standard controls would be extremely convenient to those who cannot, or simply do not want to, get out of their seat to guide Sonic through 3D space.
Sonic Lost World is a clear attempt by Sega’s to revitalize the Sonic series while staying true to its roots. It’s also clear that the game draws from Mario’s more recent adventures, but this genuinely works in Sonic Lost World‘s favor, resulting in a fresh and delightful new challenge that will hopefully mark the beginning of a new age of Sonic. However, a series of poor level design choices in the last third of the game sour the experience, making it difficult to recommend Sonic Lost World to anyone that isn’t familiar with the more brutal aspects of Sonic’s previous 3D outings.
– Parkour move set gives gameplay a fluid, momentum-based feel
– Bold new creative direction breathes life into the Sonic franchise
– Doesn’t feel like a simple afterthought to the console version
– Controls aren’t tight enough for the game’s later levels
– Later levels are overly frustrating to beat due to poor design
– It’s likely to be too difficult for younger players to beat