Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sonic Colors (DS) Review

OK, I've decided to drop the 'u' from 'Colours' when talking about this game.  I am Canadian, but even here, the game's box does read 'Colors'.  It is a title and will be treated as such (just like how I pronounce it Dragon Ball Zee and not Zed).

I didn't have any ideas for a 'self-insertion' image so I'll make due with this still in-progress sketch for a tribute to the game.  Now let's get started.

Sonic Colors (DS) Review
When it comes to reviewing a Sonic game that's come out in the last decade, there's a standard fare of info that's always mentioned:  the decline of Sonic games since the attempt to transition to 3D.  In this case, that doesn't really come into play since the DS Sonic titles (being Sonic Rush, Sonic Rush Adventure and now Sonic Colors) are played entirely in the traditional 2D style.  I find this to benefit these games greatly, and considered Sonic Rush to be the most solid Sonic title in many years.  Now we'll take a look at Sonic Colors for Nintendo DS to see if it knocks Sonic Rush off its throne as the most recent great Sonic game.
On the audio front, the game has a pretty nice soundtrack.  Catchy background music, fun sound effects and minimal but effective voicework all come together nicely here.  You do have to put up with an incredibly cheesy pop rock song though (Speak With Your Heart) which refuses to leave your head after you listen to it.  The Wii version features this song as well as Reach For The Stars (another really cheesy pop rock song); the song you would hear during most of the advertisements for the game.  Reach For The Stars isn't entirely absent from the DS title though as some background tracks feature instrumental remixes of it which honestly work quite well.  All in all, it's a solid soundtrack.
The game is well-presented for a portable title as well.  It reminds me a bit of how the DS War For Cybertron was presented just with significant improvements; scenes that play before and after stages are presented with text-boxes, character portraits, and a few generic soundbytes for each character (such as Dr. Eggman shouting "Curse you!").  Whereas in the Wii version, I believe Sonic & Tails are the only mainstay protagonists of the Sonic universe to appear in the title (correct me if I'm wrong), just about every character in the franchise appears in the DS version at some point in these 'before and after level' scenes (including characters like Big and Charmy who I had never heard of before, having not played the games they originated from).  So, if you're among those who dislike the infinitely increasing cast of Sonic, you might have some gripes with this.  There aren't any new mainstays though; there are the Wisps but I would hardly call them characters, and I don't think they'll be around much after this game based on the ending.
There are 3 pre-rendered cutscenes in the game, an intro and two endings (one for the standard finale and one for beating the Chaos Emerald boss).  The cutscenes are a bit fuzzy but are the only parts of the game that feature fully-voiced dialogue.  Considering what I've heard of the voicework in some of the Wii version's cutscenes, I'm quite alright with the DS version's minimal amount.
HUD elements aren't anything too fancy but are stylized to fit the game properly and do the job.  Menus are pretty much the same.  Everything's very straightforward and simply done.  The game also features extras such as a Sound Test and a gallery where you can view concept art.
As far as DS games go, Sonic Colors features presentation a bit above average and it works just fine.
In terms of graphics, the game looks about as good as Sonic Rush, which isn't a bad thing at all.  In fact, Sonic Rush may have been the only game that I've ever been enticed to buy partly due to being impressed by the visuals at the time of its release.  Sonic Rush showed up in the early days of the DS, but had pretty good models and textures for the hardware, it was very colourful and brilliantly animated.  Sonic Colors is no exception to any of this.  Sonic Colors can occasionally entice you to slow down for a bit and just check out what the environments look like.  The only oddity I've noticed is that the acid pools in the Asteroid Coaster Zone don't animate.  In any case, it's a very pretty game.
And the most important bit of all, where we see whether or not this game really holds up, the gameplay.  The game works on the same engine as Sonic Rush, but adds a few things to it.  There are new moves such as the ground stomp, the homing attack and, of course, the power-ups you can use when you find a coloured Wisp.  Anyway, let's get to the specifics.
Like any Sonic game, you run and you run a lot.  There are six zones, each with 2 levels, 3 'missions' and a boss.  On top of that, there are the end bosses.  The levels have the standard goal of traveling through, encountering obstacles and enemies, collecting rings and reaching the goal.  The level design is really great; every level can reward you for either speeding through to the end or taking the time to explore.  Every level has multiple paths and as you progress through the game, you can find new paths in earlier levels with newly unlocked Wisps.  This is a shining example of great level design for platformers:  Levels that provide a fun challenge for the player no matter how they choose to progress through them, and offer extra goodies for taking the extra time to check out every nook and cranny.  There are 5 Red Rings hidden in every level which unlock extras such as illustrations in the Gallery, sound in the Sound Check and new levels in the Versus Mode.
The bosses don't always seem very inventive in design and attack pattern, but they all have unique quirks to defeating them.  A few of them you can defeat with or without Wisp power-ups while a couple others are impossible unless you figure out how to get the power-up from them.  They do provide a decent challenge but you're not likely to be stuck on any for too long.
The missions are probably the biggest problem with the game.  Mission stages are sections of the game where you have to replay a section of a level from the same Zone but with a very specific goal, such as 'Defeat 20 Enemies' or 'Collect 100 Rings'.  My problem with these is that there is absolutely no room for error on any one of these missions and you have to beat every one in order to finish the game.  Every mission has a time limit which is only ever just enough to complete the task perfectly; meaning not ever going the wrong direction, not ever taking any sort of damage that sets you back, and you better have the proper path engraved into your brain.  You'll be replaying a few of these several times before you can finish them.  A couple 'Reach the Goal' missions near the end of the game are just ridiculous to the point that I had replayed the same one so many times I could see it when I closed my eyes to go to sleep.
I'm always in favour of a challenging game but even on the earliest missions, they seemed downright impossible when I first started playing.  It's a bit of a shame because the difficulty curve when ignoring the missions is pretty damn steady.  The missions just create gigantic spikes everywhere.
The new abilities found in the game (some being new to the DS Sonic titles such as the homing attack, and some being new to the franchise in general) are a step in the right direction and don't serve to hinder the experience at all (like many other gimmicks in the series have).  I find the homing attack to be the one mechanic that originated from 3D Sonic titles that I really hope becomes a standard for the series; it's fun, effective and can even make for some cool ways of traveling through sections of levels.
As for the Wisps, well in the DS version there are five (six if you count the White Wisp 'Yacker' who doesn't give you any powers): Yellow, Cyan, Violet, Orange and Red.  Red and Violet Wisps are exclusive to the DS version, while there are others exclusive to the Wii version.
Each colour gives you a different power which is effective for both defeating enemies and reaching new areas.  All of the powers are fun to use and are only occasionally forced on you.  Every time a new one is unlocked, the game also gives you the option of playing a tutorial to learn how to use it as well.  It's a nice gimmick that proves itself a lot of fun.
 The versus mode is also a neat addition to the standard formula.  Sonic Colors features a multiplayer mode that works...kinda like Mario Kart.  You still play in the traditional Sonic sense of fast-paced platforming, except you race through levels against an opponent (the opponent can be computer-controlled, or another player) and you find items that you can use to impede your enemies progress such as a spring that launches at them which will jump them backward if they don't avoid it.  Thankfully, the game features single and multi-card play, so as long as you have at least one copy of the game and two DS's, you can get a race going.
There's really just one more thing to cover:  The Chaos Emeralds.  If you finish a level with more than 40 rings (that might not be the exact number, but I'm pretty sure it's around there), you can choose to enter the Special Stage for that Zone.  The Special Stages are very much like they were in Sonic Rush where Sonic runs through a half pipe and you control him by sliding the stylus over the touch screen.  In this case, rather than collecting rings you collect coloured spheres.  You pass through the special stage 3 times, each consecutive time collecting a colour that you didn't before.  If you touch spheres that are the wrong colour, you kick them off the stage and can't collect them later.  It's an interesting way of incorporating the 'colour' theme into gathering the emeralds and it works just as well as gathering rings.  On the whole, getting all 7 emeralds is a bit easier than it was in Sonic Rush and I can't really say that's a bad thing.

Well, I should wrap this up now.  Sonic Colors is a very well-done game all around.  The soundtrack is solid, the presentation isn't too showy but isn't underdone either, the graphics are eye-pleasing and the gameplay mechanics are everything you need for a good Sonic title and then some.  If you're a fan of the series and have been waiting patiently for another good Sonic game, your wait is over.  This is a great platformer for the DS and highly recommended.

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