QCF: Sonic Lost World

ega has struggled to not only adapt their star hedgehog into the modern generation of gaming, a title that can properly reclaim the fame the blue dude held in the gaming community; these days, the spiky-haired dude with attitude is lucky to be relevant outside of the younger demographic or die-hard fans. A number of things have always held him back like lack of proper game physics, stage design, or mechanics to deliver that trademark speed or some overtly gimmicky mechanic that tarnishes everything.

Despite Lost World fitting that infamous aforementioned profile on first impression, it defies expectations by successfully delivering that authentic Sonic experience; one that actually transitions the blue blur into a 3D environment that’s more playable than any of the previous efforts within the last decade.

Granted, while a certain galactic inspired approach in Sonic Team’s latest avant-garde for the hedgehog plays a large role in making Lost World genuinely fun to play for a Sonic title, it’s still littered with flaws that hold it back from being a must-play, let alone the best.

The most common among the demands to improve Modern Sonic from fans and players usually involves the speedy mammal getting back to his roots; Sonic Team answered with Sonic The Hedgehog 4 and Generation—the result was a collection of lazy pandering at best, shallow trite for the majority of it. Lost World however is truly the first modern entry to embrace the back-to-basics ideal, start from the aesthetic right down to the core mechanics of the gameplay, like actually being able to control him for instance. Nearly every three-dimensional title starring the Azure rodent has unfortunately followed the principal of Spectacle over agency; amputating any control the player has right out of their hands  in exchange for automated drawn out sequences of running and dashing that parade about an artificial display of flash and movement—Lost World minimizes these sequences significantly. This new sense of freedom within the Modern series is complimented from two distinctive factors constructed specifically to reinforce the stability of the improved agency in play.

The first being the new enhanced sensation of control is balanced out with some new dynamics to assist with maneuvering Sonic sense of speed by ironically slowing him down.  Instead of accelerating his running through a frenetically unstable momentum that clocks in from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds, Sonic will remain at a consistent slow stride until the ZR trigger is held, which then dramatically picks up his pace, all be in a much more user friendly fashion. The velocity of this run is still held back a bit aside from the occasional accelerators or bumper that skyrockets the spiky hero, and it works—Sonic still feels fast when you need him to be, and enjoyably moveable when you don’t. The introduced Parkour mechanic has it’s issues but they mainly revolve around poor instruction on how any advance nuances to the technique beyond the basic use of it; which poses a problem when the level design hinges on advance methods of the mechanic and it’s not elaborated in the slightest which is an issue all together.

Every intersection or difficulty spike that requires more cerebral exercise than leaps of faith is poorly expounded. Lost World’s agency and freedom can be exhilarating until it overlooks the need to properly instruct you on how to get the most out of it, using the Wii U gamepad for both input and display for these contextual tutorials is one of the most unintuitive uses of the tablet controller yet.

Aside from some trial and error, the levels themselves have consistently organic foundation and each new gimmick or theme that’s introduced is more innovative than the last, being the effective co-factor that encourages liberal movement and play, but the sizable list of blemishes surprisingly make it the weaker element of the two.

All three-dimensional levels still have a funnel-focused construct to them only now they possess the variety of the multiple routes that the genesis titles were celebrated for through the use of planetoids and gravity wells that house completely different routes for players to journey through to reach that iconic prison capsule at the end. Every single stage has a wide palate of variety to the modern formula in favor of the narrow Point-A-to-Point-B affair. The Wisps from Sonic Colors return and while half of them exist only to be gimmicky mechanics that hurt the game flow more than it enhance it, the remaining powers are solid distractions and quirks that can be used in certain areas to explore different aspects of the stage that couldn’t be accessed otherwise.

The camera is also revamped, seamlessly switching between rear-view to scenic to fish-eye that never obstructs the action, in all honesty, there’s only area within the entire game I encountered that suffers from poor camera shift where the extent can affect gameplay in particular, and it’s brief enough to be over before it’s a serious issue. Lost World does indeed champion a genuinely enjoyable method to run the blue hedgehog in the third-dimension, but it fails to execute the same kind of polish to several other areas that make up the experience, like for starters, the side-scrolling segments don’t possess the same character with their composition in the slightest.

While once renowned in previous entries for being the superior play style over the tree-dimensional segments and enjoyable Palate cleanser, 2D Sonic side-scrolling is now on the flipside of the sentiment, but not because the segments broken, they’re just so damn uninspired in contrast that they’re border-line boring. Granted there are some nifty set pieces that embrace the physics of Lost World’s level architecture like rotational areas that twist the stage with kaleidoscoping gravity but these areas are extremely limited; bafflingly, 2D stages are now the same narrow Point-A-to-Point-B affair without any complexity or scope to the stages like what’s been shown in the past let alone the same attention to details the 3D segments have received—they still serve to be competent palate cleansers though.

Another huge downer is enemy targeting and collision detection. The mechanic to target baddies with spin attack or even registering an attack from a normal jump breaks so often that it’s a regression from what we’ve seen from the Hog at his worst in contrast to the past titles, and it’s a huge bummer too considering the vast assortment of enemies and the various tactics they require to be defeated—Which is more than what can be said for the boss battles, they’re bar-none the lowest points this Wii U-exclusive package has to offer.

The Deadly Six all fit some character profile and definitely possess potential to be interesting opponents to challenge given the throwback to cheeky vague cartoon villain profiles and agenda that Lost Worlds purposely aims to portray, but the sad truth of it that battling them is more tepid then the lazy 2D segments. You’ll encounter them twice and they’ll combat you in different ways, but out of all the skirmishes, there were only two that stood out to be any fun or engaging. The rest of them are limited to one-dimensional patterns that adhere to the principles of running around on a planetoid or a limited area of 2D real-estate for the side-scrolling battles--each just requiring three attacks (which is all expounded by the poor targeting and detection mentioned earlier.)

The benefits that the Wii U has to offer are hardly visited, if not, superficially explored in Lost World. Other than Gamepad screenplay, and some Miiverse functionality, it merely serves as a glorified existential menu to access on the go power-ups; it’s nifty, but it doesn’t require a second screen to utilize them.

Sonic Lost World is a great Sonic game that’s a step in the right direction for the series, but by merit of standing on its own as a good action game, it’s numerous flaws make it decent at best. With a wave of Wii U games hitting the platform this holiday, Lost World isn’t exactly a must-play, but stands strong at being a satisfying distraction for those who can’t wait for the promise of bigger and better to hit the console by the end of the year.

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