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Sonic Colors review: A bolt from the blue


Believe me, I'm as surprised about this as you are.

Sega has shoved its mascot character into so many wretched games over the past dozen or so years that the phrase "good Sonic game" may as well be akin to saying "don't touch that fire; it'll freeze your hand." Yet here I am, trying to make the muscles in my hands type the words, "Sonic ... Colors ... is ... is ... good." Not just good for Sonic, but good good.

Gallery: Sonic Colors (E3 2010) | 10 Photos

Refreshingly, it feels like someone actually sat down and thought, "Okay, what do we need to do in order to make a quality Sonic the Hedgehog game?" Gone are the hub worlds, additional playable characters, weird weapons (a sword, seriously?), "werehogs" and other unnecessary -- not to mention horribly executed -- elements that only served to get in the way of what we all paid for: Sonic.

Sonic Colors succeeds where so, so many other Sonic games have failed

The worlds of Sonic Colors are fanciful, bright and offer plenty of moments built for Sonic to revel in his speed, but they also offer more exploration than, well, any Sonic game so far. This is a great way of showcasing some of Sonic's new powers. By finding different colored Wisps (plush, highly merchandisable aliens that give the game's title its "colors") the extra-fast erinaceinae gains the ability to transform into laser light and bounce through prisms, drill through the ground, rocket to nosebleed-inducing heights, run across rows of rings and more. The levels are all built to incorporate alternate paths and hidden areas that are only accessible once you've unlocked the right Wisp for the job and decide to use it. It's perfectly enjoyable to just run through the stage and not use them, but you'd be missing so much.

The stages throw a constantly changing stream of challenges at Sonic, from the most basic moving platform to robotic bugs that chase him along an interstellar energy highway and require fast reflexes to outwit. The sheer volume and variety of these new level "features" -- many of which are specific to only one of the game's worlds -- constantly surprised (and often delighted) me. Sometimes I found myself thinking that this was the Sonic game I'd always wanted in 3D, like its designers had transitioned straight from 16-bit to Wii and had all these amazing new tools at their disposal.

It's about a 2:1 ratio of side-scrolling to into-the-screen 3D running in Sonic Colors, which feels right. And, honestly, while the 3D bits are alright, they're definitely the weaker element. After all this time, controlling Sonic at full speed while running in 3D space and trying to do something like grabbing rings that go blurring by still doesn't quite work. The designers have put in a valiant effort, but mechanics such as "drifting" down twisty slopes, and enemies that try to catch up to Sonic and have to be sideswiped away, don't always succeed.

There's not much challenge in the beginning, which led me to worry it might be tuned for kids, but this is a tough game, more so than most in the franchise. (No, the challenge of simply controlling Sonic Free Riders doesn't count.) I also dreaded the idea of Sonic (or any of the other characters) talking. It turns out that, while there are definitely some cringe-worthy moments and dialog, the cinematics are actually pretty good.

"So," you're probably saying, "what's the catch?" Surprisingly, there's not really anything massively wrong with Sonic Colors. My main gripes lie with the infrequency of checkpoints coupled with (thankfully small) parts of some levels that seem to rely a little more on luck than skill. I'm also not the biggest fan of the soundtrack -- it has its good cuts, though -- and the two-player modes feel undercooked.

It's hard, though, to dwell on the things Sonic Colors gets wrong when it does so much right. To say that this game comes as a surprise would be an enormous understatement. Sonic fans, I know it's hard to believe, but there's a reason to believe again. Now, I'm going to stop praising the game so you can go and play it -- and so I don't risk jinxing the possibility of a sequel. Or, dare I dream, an HD version for PS3 and 360.

This review is based on early review code for Sonic Colors provided by Sega.

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