Developer: Sonic Team
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: October 29, 2013
ESRB: E 10+
A retail copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review
Note: A 3DS version also exists, though it contains slightly different variations on the levels. As such, this review only pertains to the Wii U version of the game.
If you've followed Sonic's games over the past decade, chances are you've heard of the "Sonic Cycle." It's a certain process fans are subjected to each time a new game in the series is announced, where hope and excitement eventually unfold into utter disappointment when the title releases. Sadly, this has rung true for many of the hedgehog's games in the last 10 years, especially console-based titles.
Fortunately, Sonic's last few have been relatively solid, and with Sonic Generations serving as a good jumping off point for what was next, Sonic Lost World looked set to take the hedgehog to the next level when it was revealed earlier this year. But is the Sonic Cycle alive and well here, or did the the blue blur escape its wrath once again?
Lost World's plot has Sonic and Tails inadvertently ending up on a world in the sky known as Lost Hex after a chase with their nemesis, Eggman. Long story short, a group of the world's inhabitants known as The Deadly Six rise up against Eggman and attempt to turn the tables on him by using his own weapon of mass destruction on the world below, forcing Sonic and Eggman to work together to stop them.
Upon starting the first level of the game, it's apparent that Lost World is a very different type of Sonic title. It doesn't play or control like traditional Sonic games or even the more recent ones. Instead, it's as if SEGA tried to marry the speedy Sonic formula with the gravitational platforming found in Super Mario Galaxy. And while that may sound great at first, the execution is a different story. Gone are the gradual speed and momentum that Sonic would gain upon holding down the analog stick; now he's relegated to moving around at a controlled speed unless you hold down ZR, which is used for running fast. The control layout seems almost overly complex and requires a good hour or two to get used to, but even after becoming comfortable with it, it doesn't really feel like the ideal way of playing.
Levels are divided in part between 3D segments and more traditional 2D platforming segments. Surprisingly enough, I actually enjoyed the 3D levels a bit more, even though they're often a mixed bag when it comes to their level design. Many of the 3D levels often focus on the Mario Galaxy-esque spherical planetoids and such; however, in order to emphasize speed in the game, many of the planetoids are shaped long-wise (like a hot dog or noodle) and often have two or three different sides to traverse. This makes exploration and different paths through the level possible, and it does keep things fresh for when you replay the level to grab red star rings.
Unfortunately, Lost World is often not very good at guiding you on what to do at certain points throughout the game, leaving you to figure out things for yourself that might not be too obvious at first. It doesn't even properly introduce its Wisp mechanic, instead relegating it to a helpful tip that you need to pull up on the Gamepad. The Wisp abilities give Sonic a temporary color power that can be anything from becoming a UFO that destroys anything in its path, to a drill that digs through the ground. Most of the wisp powers use the Gamepad in some way, either by using the touch screen to control a path or using the gyrometer to control direction, none of which are ideal ways of controlling them, so the whole idea feels forced on the experience for the sake of making sure the Gamepad was used.
Beyond that, the game's flow is often interrupted by strange placements of enemies or obstacles in both the 2D and 3D stages. It's a bit frustrating at times because there are some very good levels that almost seem to marry the speed/gravity mechanic successfully, and others that are downright irritating to play through due to a frustrating design that hinders Sonic's movement quite a bit. Also strange is the fact that the last levels of each world employ an animal quota that you need to meet, meaning you have to go back and 'grind' by defeating enemies to free animals or by finding tanks around the level and freeing them that way, until you free enough of them to meet the quota. It's basically an artificial way to ensure that players go back and explore alternate paths through the different levels, and while I can appreciate that, it does break up the pacing a bit and feels a bit strange.
For all of the game's shortcomings, the story itself isn't terrible, despite its Saturday morning cartoon plot and some juvenile humor that teens and adults are likely to facepalm at. Out of all the characters, Eggman is actually the most interesting, with a few moments that show him to be a more complex and two-dimensional than previously thought. The Deadly Six, however, are a more forgettable bunch, as each is based on a different cliche: there's your wild, zany one; the fat slob who only thinks about food; the wise old master; the posh female who only cares about her looks; the depressed, emo one; and of course, the evil mastermind. Aside from that, it's a shame that they're played out as one-dimensional villains and that you aren't given any reason to sympathize with their motives.
One of the best things Lost World has going for itself is its music, which is often quite good and catchy, as is often the case with many Sonic games. Unfortunately, I can't quite say the same for the characters' voices; Eggman, Tails, and Sonic all have voices we've gotten used to by now, but some of the Deadly Six's voices are just downright irritating to listen to. Making things even worse is the fact that they'll heckle Sonic and say random things in the background in levels where you do battle with them. On the brighter side, the game is very visually attractive; each world is bright and colorful as you zoom around, and even the cutscenes are of a high quality.
It's admirable that Sonic Team tried to change up the formula a bit and really give the gameplay a unique twist, but the execution is dodgy at best. There are many levels that are brought down by inconsistent design or inconvenient controls, and then there are other levels that absolutely nail what the team was probably going for. If Sonic Team gives this formula another go with Sonic's next game, hopefully they can work out the kinks by then, but as it stands, Sonic Lost World is only a decent game at best.
+ Visuals are some of the best on Wii U at the moment
+ Great soundtrack
+ Some great levels with interesting features
- Inconsistent level design
- Frustrating controls and mechanics at times
- Wisp abilities feel tacked on and not needed
Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10)
Sonic Lost World is a game that looks full of promise but falls short in execution. Still, Sonic fans may find the game to be worth playing, especially to check out the levels that do get it right.