Sonic: Lost World released mid-October, which makes this one very tardy review. There are two good reasons for that: first of all, we like to think that the pool of NAG writers is an accurate microcosm of the gaming industry’s audience. Consequently, the number of us who actually own Wii U consoles is minimal – that’s right, I went there. Second of all, those of us who do have access to Wii U hardware were tied up reviewing other things and attempting to meet magazine deadlines, which obviously left poor old Sonic: Lost World on the backburner for a good few weeks. Fret not, because we have finally stretched Sonic’s legs.
I haven’t played a Sonic game from start to finish since 1992’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Game Gear. I’ve played more recent Sonic games, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was definitely my Mario Bros. 3 of the Sonic franchise. Unfortunately for the Sonic franchise, there’s a fair amount of nostalgia and coupled expectation among long-time fans, and as a result, contemporary Sonic games never quite seem to hit the mark. This is exacerbated by the fact that the series’ biggest genre rival, Super Mario Bros., has consistently managed to keep itself fresh, appealing and downright fantastic. It always seems as if the Sonic franchise is playing catch-up to Mario, and while Lost World has moments of fun, it still feels like the nineties platformer that failed to grow-up alongside its original audience.
Lost World is a frustrating experience because the makings of a great contemporary platformer can be seen peeking out from behind the garish, Saturday morning cartoon exterior. During the first few worlds, the level design maintains freshness by switching between different perspectives: on one level you might be playing on a 3D, capsule shaped environment; the next you switch to a classic 2D, side-scrolling perspective; the next you might switch to an on-rails level; and then you might find yourself bouncing between smaller, interconnected spherical “planets” that are very reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy. For the first few worlds this constant perspective and layout switching is rather enjoyable, but eventually the novelty wears off and you’ll find yourself playing the same thing over and over, but with different themes (ocean themes, factory themes, etc.). It’s a great shame that the development team didn’t find ways to keep things exciting throughout the whole experience.
The Wisp power-ups from Sonic Colors make a return, but you won’t ever use them until a level calls for one in particular. Consequently they feel like a game mechanic that never really goes anywhere. Sonic has new parkour abilities for the 3D levels, but again you don’t really end up using them because running in a straight line and flat-out seems to be a one-size-fits-all strategy.
The game has its fair share of bugs and clipping issues. I found myself falling through levels on occasion, and at other times enemies would do weird things like get caught in launch-pads (springs?), essentially barring me from progressing without taking damage or dying to reload the level. The game’s very unimaginative boss fights exhibit similar issues, with Sonic becoming stuck inside certain bosses the moment you attack them. This means that boss fights occasional turn into a frustrating ballet of attacking, hammering jump and direction buttons to unstick Sonic from the boss, scrambling to collect jettisoned rings, and then doing it again until the boss keels over. They don’t all happen like that; I only experienced this bizarre clipping issue with two boss encounters.
One final point of contention is that Lost World doesn’t really ramp up in difficulty. Instead, the further you progress the enemies and levels get cheaper in their means of dolling out damage. Certain enemies cannot be harmed, but they’re also too tall meaning you have to jump at very specific times to pass them, otherwise you take damage. Levels will also throw cheap shots at you; you might get through a particularly tricky platforming sequence only to have an enemy leap out of the water to hit you the moment you make the last jump. It’s just tacky.
Sonic Lost World has some enjoyable moments and attributes (I loved the vivid colours and certain level designs, and I found myself rather partial to the music) but inconsistency is what does it down in the end. After playing through the first couple of worlds, Lost World just stops being fun; add a bunch of bugs and horrible checkpointing to that, and the game becomes a slog to get through.