After years of existing in Mario’s shadow, Sonic Lost World on Wii U is unique in that it stands as the first time Sonic has become Mario’s shadow. In an effort to please, Lost World manages to ape Mario Galaxy as well as a handful of other classic platformers. And you know what? For all of the concepts Lost World borrows or steals, it still manages to be the most interesting Sonic game since Sonic’s Adventure on Dreamcast.
Lost World is a follow-up to Sonic Colors on Wii, a Sonic game that was pretty well-regarded in its time. Like Colors, Lost World features modern Sonic platforming (lots of locking on to enemies), some interesting power-ups, and a few new moves for Sonic. New to Lost World are a flying kick, a wall run, and the ability to change speed at any time. While games like Unleashed forced Sonic to go at super speed all of the time, Lost World allows Sonic to go at a brisk jogging speed or a super-fast run speed by holding a shoulder button. This allows for platforming that is more deliberate and more intricate than previous Sonic games, and although the physics are still somewhat wonky and unwieldy, it’s a great step in the right direction.
As for power-ups, these are less like Mario power-ups and more like temporary transformations that alter the gameplay briefly. One power-up turns you into an unstoppable bomb, while another turns you into a drill (to go underground with) and another allows you to fly in the sky over the level like an eagle. I didn’t enjoy the power-ups too much unfortunately, because they generally act as brief minigames that take you out of the platforming experience rather than acting as an accompaniment that’s well-integrated into the main game. The powers also often control via the touch screen, which never feels right because the game forces you to fully change the control scheme during these segments.
The game is split into 2D and 3D platforming perspectives. The 2D stuff, while relatively polished, is about up to the standard of Generations and Colors. The 3D perspective, however, is far more interesting; rather than it being a standard open level with 3D platforming, these levels generally have you constantly moving forward on a hot-dog like track, almost like a racing game where you can backtrack when you need to. These 3D levels also have a second twist in that they completely ape the Super Mario Galaxy games. The way you go around spherical planes is identical, the way you fight bosses is similar, and the way you jump from “planet” to “planet” is likewise identical.
This might sound cheap and sleazy, but I was always under the impression while playing this that the clear influence is out of love and nothing more, which is a mantra I carry to the rest of the game. Sure, you might see an idea taken from Donkey Kong Country Returns or an enemy seemingly ripped from a classic Mario game now and again, but it seems like they’re doing so as a love letter to the games this team is so clearly inspired by.
Interestingly enough, this doesn’t result in a lack of originality. For all of the unoriginal things this game does, the Sonic Team put in a ton of effort to make each of the 30 or so main levels lengthy and entirely unique. Let’s say one level is built around a dessert world with tons of unique assets – you will never see those assets used again. There are unique obstacles, art, and designs used in each level, and while Mario games like making each level based around a new idea, every level in lost world has a unique theme as well.
This is where the game gets its personality and charm from, but it is also where the game falls apart. Since every level uses new design concepts and the team making this game isn’t quite as masterful as EAD Tokyo, the actual quality you can expect from each of these levels varies wildly. Some levels, like the aforementioned Dessert one and a crazy mine-cart-like level in the final world, are totally brilliant with a heavy level of challenge and tons of solid design. Many other levels, however, range from middling and forgettable to terribly frustrating. Depending on the level, the camera has a tendency to freak out at some really inconvenient times. Furthermore, the loosy-goosey physics make some of the more precise platforming an absolute nightmare. This sounds bad enough, but the problems are made even larger when levels generally go several minutes long and the stingy checkpoints result in plenty of game overs simply as a result of some camera freak out. Because of this, and because of other issues like amateurish boss design and the story of a second-rate cartoon, the entire experience feels uneven and average at best when all is said and done. There is quite a bit of fantastic design to be found if you look, but there isn’t enough of that content to bring this package to a higher level of quality.
When all is said and done, you’ll probably get around 8-10 hours of content from the game. This includes the overall story which has around 30 levels, some brief bonus mini-games involving the use of a cannon or trampoline, and a decent handful of extra levels that you can dig for if you feel so inclined. If you want some multiplayer type stuff, there is a throwaway co-op mode involving a second player picking up rings as well as an equally-throwaway race mode where two players can race through game levels. As a general package, there’s a solid amount of content here, but there’s little replay value and I imagine that the average person will probably stop at the 10 hour point.
One other thing worth noting is that the game looks really good and has a stellar soundtrack. The game is bright, colorful, and smooth, and seems to make full use of the Wii U’s graphical and technical capabilities with no slowdown. The soundtrack likewise is beautiful, featuring some goofy rock alongside some completely different tracks like a somber piano tune that plays in certain on-rails sections.
Sonic Lost World has a lot of heart, and takes inspiration from the past in an overwhelming need to entertain. But while the game does entertain and does succeed in at least part of its vision, questionable physics and uneven level design still leaves quite a lot to be desired.
Wii U review copy provided by Sega. Sonic Lost World is available now exclusively on Wii U and 3DS.