Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: While not a total bust, Sonic: Lost World returns to many of the series' bad habits while its new ideas fall mostly by the wayside

Sonic: Lost World is a game that doesn't feel entirely sure of what it wants to be. On one hand it seems eager to bring Sonic into new territory, but only tepidly embraces its new ideas. On the other, it borrows noticeably from the recent string of Mario titles but doesn't go as far as to borrow the best of what those games have to offer, which includes a fluid control scheme and inventive platforming.

Sonic's latest adventure has its moments and is far from being the disaster that some of its predecessors have been, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing.

The game opens in the midst of an action scene, with Sonic and Tails engaged in a heated aerial battle with Eggman, a battle which damages Tails' plane and forces them to land on a mysterious continent called the Lost Hex. Like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors before it, the story here is presented like that of a Saturday Morning cartoon, and proves to be incredibly hit or miss with its jokes. Though I found Sonic Colors' storyline to be goofy fun, in Lost World it comes across like the writers were trying a little too hard, and the dialogue can be pretty cringe-inducing at times as a result. Lost World also makes the ill-conceived mistake of sidelining the series' main villain in favor of a group of baddies called The Deadly Six; despite some charming character designs, they're both too dumb to be taken seriously and too villainous to be particularly funny, making it doubtful that these new characters will become anyone's favorites anytime soon.

The biggest changes made to Sonic: Lost World involve the controls. For the first time in the series, running is not Sonic's default speed; instead, holding the ZR trigger is required to bring Sonic into a run. Even at full speed however, the boost-heavy gameplay of Sonic Unleashed, Generations, and Colors has become a thing of the past, as Sonic simply doesn't move that quickly this time around. If I were to compare it to anything, his speed is much closer to how quickly he ran in the Sonic Adventure series.

It turns out to be a step in the right direction. While it was a visceral rush to get to tear through the levels in the most recent Sonic games, that style of gameplay also had its limits, and there wasn't much room for it to grow. Sonic: Lost World has the right idea in slowing the gameplay down to focus more on the platforming, but then it doesn't do much of anything with it. Even at a slower speed, Sonic's controls remain incredibly slippery, and judging the distance when trying to jump onto capsules or when double-jumping over obstacles proves to be a major challenge. There's something wrong with a game's controls when I'm standing totally still and directly in front of a capsule but still have trouble jumping onto it without overshooting it. The homing attack returns, though a host of enemies are invulnerable to it, forcing you to choose between using it and a kick move, which happens to be mapped to the same button that triggers the bounce move...mistake number 3. The double jump meanwhile returns from Sonic Colors, though it proves quite unreliable as well.

With such slippery and unpredictable controls, it may be a good thing that despite what would seem like the idea to return the series to more traditional platforming, there really isn't a ton of it here. There's nothing in the way of clever puzzles or creative bosses. Sonic: Lost World sees you mostly navigating (a ton of) bottomless pits, hitting speed boosts, and dodging enemies; even with its control frustrations the core gameplay's not terrible, though it's certainly not breaking new ground for the series, and does nothing to justify the new control scheme. Systems like the Wisp powerups and Sonic's new Parkour abilities are ways in which Lost World could have set itself apart, but they're under-utilized to the point where the developers shouldn't have even bothered.

Instead, the sense of blistering fast speeds that Sonic was capable of in his most recent adventures is replaced by semi-automated speed sections. With Sonic Unleashed, Colors, and then Generations, SonicTeam made major efforts to put you in full control of Sonic's speed. Here, we see a regression to Sonic's first 3D adventures, where the fastest and most exciting moments of each level were ripped from your control; when moving the analog stick even slightly could cost you a life as you instead take your hands off the buttons and watch as Sonic's propelled from scripted springboard to scripted springboard at top speed.

Not particularly helping Lost World's case is the fact that it borrows somewhat notably from Mario, and not even its better aspects. The cinematic bosses of the series' past are replaced here by end of level mini-bosses which, like Mario baddies, go down in only a few hits and rarely put up much of a fight. The overworld and its music would feel right at home in a Mario Party game, while the small floating spherical worlds definitely resemble those of Mario Galaxy but without the inspiration or the intuitive controls. The art direction sports some nice moments but overall feels too similar to the look of the Mario series to really feel like its own thing, and like Mario, it runs through the familiar "forest, dessert, volcano, sky" levels that we've all seen so many times before.

On another note, the decision to no longer award you additional lives from collecting rings was a huge mistake, as it provides you with very little way to recover mid-level if things aren't going your way. The emphasis on the outdated Lives system, the bottomless pits, and the trial and error gameplay is the main thing that sunk much of my enjoyment from Sonic: Lost World; especially its aggressively frustrating later levels, which I don't see myself ever wanting to revisit.


Despite all these issues, Sonic: Lost World isn't a total bomb. Though frustrations abound at every turn, there's definitely more than a few moments where I was able to enjoy myself. Sonic's gameplay is inherently fun, and no matter how badly SonicTeam may have dropped the ball in some key areas (control scheme!) the thrill of blasting through Sonic levels is definitely here, even if it's somewhat muted this time out.

Sonic fans who are interested in trying it shouldn't be too afraid of giving it a shot, though they should be prepared for a game with an identity crisis, and one whose slippery controls, bland level design, and near endless pits of death do their best to take away from the fun.

Presentation: Goofy storyline that tries a little too hard. Incredibly bland worldmap with annoying music and uninspired extras. Short loading times, a few glitches.

Graphics: A simplified art style's not without its color and some beautiful moments, though it also feels very derivative. Nothing here gave me the same sense of awe as Planet Wisp or Generations' Chemical Plant did.

Gameplay: Despite a brand new control scheme, Sonic plays mostly the same, albeit with a greater focus on automated speed sections and controls which are too slippery for their own good. New features are theoretically there to shake things up but fail to leave much of a mark.

Audio: Voice acting continues to be entertaining and fits the script. Music didn't do much for me, which is unusual for a Sonic title.

Replay Value: To Lost World's credit, it's longer than Colors and Generations, and offers a few cool post-game levels to check out as well.

Overall: 6.0/10

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