I was a little worried about Sonic Lost World when it was first announced (god knows I don’t want to fall victim to the Sonic Cycle again,) but despite some minor quirks, it looks like Lost World will keep up the winning streak that Sonic’s been enjoying for the last year or two.
My fellow gamers still give me weird looks when I tell them I enjoyed some of the recent Sonic games (Sonic Colors and Generations, to be specific.) Yes, following the Dreamcast’s untimely death, Sonic didn’t do much besides appear in games that weren’t worth the plastic that they were burned on, but Sega’s Blue Blur has bounced back in recent years. He’s ditched most of his shitty friends (and the disparate gameplay styles that came with them,) and Colors and Generations were both focused on doing the one thing that Sonic does best: high speed platforming. No fishing minigames, no third person shooting, no making out with human girls, and no goddamn werehog.
The Sega rep I spoke to today said that Lost World represents Sega’s attempt to make Sonic into more of a precision platformer: while the main Sonic games have always been platformers, Sonic’s quick, twitchy movements have always caused the games to focus more on roller-coaster like stage designs that focus more on high speed action rather than the slower paced, precision-based obstacle courses that you’d see in a Mario game. Sonic Team wants to prove that there’s more to Sonic than speed, and the demo I played today suggests that they’ve succeeded.
The E3 demo for Lost World is divided into 3 sections: the first section blends Sonic’s classic Green Hill Zone with the miniature planets and gravity defying platforming of Mario Galaxy. The second part of the demo is a candy themed, purely 2D stage that was obviously designed to show off how precise Sonic’s new controls are, while the third stage in the demo locked the camera directly behind Sonic for a 3D, beehive looking level that played exactly like the 3D running sections in Sonic Unleashed, Colors, and Generations.
Lost World represents the biggest changes to Sonic’s core controls and mechanics since Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Sonic no longer accelerates to full speed on his own: if you simply tilt the analog stick completely forward, Sonic will move with a brisk walk but won’t break out into a full run. He’s easier to control like this, and Sonic’s slower, more precise movements definitely make the platforming segments less frustrating than they were in previous games. Of course, speed is Sonic’s trademark skill, and he’s still capable of moving as fast as he did in earlier games: if you press the ZL button on the Wii U pad, Sonic will charge up his traditional spin-dash, and if you press ZR will tilting the analog stick, Sonic will start running with at his usual lightning speed (and will consequently control as loosely as he used to.) Running with ZR held down will also cause Sonic to execute a limited, parkour style wall run should he hit any walls (or trees) in his way.
The new control scheme takes awhile to get used to (you’ll need to hold down ZR constantly,) but the benefits derived from it are immediately noticeable: the platforming in Lost World is substantially more intricate than it was in Colors or Generations, and the game isn’t afraid to toss you platforming challenges that would make even Mario veterans do a double-take.
The one thing about the new controls that I didn’t like was Sonic’s new homing attack: in previous games, pressing the jump button while you were in mid-air would cause Sonic to lock-on and air dash into the nearest enemy. Destroying that enemy would cause Sonic to bounce into the air again, and you could execute another homing attack by pressing the jump button again. In Lost World, Sonic automatically pulls off multiple homing attacks on his own if other enemies are close enough to his initial target, and this causes a few problems: it’s often hard to tell when Sonic will chain together multiple attacks automatically or whether he’ll simply take a single enemy out. Like in previous Sonic games, you’re required to chain homing attacks together in order to cross certain gaps, and there were times when I expected Sonic to automatically bounce across a line of enemies himself, only to have him plummet to his doom when I assumed I didn’t have to press the jump button again. Other times, I thought I did press the jump button again in order to hone in on the next enemy, only to have Sonic do the whole thing himself — my button press ended up cancelling out the automatic sequence of attacks, and I’d once again fall. It was the one unintentionally unpredictable and inconsistent part of the experience, and I hope Sega manages to work this problem out before the game is completed. It didn’t happen often enough to completely ruin the experience, but it was pretty frustrating when it did occur.
That lone quirk aside, I definitely enjoyed the majority of the time I spent with Sonic Lost World. Sega seems like they’ve finally figured out how to make a proper 3D Sonic game again, and I’m pretty confident now that the Sonic Cycle is a thing of the past.
Sonic Lost World is also coming to the 3DS, and like the handheld versions of Colors and Generations, the portable Lost World features brand new level designs and slightly different mechanics. While the emphasis is still on quick action and platforming, the 3DS version seems like it will feature some pretty involved environmental puzzles as well: one of the levels in the demo required players to manipulate magnetically charged boulders (that follow Sonic around when he got too close to them,) in order to weigh down switches that would alter the path that Sonic could take. Like the Wii U demo, the 3DS demo was divided into multiple sections: the first stage looked similar to the Wii U’s Green Hill-esque stage (albeit with a different layout,) while the second part of the demo featured an Egyptian themed stage that hasn’t been seen in the Wii U version yet. While I preferred the Wii U version’s pure action over the 3DS’s puzzles, it’s good to know that Sonic fans will have a reason to double dip on both versions of the game, as they provide very different experiences from one another.
Sonic Lost World will be released for the Wii U and 3DS this October.