Friday, December 10, 2010

30 Minute Playtest: Sonic Colours

Ever since Sonic and the Secret Rings first paired Nintendo’s console with Sega’s mascot, Sonic and the Wii, like Cameron and Clegg, has been a
coalition of disappointment. The difference between them is that no one realistically expected anything good from the chinless children of privelege, whereas thecombination of Sonic and the Wii at least promised some thrills. Sadly, Secret Rings, The Black Knight, Unleashed etc have all fallen victim the usual fate of Sonic games:-long memories declaring that they’re not as much fun as they used to be.

Now we’ve got Sonic Colours, and it’s a game that looks like it might buck the trend. Sonic Colours at least seems to be aware of the bind that Sonic games always find themselves in: the early Sonic games were enjoyable for their speed and simplicity-run a bit, jump a bit, boss fight, rinse and repeat. Any werehog or sword fighting deviations are a dilution of the concept and a distraction from what players expect. Yet in this seventh generation of consoles, the simple run-and-jump concept isn’t enough to sustain player interest or fend off reviewers ire. It looks like a no-win situation.

With Sonic Colours, Sonic Team seems to have found a solution, incorporating brief bursts of colour themed superpowers into a traditionally speedy mix of 2 and 3D hedgehog sprinting. You’ll free some coloured wisps, build your powermeter, and unleash a new ability, all whilst maintaining the forward momentum associated with a Sonic game. Variety and tradition in one.

The core gameplay is so simplistic that you could tape the analogue stick to the left and tap the A or X button whenever you need to jump or slide, and you’d be forgiven for initially feeling a little short changed. Soon, however, you’ll find that you’re using stomp attacks to open up new routes through the level, or hitting the B button to make the Sonic drift and skid into the path of new rings, or double jumping to string together a set of satisfying bounce attacks on multiple enemies. And all of that is before you unleash your first colour power and dash down a fibre optic cable in the form of a hedgehog-laser.

Other colour powers will open up as you play, but in our 30 minute playtest we didn’t get to see them, as we instead found ourselves locked into the addictive one-more-go frame of mind, playing each level several times over to refine our score.

The presence of the one-more-go factor is usually the biggest point in a game’s favour, and if Sonic Colours can sustain it throughout the game then it will probably stand as the best Sonic since the first. That is by no means assured however. There are some surprising spikes in difficulty that can briefly bring you to a grinding halt as you try to get a jump sequence right. A gradually escalating difficulty curve is one thing, but troublesome spikes in the midst of otherwise easy runs is quite another, and it breaks your zen-like game state. That sort of frustration could really undermine the promising start made by Sonic Colours. We’ll be bringing you a full review next week to let you know what wins in the long term, addiction or frustration. Based on our 30 Minute playtest though, Sonic definitely appears to be back on form