Review: Sonic Lost World (Wii U)

The more things change...

Sonic the Hedgehog is favorite game franchise of all time. I absolutely loved the Genesis titles, and even loved the spin-off games like Sonic 3D Blast (Sega Genesis, Saturn) and Sonic R (Saturn, PC). My love for all things Sonic was reaffirmed on 9/9/99 with the release of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast’s North American launch.

But then things began to change. Sonic Adventure 2 was quite off-putting to me. The story was very convoluted, and too many new gameplay styles were being thrown at me. Sonic Heroes then marked Sonic's foray onto third party systems. Needless to say, the game didn't grab me at all. Although I plan to revisit this one in the future.

At this point in time, I simply stopped buying Sonic games. Reviews of stinkers like Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), and Sonic Unleashed reaffirmed my fears: the Sonic franchise was dying. That is until Sonic Generations came out and knocked my socks off.

Desert Ruin

Desert Ruin

Like nearly every Sonic game before it, Sonic Lost World represents another reboot of sorts for the Sonic franchise. The formula in Lost World strays a bit from that set forward in Sonic Colors and Generations. I've got to give Sonic Team some credit though, they aren't afraid to try new things, for better or worse.

Sonic Lost World does continue the tradition of making Sonic the only playable character and you are not forced to replay any levels with a different character in an artificial attempt to lengthen the game. Sonic doesn't turn into a werehog either. The story is straightforward, doesn’t try to cram in character development, avoids ambiguous plot twists, and never takes itself too seriously. Thank you.

The game itself consists mostly of traditional 2D and 3D platforming, while tossing in occasional rail-grinding segments. I'm not really sure when these rail grinding stages become popular, or if they even are well received by fans, but they are my least favorite portions. Give me platforming! I guess I’ll have to accept the fact that grinding has been the norm for the franchise.

My favorite changes of Sonic’s latest installment are the controls. Rather than moving at a nearly uncontrollable pace, Sonic's motion has been slowed down significantly and I welcome this. The slower pace allows for some incredibly creative level design in both the 2D and 3D segments of the stages. Sonic actually feels more like the original games, with linear level designs that also promote light exploring to discover alternate paths. The slowed down pace make it easier to maneuver through tight areas and makes the jumping feel much more controlled, rather than floaty.

Another large change is the addition of a run button. At first this seemed strange to me, as why wouldn't you want Sonic always moving at supersonic speeds? I actually found myself not using the run button when traversing new territory, and took my time through the levels. This is still Sonic and I’m sure hardcore Sonicites will be able to put up some impressive Time Attack videos.

Parkour, aka running along walls.

The largest change to the controls is a Parkour system that allows Sonic to run up walls as well perform other aerial acrobatic feats. With my first play through I was more focused on completing the levels, rather than doing them as quickly or stylishly as possible, so I haven’t mastered the Parkour system yet. But it does seem once you master the levels, you’ll be able to shave time off your record by utilizing the wall running mechanics and in addition to discovering new areas.

One of my few gripes with Sonic Lost World are the large array of moves at your disposal. There is a double jump, homing attack, and spin dash which seem pretty standard. But then you have a peel out maneuver ala Sonic CD, along with a kick move, and a stomp attack. Some enemies can only be destroyed with the kick, rather than the standard homing attack.

When enemies are grouped together, a “lock-on” reticle will highlight multiple enemies allowing Sonic to take them out in a single jump. This never worked for me consistently, and I found myself just homing in on the individually rather than trying to combo them together.

The reticle can be charged for some enemies and bosses as well. If you let the reticle “charge” for a few moments, you’ll deliver a more devastating attack. This also works somewhat inconsistent at times. Sometimes the enemy pattern changes while you wait for the reticle to charge, and all is lost.

After a while, you will come to grips with all of the different attacks, but I can’t help but feel this could have been significantly simplified.

So moving on, the biggest gimmick in Sonic Lost World is the new graphical style. Many of the 3D levels take place on a rotating tube like platform. So if you keep traveling right, you’ll eventually end up where you started as the world spins around you.

Mario Galaxy?

The 2D stages mimic this style as well. You feel like you are traveling on the outside of a large rotating sphere. Some stages eschew this style altogether, but it mostly feels cohesive. This is the part of the game that people feel is a rip-off of the Mario Galaxy titles. Why Sega chose this unique graphical style is beyond me. But it works, and I rather enjoyed the mind bending nature of the design.

While Sonic titles over the past decade have been rather hit or miss, the one constant has always been the amazing soundtrack. Seriously, Sega has rarely missed and Lost World is no exception. The music varies wildly between each world, but the quality of the tracks never waivers.

A complaint I’ve heard among many mainstream reviewers is the difficulty of the game and the abundance of cheap deaths. This is where I differ from my better paid counterparts. As a kid it took a lot of trial and error to beat the original Sonic titles. Later stages would give me a lot of problems as I would die simply because I didn’t know what obstacle was coming next or how to handle it.

In fact, it wasn't until I was an adult that I could beat these games with any amount of consistency. They were hard, and required repeat gameplay to see them through to the end. Sonic Lost World is no different. This game is challenging. Some of this challenge comes from the sheer insanity of what the game is asking you to do, other parts are simply because without prior knowledge of the level, you won’t know how to proceed.

Obligatory ice level.

The final Lava Mountain stages ate up quite a few continues for me. And you know what? I don’t care. The game was fun enough that I had no problem repeating a few stages more times than I care to count to see the game to the end. The fact that I wanted to play to the end is a testament to the amount of fun there is to be had. You also have unlimited continues.
That’s not to say the game is perfect, because it isn’t. The homing attack locking on to something unexpected (say, across the other side of the screen) caused many deaths. The rail grinding stages had no problem trying my patience in their demand for absolute perfect knowledge of what was coming next. These issues are few and far between, and the game as a whole easily overshadows the occasional short coming.

The Wisps from Sonic Colors also return, giving you time-limited special abilities to help get through the levels. I honestly felt like these were tacked on, and were often jarring, flow-breaking elements added simply to put the Wii U GamePad’s second screen to use. In Sonic Colors the Wisps felt like an integral part of the game play, since the Wisps were in fact, an integral part of the story.

Or perhaps it’s the fact Sonic already had a barrage of moves at his disposal, that having an additional 11 powers just feels overwhelming. For example, one of the wisps turns Sonic into a music note. You must then look at the GamePad and touch pre-designated indicators on the screen to have the note hop across a bottomless pit. It’s mostly pointless.

If the Wii U GamePad wasn't so expensive I would have thrown it.

The levels are arranged on a hexagonal-style world map, and you proceed through the game in a linear fashion. Collecting hidden Red Star Rings in the levels will unlock some bonus stages allowing you to earn additional rings and save more animals.

The fourth zone (for whatever reason individual levels are no longer called 'Acts') requires that you have rescued a certain amount of animals (previously called Flickies) to gain access. Towards the end of the game, this requirement gets quite insane, having to have rescued 5,000 animals to access the final zone.

Thankfully, some of the bonus stages are Circus tents, which have you using the touch screen to move around a trampoline, or a cannon (Breakout-style) to pop balloons, which can earn you hundreds of rescued animals. Also littered through the hexagonal over world are some extra lives.

I also want to give a special shout-out to the cut-scenes and the story as a whole. The voice acting is really spot on and the writing is very light and cheesy. It definitely reminded me of a Saturday morning cartoon from my childhood. The six new enemies in the game fit Sonic's world quite well, and each have their own unique stereotype that fit perfectly into the light-hearted nature of the story arc.

The Deadly Six.

The bottom line is Sonic Lost World is fun. The whimsical, colorful, high-definition graphics are easy on the eyes and do a wonderful job of bringing Sonic to the next generation of hardware. The controls are easily the best a Sonic 3D title has had to offer. The story reminds me of a 90’s Saturday morning cartoon. The difficulty curve is just right, offering a nice challenge as the game progresses. Most of the little things are done right, and Lost World is a joy to play from beginning to end. It’s hard not to like this title.

The only hiccups arrive with a few minor gameplay flaws, and an abundance of moves to perform. Perhaps the design borrows a little too much from the Mario Galaxy titles, but if you skipped the Wii like I did, you wouldn't be the wiser. I highly recommend this title to Sonic fans, and fans of platformers alike.

Game play 8/10 - Responsive controls, excellent level design, challenging difficulty
Graphics 8/10 - Bright and colorful
Sound 9/10 - Catchy and well composed
Overall 8/10 - Sega continues it's stretch of quality Sonic titles, a must-own for Wii U owners

Update: Since I finished playing this title, Sega released an update that fixes a few of the issues I had when playing this game. Four of the wisps can now be controlled using the analog sticks and buttons, rather than the touch screen of the Wii U GamePad.