Review: Sonic Colors (Nintendo DS)

Sonic Colors (DS)Sonic Colors
Developer: Sonic Team, Dimps
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Platform
Release Date: 11/16/2010

Sonic the Hedgehog zooms straight into another adventure that involves a certain Doctor Eggman and one humongous theme park. This game comes in two flavors: one for the Wii and one for the DS. I’m covering the latter, so what does the DS version have to offer those who pick it up for their handheld? For a game that doesn’t have quite as much content as its console version, Sonic Colors for the DS has a few exclusive surprises waiting in the wings. Let’s have a look at what they are.

Story / Modes

The story of Sonic Colors is the same regardless of which version you picked up. Sonic and Tails have come to Doctor Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park to see what the mad scientist is really up to because, frankly, he always has a bigger scheme up his sleeves. They soon discover that Eggman has been kidnapping small alien creatures known as Wisps so he can use their mysterious energies to power his park. Sonic’s having none of this and vows to help free the Wisps and put a stop to Eggman once again. In return, the various Wisps decide to assist the blue blur by giving him the use of their powers.

The story may not impress everyone “” not to mention that it’s a bit less detailed than its Wii counterpart “” but it’s written well and carries a lighthearted tone throughout. Most of the story scenes are done in the portraits-and-text style reminiscent of the Fire Emblem games, so you’ll be tapping the A button to scroll through the text or, if you’ve it before, you can press Start to skip it altogether. If you’ve seen clips from the Wii version, you’ll notice some of its pre-rendered cutscenes have made their way onto the DS. On the whole, the breaks between gameplay sections are short, sweet, and entertaining.

When you start up the game, you have a few items from which to select: Play Game, Versus Mode, Time Attack, and Options. Versus Mode allows you to compete against the CPU or other players, and Time Attack is self-explanatory. All Options allows you to do is change the username that’ll be displayed in Versus matches, change whether or not you want the classic ten-minute time limit, or delete your game data. Finally, the Play Game gives you access to the main Stage menu, which also comes with a quick-select mode and a Gallery section that’s split into three parts. One glance through the Gallery will reveal there’s a lot to unlock.

The menus are easy to navigate, the selectable items in them are self-explanatory, and the game carries with it a cute little story. The Options menu is oddly scarce in what you can adjust there, but it’s simple enough to work with. That’s all one could really ask for.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

Graphics

Sonic becomes a great ball of fireAt the risk of invoking a bad pun, the game’s art style is colorful, and yet also distinct. What do I mean by that? I mean, despite all the different colors you see around you, enemies and obstacles with which you can interact will always stand out from the background, and I don’t just mean that because they’ll move when you’re close enough. Sonic will always stand out by virtue of being the only object on screen who’s rendered in 3D. In fact, I think his character model is ripped right from Sonic Rush, but I’ll delve more into that point later. The bright side of this is that, like in the aforementioned game, the action in Sonic Colors flows between both screens of the DS seamlessly and is easy to follow.

What’s more, each stage has a unique look. Tropical Resort and Sweet Mountain share some similar colors between them, but the former’s are more bold in contrast to the latter’s softer and lighter shades. These distinctions carry over to the main stage select screen, where you’ll notice that Sweet Mountain looks like a delicious round cupcake; then, straight across from that is Toxic Onyx. The Toxic Onyx stage, officially known as Asteroid Coaster, bears an ominous appearance that acts as an early indication that you’re in for a challenge as you come closer to approaching it.

Lastly, red reticules will appear when Sonic is in range to Homing Attack the target, and even these stand out against the backgrounds without being glaring. So despite the recycling of Sonic Rush‘s basic color palette, the game gives us some wonderful visuals.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sound

Classic Sonic series sounds are in play once more. Accompanying them are voice clips, and the very first scene is fully voiced. These clips are good, but in most of the scenes, they’re used as pieces of sporadic voice acting. I never liked this ever since I first encountered it in Skies of Arcadia. If a game is going to provide voice acting in a scene, have it throughout the entire scene, not just bits and pieces of it. Because of this, though, you’ll tire of hearing Sonic’s Yo! after about the fourth or fifth time he says it, and the same holds true for a few other overused quips. You can skip these if you’ve seen the scene before, though.

The music is also catchy; oftentimes, I’d find myself thinking, “Stupid catchy tune,” and always meaning it in the best possible way. The audio quality is good all around; we just have a few overplayed clips here and there.

Sound Rating: Good

Control / Gameplay

The controls are of the classic easy to learn, difficult to master variety. You move Sonic with the directionals, jump with either A or B, use a Boost with Y, and activate a Wisp power with X. Start brings up a little menu that allows you to Continue, Retry, or Quit, all of which explain themselves. Sonic can slide if you press the R trigger while he’s moving, though this comes up infrequently. Other functions, like what the specific Wisp powers do and the ground pound, are all explained in tutorials you’ll find scattered throughout the game. They’re good about explaining whatever new mechanic upon which you’ve stumbled, and this is made easier by giving you the chance to try them out as you go. You can also replay the tutorials whenever you want once you’ve cleared them once, but in the end, it’s up to you on whether or not you choose to run through them.

The fire won't burn you, Boss Bot--honest!The Wisp powers come in five variations: Red Burst, Orange Rocket, Yellow Drill, Cyan Laser, and Violet Void. Red Burst allows Sonic to plow through specific obstacles and lets him jump multiple times to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Orange Rocket shoots him straight up into the air, then lets him float down unless you decide to have him use the ground pound. Yellow Drill lets Sonic move through certain surfaces and water. The Cyan Laser will allow Sonic to dash quickly through areas and bounce off walls, floors, water, and diamonds for interesting path formations. Finally, the Violet Void turns Sonic into a circular violet-colored ghost that absorbs everything nearby, allowing him to grow stronger and faster so long as he has the energy. Speaking of which, each of these Wisp powers last only for a limited time; the Boost meter will convert accordingly in order to show you how much energy you have left. Of these powers, I found the Cyan Laser to be the trickiest to manipulate. None of them are too hard to figure out, though. Don’t worry about being overwhelmed by Wisp powers; you’re given only two of them per stage, and you unlock new ones at a good pace.

Incidentally, each stage is split into two acts and two missions (the first stage has three missions, though). They’re bursting at the seams with obstacles and avenues for Sonic to travel, whether by speedy feet or by Wisp power. You can complete the main game by just reaching the end of every act of every stage, but completing the missions rewards you with other unlockable content. Be warned, though, that the strict requirements of the missions make many of them harder than going through a stage act. Said requirements are actually just benchmarks to see how well you’ve mastered the controls. Not that the missions any less tricky, mind you.

Aside from regular stages, you have the Sonic the Hedgehog 2-inspired Special Stages that work the same way they did in Sonic Rush. All the action takes place on the bottom screen, and you use the stylus to move Sonic back and forth along the half-pipe that makes the course. The Special Stages are split into three sections that are defined by what colored orb you’re supposed to grab: red, then blue, then yellow. You’re allowed to move onto the next part of the course after you collect the amount of colored orbs specified, and clearing the Special Stage itself nets you a Chaos Emerald. You’ll be able to access a Special Stage if you have fifty rings by the time you hit the Goal Ring in either act of whatever regular stage you’re on. The seventh one is only accessible by defeating the CPU in Versus Mode, but this fact is alluded to only in a rather subtle fashion… though this does mean you can collect it whenever you want.

That one little hiccup aside, the controls function well. The same goes for the Wisp powers. In this case, only the stage obstacles will give you grief, but the controls are polished enough to see you through.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Very Good

Replayability

With a bunch of unlockable content, bonus missions, and just the desire to obtain a higher rank than you did previously, Sonic Colors provides a good amount of replay value. On top of this, you can go back to stages you cleared before completing the main game in order to use some newly acquired Wisp powers, which will bring you to areas you weren’t able to reach before. You can also fight the bosses again without having to traverse the stages, which adds to some already considerable replay value.

What exactly is the unlockable content? Story events, music, and illustrations. How much one wants to obtain these little extras depends on the individual, of course, but they’re an incentive to replay the game all the same. About the only detriment to the replay value comes in the form of the missions: you can retry them as much as you want a là the Start menu, but they can very quickly become a source of frustration instead of genuine fun. Still, there’s plenty to do and enough reason to try them again.

Replayability Rating: Good

Balance

Underground Venus Flytraps...?If we’re talking about the balance of the main game, then the difficulty increases over time with few sudden spikes. Stage six is second-to-last on the list, and it’s one of the trickiest stages in the entire game. Then again, it is stage six of seven, and it is the last real stage of the game, so I’d expect the obstacles to become more complicated by this point. The difficulty doesn’t spike that drastically between stages five and six; similarly, the Special Stages are easy to clear. But really, every boss and stage takes only a little bit of time at most for you to figure out what to do. Not hard at all.

If we’re talking about the balance of the missions, though, that’s another matter. You unlock new missions as you clear stages and bosses, so you can have three open to you after beating everything in stage one. Whether you’re out to rescue X-number of Wisps, collect Y-amount of rings, or defeat Z-amount of enemies, you’re given a tight time limit to complete each mission. More than anything, that time limit is going to cost you a try. If you jump from clearing stage one’s boss to a mission, you’ll likely find yourself resetting because holy flying foxes this suddenly got hard! Thankfully, you don’t need to clear these to beat the main game, so you can save yourself some frustration.

Given all this, I’d say the difficulty is a mixed bag, but this is hard to gauge when much of it comes from optional tasks that you can access at any time.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

Originality

I mentioned this before, but I ought to repeat it: this version of the game is, at its core, Sonic Rush. To ding this solely on that without any specifics would be the same as dinging the first three Sonic games for playing largely similar to each other, though, and that’s not where I’m dinging this one. What I do find a bit disappointing is that the graphics quality is recycled from Sonic Rush; everything from Sonic’s character model to the basic palette is all the same. Yes, the stages are obviously structured differently, but the ingredients that made them are all from Sonic Rush. On that front, I can’t say this is very original.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, keeping the control scheme mostly the same is a good move in this case. No, it’s not original per sé, but it’s not like the Sonic series hasn’t done this before.

Originality Rating: Decent

Jellyfish spring!Addictiveness

I want to play the game again now. What does that say?

To expound on that point, this is the kind of platformer that makes me go, “Curses! Foiled again! I’ll get you next time, Stage! Next time!” instead of, “Wow, this is kicking my tail like nobody’s business. I’m gone.” In other words, the kind of frustration I feel about failing to clear an obstacle for the third or fourth time in a row is the good kind; it’s what’ll inspire me to keep trying because I know, once I figure out what to do, I will clear it. The bad kind would just turn off players altogether, making them want to do whatever they can to not pick up the game again. Even the missions are perfectly doable despite their difficulty.

What we have here is a game that offers enough challenge to be enticing, and boy does it succeed. Much of what gives this title its replay value also serves to increase how addicting it can be for people, and because it’s portable, you’ll have the chance to play this while on the go. What’s not to like?

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor

Those looking for a fast-paced platformer have come to the right place. If you enjoyed Sonic Rush, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy here, too. Whether you’re a casual or hardcore Sonic fan won’t matter; something’s bound to light your day. Finally, if you’re new to platformers and want to try your hand at something a little different from Mario, then here you go.

I realize that whatever my estimate is on whether or not a Sonic game will appeal to a wide variety of people could be shot down easily by statistics, but I do think Sonic Colors has the right elements to please older fans and new ones alike. Not everyone can handle the speed at which Sonic moves, though, so rent it first if you’re not certain. Even knowing this, the charm of the script, the pace, the variety of obstacles and challenges, or a combination thereof will definitely catch people’s eyes.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous

Submarine Machine used Whirlpool! It's not very effective...The one detail I noticed about the end credits, aside from their length, was the list of voice actors. Why list the Japanese voice actors when there’s no option to switch the spoken language? I don’t know, but both the Japanese and English cast lists were longer than I thought necessary. Then I started to preview each mission and realized, “Oh. That’s why all those actors were mentioned.” As it turns out, several Sonic characters appear for no other reason than to give the blue blur a challenge to complete. Why are they there? I think the better question is, why aren’t you there? “Because the park is fictional” is not a valid answer. Given that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously, we don’t need to delve into any deep discussions as to why those other characters are there. Just roll with it. That’s what Sonic and the others are doing. I’m still mystified as to why the Japanese actors are listed, though. Not that this is an actual issue, truth be told; just a curiosity.

If you’ve collected all the Chaos Emeralds and sit through the credits, go back to the Stage Select screen for a peculiar surprise exclusive to this version of the title. Does it feel tacked on? A little, yeah. But at least there’s something extra to do here to make up for how the DS version of Sonic Colors doesn’t have as much content as the Wii version.

I won’t reveal any specifics about the surprise so you can discover what they are yourself. That said, I’m sure players who’ve beaten the game already know what I’m talking about. The challenge that awaits players is actually on the easier end of the difficulty scale; really, the true obstacle is learning what to do and how to do it, not in losing a try. If you set it so you don’t have the classic ten-minute time limit, you’ll have all the time in the world to decipher what you have to do. So what do you get after clearing the surprise? Another ending, for one… as well as another joyride through the end credits. Whoopie.

At least everything aside from the end credits is a genuine joyride.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores

Story/Modes: Great
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL RATING: GOOD GAME

Short-Attention Span Summary

Sonic Colors may be just a tweaked Sonic Rush, but it’s still a blast to play. Enough challenges await new and old players alike as they join Sonic the Hedgehog in a crazy adventure involving mysterious but adorable Wisps and a beyond super-jumbo-sized amusement park. Any sources of stress-inducing frustration is relegated mostly to side content while the main game ramps up the difficulty stage by stage. The DS iteration has enough exclusives to stand on its own next to the Wii version, so if you like fast-paced platformers, definitely give this game a try.

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