Running around at the speed of sound...ARGH WHY DID YOU PARKOUR INTO A HOLE?
It’s been awhile since a Sonic game was able to pull me back into the series. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the Game Boy Advance editions of Sonic as well as Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS, I haven’t been swayed to play a Sonic game since then (aside from Sonic 4: Episode 1). And though I’ll admit that I’ve always been a bigger Mario fan at heart, I’ve had enough great moments with Sonic in the past to keep me somewhat interested in the series, despite its constant track record of letting its fans down.
Speed + Clumsy Controls = Death + Frustration
Though I was cognizant of Sonic: Lost World’s inevitable ability to let me down, I was nonetheless pulled in by its alluring level design akin to Super Mario Galaxy. While the gameplay looked fun, fast and creative in its many trailers, I soon found that the end result was not what the pretty surface had led us on to believe. My first sign of doubt occurred during the first story sequence where the overly compressed video was painfully blurry (clearly they ported videos from the console version over to the 3DS and the end result is quite messy.
Sonic has never been out of new ideas and attempts at gameplay change. However, where the series has let us down is by forgetting to pay attention to one the most important aspects of platforming games: making a game that controls well. Ever since Sonic 2006’s leap onto current consoles, the series has been plagued by poor controls which has turned off much of the core community. And, though it’s difficult to admit, Sonic: Lost World suffers with some of the same problems.
Seeing as Super Mario Galaxy and its successor are considered to be two of the greatest games not only of this generation but of all time, it’s a safe bet that games attempting to mimic that formula could certainly benefit from its creativity. Sonic: Lost World certainly pays homage to the great titles by creating worlds that look and feel like something similar to Galaxy. Unfortunately, where the game loses its comparisons is in the aforementioned controls: Mario has always been synonymous with gameplay perfection while Lost World continues Sonic’s run at clumsy controls.
From the beginning, you’ll remember familiar moves such as the homing attack or being able to spin in a ball by repeatedly tapping B. The game’s first mistake is that it doesn’t introduce one of Sonic’s other important moves: the ability to shoot out a projectile and stun nearby enemies. This is a necessity to defeat many of the baddies and until you realize Sonic has this stun move in his repertoire, you’ll be losing all of your rings trying to homing attack the wrong enemies. (and believe me, it’s easy to overlook the move as pressing Y causes Sonic to do a move similar to jumping before he releases this projectile).
Sonic is now given the ability to choose between running and walking which is very unlike Sonic. And while I actually feel like having the ability to walk is helpful in providing more control than previous Sonic titles, I believe that holding down R to run is actually counterintuitive to the game’s design. Because every level is designed to be a racetrack like previous Sonic games, players are encouraged, and often required, to run through its levels. By walking as a default, I found myself initially wanting to explore every crevice of the environment, and nearly running out of time on occasion. However, after I watched some videos online of players skipping through the levels at a fast pace, I realized I was playing the game wrong.
Playing through platforming portions of the levels at a fast pace has never been much of a problem for me but where Sonic: Lost World loses its control is in its implementation of parkour into the formula. Sure, the ability to run along walls and scurry left or right can certainly be done well (Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed) but when done wrong, a game just feels broken. Thus, as you accidentally run next to a ledge or obstacle and unintentionally parkour into oblivion or find yourself looking like an idiot against a wall, you’ll quickly tire of the touchy parkour controls.
I know I’ll probably be chastised for this but I really wish Sega would just drop the whole hit system revolved around ring collection. I know it’s been in Sonic from the beginning but running through a level and losing all of my rings from being hit by one enemy is and has always been demoralizing. Maybe the games could still penalize you by losing some rings or introduce hit points, but I’m tired of something that feels like a mechanic that hasn’t evolved.
Other forms of difficult movement include Wisp abilities (returning from Sonic Colors) which are neat but feel a little too over-the-top and sometimes unnecessary. Motion controls are tied into some of these abilities as well as the game’s bonus stages. In the former, you’ll have to tilt your 3DS while moving at rapid speed (not the greatest combination even with 3D off, but a nightmare with 3D on); in the latter, Sonic flies around freely, collecting rings but his movement is entirely dependent upon your 3DS’s direction. Thus, in order to collect all of the rings and the ensuing chaos emerald, you’ll have to move your 3DS and body in all directions, akin to a tech demo or built in game, Face Raiders.
The reason why controls can make or break a game is that it creates an unfair quality of difficulty. As I play videogames, I almost always desire difficulty first but if the difficulty is created because of broken gameplay or controls, I often lose interest quickly in the game. If, however, the gameplay is perfected and the difficulty is high, a perfect storm has been created for the hardcore crowd. Take Donkey Kong Country Returns or Rayman: Origins for example, where both games feature highly precise controls but extremely difficult gameplay; both games have been heralded as some of the best platformers in recent memory. Sonic: Lost World certainly has its moments of potential greatness but it’s always held back by its frustrating control scheme.
Lost World not entirely a Lost Cause
Despite the high complaints about the game’s control, Sonic: Lost World isn’t a lost cause for gamers; there were actually several things that were enjoyable about the game. First of all, the presentation and level design is creative and inspired (thus the comparisons that have been drawn with Mario Galaxy). Though the cut scenes are a mess on the 3DS version of the game, the levels actually feel a lot like Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, with level structure similarly linear and bright crisp graphics along the way (the 3D effect works quite well also).
The next major plus about the game is the soundtrack. Taking another note from Galaxy, this game features a score of epic sounding songs that match the adventurous style brought forth by the game’s level design. None of the songs wore on me and I found myself playing this one with sound any chance I could get.
The game continues a recent trend of blending 2D and 3D gameplay and it pulls it off pretty well. The 2D levels had less issues with controls and camerawork than the 3D levels and for that matter were a welcomed transition (probably equally as much serving as a break from the troubled 3D portions). And, though the overall creativity and variation of the levels never quite matched that of Nintendo EAD’s signature Mario games (Galaxy 1 & 2 & 3D Land), the gameplay does feel varied enough to keep you interested throughout the experience.