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"Colors" is Golden... Almost
on January 25, 2011
It's hard to believe that I was a wee young lad of eleven years when "Sonic Adventure" was released for the Dreamcast to all the hype and excitement Sega could muster. At that age, I really did not care to slow down and notice the bugs, glitches, and terrible design choices that riddled the game - I was too busy running fast and standing in awe of what might have been the most impressive graphics of the day. However, the game certainly has not aged well. Enter sequel after sequel of bad 3D hedgehog platformers that required the patience of Mother Theresa to play. Does "Colors" follow the trend, or set Sonic back on his speedy path?
The latter, to a certain extent. "Colors" is definitely a step in the right direction, and the game very much reminds me of those moments in the "Sonic Adventure" games when they fired on all cylinders and gave us healthy doses of speed. Thankfully, many of the issues that plagued the earlier games are fixed here.
Let's start with the story. Well, let's call it a premise, since there's very little plot development here (a good thing). Dr. Robotn - excuse me, Eggman - has built a giant multi-planet amusement park under the guise of being sorry for his past misdeeds. Sonic pays a visit and finds a bunch of aliens called "Wisps" being enslaved by Eggman for the purpose of powering a gigantic death ray. That's it. No deathly serious tales of anthropomorphic hedgehogs and humans sharing disturbing emotional attachments. No amnesiac biological experiments serving under demonic alien masters. No overweight felines searching for pet frogs. "Colors" is all lighthearted - and self-aware - Saturday morning cartoon fare, and while it's rather kiddie in its approach, the delivery is more than passable. Sonic is more of a lovable idiot than a gnarly 80s snowboarder with serious 'tude, Tails sounds like a boy for once, and Dr. Eggman is, well, Dr. Eggman. Animations are smooth, and cutscenes are (mostly) well-scripted.
The graphics on display here are great. Even at 4:3 and 480i, colors are vibrant, textures are smooth, and the environments look great. However, I have encountered one area in Sweet Mountain where, upon using the drill power, the frame-rate took a significant hit, to the tune of around 10-20 frames per second. Some occasional slow-down is acceptable, but in this case, it altered the playability of the game. Likewise, the sound effects are good. Everything sounds about how a Sonic game should be expected to sound. The music here has been dialed back from the pseudo-speed-metal of previous entries, favoring a fast-paced pop-rock soundtrack. Preference is key here, as the soundtrack is decidedly fitting, but I actually somewhat miss the "cheese" factor of the music from previous games.
Gameplay is primarily where the game stumbles. I have a high tolerance for gameplay issues (after all, I actually enjoyed the admittedly terrible "Shadow the Hedgehog"), but when the gameplay is so polished in much of "Colors," the rougher portions stick out like a sore thumb. Sonic controls very tightly, as long as he stays on the ground (or under it, for that matter). Rail-grinding, a staple of 3D Sonic games since "Adventure 2," is simplified to the point of becoming superfluous. The fully 3D parts of the game are handled well for the most part, but they often lose their momentum by virtually playing themselves (almost half of the impressive-looking Starlight Carnival, Act 1 plays completely free of player input). I recognize that much of the "Adventure" games had similar sections, but they are not as numerous and as long-lasting as those in "Colors." What little gameplay is here is actually excellent, and causes me to wonder why these sections of true 3D gameplay are so few and far between. Instead, "Colors" ends up being a side-scroller with 3D sections allowing the player a break from the action. Perhaps Sega was, for once, being a bit too conservative in their design choices here. Fortunately, transitions between the two perspectives are smooth. Jumping, on the other hand, is a different story. The control is passable, but it is far from tight. I found simple 2D platforming action to be a chore, and some environmental challenges such as the candy swings in "Sweet Mountain" were downright frustrating. The frustrations are few and far between, though, and Sonic's controls are improved tenfold from previous games. Thankfully, the camera shoots the action from appropriate angles and rarely, if ever, gets stuck or blocks something important from view.
Environment design is fantastic, but level design is a different story. It's not bad, it's just not great. The introduction of multiple pathways utilizing the different Wisp abilities is certainly welcome, but nothing here is particularly memorable. In the "Adventure" series, Sonic escaped a killer whale that demolished the very bridge he ran along, ran straight down the side of a building while dodging obstacles, snowboarded down a steep city street, and boarded a rocket launching towards space. While everything else in "Color's" is much more polished, it seems to lack any true "Wow" moments (at least, until halfway through the game, where I am now). Design is just a little boring and a little generic. Likewise, level length is woefully unbalanced, with one mission taking a full six or seven minutes to complete on an initial run-through, and the next taking fewer than forty-five seconds. Much to the game's benefit, however, there are numerous routes and secrets through levels, and the speed-and-ring-count ranks are back (from best to worst: S, A, B, C, D, E). There are also forty-four stages, each with 5 red rings to locate, so there is plenty of game here to keep the player busy. Some aspects of exploration simply feel a bit forced, and trimming the fat could provide opportunity for adding a more cinematic quality to the game.
Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on "Colors," but after so much disappointment, I have to compare "Colors" to the blue hedgehog's troubled past. The results are promising but not altogether convincing. This is no "Super Mario Galaxy 2," nor is it a "Shadow the Hedgehog." But as a gaming icon, Sonic's future looks much brighter with "Colors," and, when it comes down to it, the game rarely stops being fun. I fear that previous disappointment, as well as the game's silly story and cartoon-like presentation, will land Sonic's appeal squarely in a much younger demographic. However, Sega obviously realizes that older fans such as myself have had their patience tested and their nerves tried for a decade now. Perhaps the focus toward ten- and twelve-year-olds could salvage the beaten mascot's image for a new generation of gamers. Still, there is quite a bit of depth here worth the cash, even if blood, guts, and guns is your thing. Wholeheartedly recommended to families, and cautiously recommended to older gamers. Just don't let me convince you to purchase this platformer if you have not bought any of Nintendo's chubby, red-hatted plumber's Wii titles, especially "Super Mario Galaxy 2."
Ten-point scale: 7/10 - Good
Pros: Sense of speed, excellent graphics, decent sound and voice acting, simplicity of control, multiple paths and secrets encourage exploration, replay value, "Sonic The Hedgehog 2" style 2-player mode.
Cons: Somewhat boring level design, unbalanced level length, mid-air control is slippery, too little genuine 3D action, plays itself entirely too often.