What are the first questions you usually hear when a new Sonic game is announced -- I mean after the forced sighs of remembering the halcyon days of nostalgia lost. It's usually a quick reply of "Great, how much is Sonic getting screwed this time?" Or sometimes a less rude, "Remember when Sonic was better? I miss those days." While our speedy friend has had his fair share of fun games, the last few attempts to revitalize him have been... mixed. It's also fair to say that Sonic fans are some of the most obsessively fierce defenders of the Blue Blur -- so much so that their love often does more harm than good.
Anyway, I'm getting slightly off topic. After a few bumps in the road, Sonic is finally coming back in a big way. I got about half an hour with the Nintendo exclusive Sonic game (that still weirds me out) "Sonic Lost World." It's every bit what makes Sonic... Sonic -- and better still, it improves upon the classic formula in all the right ways.
The demo consisted of a sampling of levels based on their layouts and flow. Generally speaking, this like any other Sonic game -- get to the end of the level as fast as you can while collecting rings, crushing badniks, and rescuing incarcerated woodland creatures. Speed is still the name of the game but there have been a number of improvements to the mechanics. For one thing, Sonic now has three speeds -- walking, sprinting, and spin-dash. The walk uses the left analogue and subdues Sonic's speed while keeping him moving a fair clip. It's useful for carefully navigating obstacles and for platforming (more on this in a bit). Holding the RZ bumps up his speed to an outright sprint -- you'll probably use this more than the other speeds as it's the quickest way of getting around while maintaining control. Lastly, you can employ the classic spin-dash by tapping on the Y button revving up Sonic to a blistering speed which allows him to burst though enemies and some obstacles. Think of it like the speed settings on a lawnmower -from turtle to rabbit, each setting has its purpose and trade-off -- slower more precise, or quicker, more powerful but less control.
On the other side Sonic, platforming rears its ugly head. Let's face it Sonic is at his best when he's moving fast. There's a certain thrill to running at top speed, burning through baddies and defying gravity, pushing the limits of physics. But mix him with precision platforming and all the fun abruptly stops. Sonic tends to be less sure-footed when he's forced to make accurate jumps. The devs have finally recognized and provided a much smoother, less frustrating experience this time around. Combining the walk speed and the jump buttons -- yes buttons, plural -- you can now, with pinpoint accuracy, guide Sonic over and above all manner of obstacles with ease. The guess work of judging distances or drops has gone out the window. now you can ease up to a ledge at a slow pace and get a feel for the jump.
Additionally, Sonic has a double jump for that extra push and can also catch himself from a miss-timed jump by hanging on ledge. Those two buttons I mentioned -- they both jump but the only difference is that one is for the homing attack and the other is just a jump button. It may be a little confusing but with a few minutes practice you'll learn to appreciate the difference. While the homing attack is imperative to Sonic, it's absolutely detrimental when attempting to land a jump. It works well enough as an attack, but how often has it gotten in the way by accidentally targeting an enemy resulting in a missed jump. Now Sonic has a safe option to secure a perfect landing. All said, it just works. And really, that's the best part. Platforming in a Sonic game has been fixed -- no more failed attempts, no more weird physics, no more wasted lives -- it's a simple and fun.
During the demo I was also able to capture some video. Sega should really be proud of what they've been able to show off since the Nintendo Direct announcement. Sonic has never looked better on consoles and the framerate -- super important for that sense of speed -- maintains a steady pace without any flickering or hint of dropping. "Sonic Lost World" also uses level transitions à la "Donkey Kong Country Returns" with Sonic bouncing from jumppads and being shot out of canons to the next portion of the map. Check out the three levels we played below.
This is perhaps the biggest change to the Sonic layout. Think of it like a classic 2D level, extruded and formed into a long cylinder. There have been comparisons to "Super Mario Galaxy" -- for obvious reasons. Sonic can freely move about the level as it rotates around. The comparisons end there, as gravity isn't affected depending on which side Sonic is running. Instead, the levels open up with multiple paths and you'll have enough time to wander around to discover hidden secrets. This format perfectly compliments the new feel of Sonic.
Desert Ruins 1
The second demo level featured a diabetic coma inducing realm of candied treats. Running along twisted ropes of liquorice while twirling donuts and other delectables danced in the background, Sonic sped his way forward to rescue his animal buddies. This level represents another part of "Sonic Lost World" -- a return to Sonic's roots. The level plays out entirely in 2D, with a few 3D transitions. I also was sold on the fine-tuned platforming mechanics while playing. Also, look at that gorgeous art -- it's such a fun and whimsical visual treatment reminiscent of Sonic's past. Oh and if you're wondering why it's titles "Desert Ruins" just add an "S" to "desert" -- very slick Sega!
Desert Ruins 2
The final level places the camera behind Sonic -- like the above "Windy Hill"-- and cranks up the juice by forcing him forward. Think of it like "Temple Run" -- Sonic is on auto-sprint and you have to guide him around by making split second decisions. This was obviously the harder of the demoed levels as you didn't have as much freedom, but it didn't diminish the fun at all. It provided a nice breaking from platforming by focusing Sonic on what he does best -- breaking the sound barrier!
Sega seems to have addressed years of awkward platforming by fixing the root of the problem. Sonic's controls are exceptionally responsive. The levels are bursting with colorful and lively animations with classic Sonic charm and the audio pumped out driving, catchy beats. For once I'm actually excited about a Sonic game, and if you're a fan you should be excited, too. Sonic is back and ready to rock.