They call it the “Sonic Cycle.” Video game faithful have been using this derogatory term since Sonic Heroes came out on Gamecube 10 years ago. It goes like this: a Sonic the Hedgehog game gets announced and Sega releases screens of the game that make it look like a triumphant return to the mascot’s heyday. Expectations inflate to epic proportions as more trailers come out. Then the game comes out and is a miserable nightmare.
It happened with Heroes, and it happened with Sonic the Hedgehog in 2006 and Sonic Unleashed in 2008. Thing is, Sonic Team has been churning out some great stuff recently. Sonic Colors on Wii and Sonic Generations for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were actually pretty swell. Based on a quick sitdown with the newly announced Wii U exclusive Sonic Lost World, the developer’s latest might not only be the best modern Sonic game, but one of the most promising games to come out of Sega in some time.
The more things change. Things aren’t too different in terms of Sonic’s cause. He’s in hot pursuit of the nefarious, fantastically mustachioed Doctor Eggman. The villainous Sonic arch-enemy has, as per usual, been turning friendly animals into evil robots. This new chase takes Sonic and Eggman to a place called Lost Hex, where the two run into a gang of multicolored freaks called the Deadly Six. Sonic and his nemesis have to team up to take these new bad guys down.
Sonic speed in a 3D world. As producer Takashi Iizuka said during our conversation about the game, Sonic Team hasn’t ever fully gotten a handle on how to make Sonic move in the third dimension. Even when they moved away from the free-roaming style of Sonic Adventure for the more directed routes of games like Sonic Colors, shifting between sections where you run straight ahead and others where you move from left to right, the hedgehog still caused problems.
The trouble was with the fact that everything was based around speed. Sonic had to move fast so they didn’t consider how he should handle when he was moving slowly. The solution is perfect. Sonic Lost World has a run button. Just hold the right trigger to move faster. Let it go and Sonic handles with slower precision.
Thank you, Isaac Newton. The other improvement is Lost World’s cylindrical levels. One stage, a desert made of cookies and cakes, had Sonic moving in a traditional left to right platforming style, but the other two had him running in three dimensions on long, tubular islands. Past 3D Sonic games always jammed up around the speedy hedgehog falling off the world. These new islands take a cue from Super Mario Galaxy in that you can run over their whole surface as gravity keeps you firmly on the ground. It feels directed, but never constricting.
Then there’s the status quo. Other than those changes, it’s Sonic. Jump on robots to defeat them, double jump to get on top of platforms, and collect red stars in levels to unlock new content (this last bit is a newer feature seen in Sonic Colors).
About as beautiful as can be. Sonic Lost World is second only to Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101 in terms of looking pretty on Nintendo’s lonely Wii U. The first level has the same color scheme and sense of style as the Genesis-era Sonic titles, with deep green grass and brown/tan tiled walls. Lost World pops in a way that Generations and other HD outings never did. It’s either due to the Wii U’s extra oomph or Sonic Team trying some new tricks. Regardless, this game’s a looker.
Sounding different. One strange note is that Sonic seems to have a new voice for the first time in over a decade, and it’s an annoying one. A high-pitched whine that sounds like a spoiled teenager moaning about having their Internet privileges revoked. Hopefully that can be turned off.
In 2013, the old mainstays of cartoon-style video games have had to bury old rivalries. How funny that Sonic was born back in the ‘90s to topple Nintendo and Mario, and win Sega the video game market, and today Sonic is the best game in the Wii U’s immediate future. Lay the Sonic Cycle to rest once and for all. Sonic Team is one of the last great internal development studios at Sega in Japan, and Sonic Lost World is proof of its prowess.