Sonic: Lost World Is A More Satisfying Game Than Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal
Is anyone surprised, though?
After a string of hits and misses (but mostly misses), the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise needed a game to revitalize it. It's been in dire need of rescue over the past few years, but no one steps in to save Sonic from an early bargain bin grave, instead patching him up here and there but never treating symptoms of an end-stage illness that eats away at him, game after game. Sonic: Lost World is like palliative care for Sega's speedy mascot character -- it's a nice, enjoyable band-aid over a failing franchise, but it doesn't address the larger issues at hand.
From the game's opening moments, it's clear this is trademark Sonic: a cheesy, occasionally grating cut scene sets the stage: Eggman's out to take over the world again, but there's a greater evil involved that Sonic and his pals must team up with Eggman to thwart. Nothing new to speak of here, but it's unmistakably Sonic, which should please longtime fans. On the negative side, that means it's also uncomfortably childish, with over-exaggerated voice acting and the attitude of a children's educational television show.
Jumping into the game proper reveals that it's a colorful amalgamation of cartoony worlds, set in what feels like a bright new Saturday morning cartoon-esque environment that encourages exploration. As you attempt to zip through level after level you can see traces of games that worked echoing throughout: Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, to name a couple. Rotating worlds and a penchant for hidden items and collectibles give the game a slower, much more deliberate pace than before, so the game loses much of its trademark speed yet again, when that's what so many fans tend to clamor for the most. Echoes of Super Mario Galaxy are present, but there are far more cheap deaths and frustrating jumps than what you'll find in Nintendo fare -- this feels more like an imitator trying to make its mentor proud.
What truly becomes frustrating is the targeting reticle and power jumping from enemy to enemy. There's a finicky timing window that you have to take into account when jumping over large gaps, and if you don't make them you'll find yourself falling through the air quicker than a tuckered-out Tails. This, coupled with awkward hit boxes and recycled enemies, makes Lost World feel as though it's working against you. If it's going to have an abundance of nooks and crannies to explore, it should ensure you actually want to do so. It's a shame, since there are some genuinely engaging levels -- you just aren't moved to complete them after being forced to restart so many times due to these iffy mechanics. But then, that's always been an issue with 3D Sonic games, and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.
Also confusing is the addition of several cut scenes interspersed with chunks of the game, which break up the action considerably -- they aren't engaging enough to completely bring it to a screeching halt, and with a narrative that's lackluster already, it doesn't offer any other reason for you to keep plugging along -- unless you count the animals you're forced to rescue before you can proceed. It's an arbitrary requirement that brings the already slowed-down gameplay to an utter crawl, especially if you have to backtrack.
Bright lighting and an explosion of hues accompany you throughout each area, and it's refreshing to see the Wii U put through its paces as such without resorting to the muddy browns and rust colors of modern shooters and "hardcore" titles ported to the system. This is a great-looking game, all things considered, and it looks far better on the Wii U than on the 3DS, which is certainly the inferior version.
There are things Lost World does right, like usage of the Wii U gamepad and adoption of familiar tropes from higher-quality releases, and its colorful veneer is a nice distraction. But it fails to revitalize Sonic in any meaningful way. Let's hope that if and when the time comes to bury Sonic, we group up his acceptable games on his epitaph, citing this one as just "okay."