Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-09-23 16:47:37
Hands-on First Impressions of Sonic Lost World
Getting a chance to play a demo of Sonic Lost World (Wii U/3DS) was a really exciting, if simultaneously underwhelming, experience. The game is hotly anticipated, not least by the fandom that surrounds Sonic the Hedgehog. I'm personally of the opinion that Sonic died in 1994, shortly after the release of Sonic and Knuckles. In fact, I swear I saw Sonic get torn to pieces before my very eyes in 1996 and later reanimated in 3D in 1998 in a Shelley-esque experiment of diabolical proportions. But others insist to me that Sonic never died at all, and that the blue furball still lives somewhere - perhaps in an overhead drain pipe. Not being one to cause unnecessary confrontation, I'm willing to accept the line that Sonic is still alive, in some disgusting form, at least until a few more shitty games come out bearing his name and killing him once and for all.
Sonic Lost World is the latest game to feature the iconic hedgehog. It's a Nintendo exclusive that pushes the Wii U to its graphical limits. I was given a chance to play through two stages during my hands-on time with the demo, although I am only permitted to speak about one stage for PR reasons. Windy Hill Zone (featured in the screen-shots on this page) is classic Sonic, right down to the spike traps, the brown mottled textures and the ladybug badniks. As I was playing it, I couldn't help but pick up on a few things - some quite bad, but one or two surprisingly decent.
First, the bad - Windy Hill Zone feels like Green Hill Zone before it, which in turn feels like Emerald Hill Zone, which in turn feels like Splash Hill Zone. Seriously, how many times do Sonic Team plan on making us play this same re-skinned level? I understand that the team must realise that no Sonic game has been able to improve on the Genesis formula, but it seems rather lazy to me that they keep recycling the same stage from the early 90s and justifying it as either 'nostalgia' or 'a return to the old days'. While I wouldn't mind a return to the old days, the Genesis titles had more levels that could potentially be remade than just Green Hill Zone. Or, better yet, they could actually make a new stage.
On a greater level, Sonic in 3D doesn't work. It's a harsh truth. That's why the homing attack exists in 3D Sonic games - it's way too difficult to coordinate accurate jumps in 3D games in the series, and so they just throw platforming prowess out the window and let the game line you up with enemies instead. A fast 3D platformer doesn't work in the same way a fast 2D platformer does - in a 3D environment there is far less precision. Every single 3D Sonic game I have played would play better in 2D. I can't think of a single 3D level that has played particularly well in a Sonic game - Sonic never moves as he should in a 3D environment, taking far too long to speed up and feeling like a floaty mess when he jumps around. The Genesis titles, in particular Sonic 3, had such great controls. That Sonic is just a clumsy mess now is sad.
I guarantee that when Lost World comes out these issues will still exist - Lost World feels like it's being made in Mario Galaxy's image, but it has so little of that game's tightness and expertise that it falls flat. You spend far too long in Lost World failing to jump up onto platforms because of the games' nauseating camera and world-rotating premise. In the end you just let the homing attack do the work for you. There's no skill, and the clumsiness of the engine only makes these issues all the more glaring.
So what does Lost World do right? The graphics. As bad as everything else is, the graphics are excellent, as can be seen in the featured screenshots in this article. The game really pushes the Wii U to its graphical limits - Sonic is rendered with so much detail that you can practically reach out and touch his fur. When he collides with an enemy, you feel the impact; when he picks up a ring, you experience the cool touch of the gold. Enemies are richly detailed and full of personality - the ladybug badnik in the featured image is a personal favourite, with incredible textures really bringing the enemy to life.
But graphics alone can't save a game, and it's a shame that for as gorgeous as Lost World looks on Nintendo's newest system, it still won't be a good game. Windy Hill Zone was over far too fast and made no real impact on me; it looks and plays exactly like the 3D version of Green Hill Zone in Sonic Generations, which in turn was an inferior version of the 2D one. I'm annoyed that Sonic Team think it is acceptable to continue remaking the same level and falling back on old level design in order to sell their products. Fully aware that all creativity in the Sonic franchise has been flushed down the toilet, the Team are now clutching at the straws of the past, desperate that gamers won't notice that they're just rehashing the same old shit and broken 3D Sonic that surfaced in the late 90s and somehow hung around.
But we're smart enough to know better, right?