Sonic: Lost World – review

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Oh Sonic, how you effortlessly crush our dreams as though they were but hapless robots of Dr Robotnik’s creation. Those trailers looked so good. An obvious and welcome dollop of Mario Galaxy mixed in with instantly recognisable Sonic-flavoured herbs and spices. Lost World promised to be the consistently brilliant 3D Sonic game we’ve all been waiting for; but alas, it was not to be.

There’s a story of course, but we won’t waste anybody’s time by trying to explain or justify it. That’s not to say that the script is entirely without merit; many will find themselves watching the cutscenes in much the same way as they would find themselves unable to tear their gazes away from the scene of a fresh traffic accident. Besides, stick with the story long enough, and you’ll get to hear the immortal line “The only thing getting conquered around here is your face!”.

The widespread Mario Galaxy comparisons are in truth unfounded. Yes it’s a (mostly) 3D platformer, and yes the platforms are sometimes spherical or cylindrical. That really is as far as the comparisons deserve to go, however. For better or for worse this is still resolutely a Sonic the Hedgehog game. This means you’ll spend much of your time running (though bizarrely you are now required to hold down a run button), with enemies often little more than briefly-encountered obstacles on your speedy path to the end of the level. There are still sections scattered throughout the game where Sonic is on autopilot, as you watch him loop de loop and fly through the air while you patiently wait for control to be handed back to you. Wall runs/jumps have been thrown into the mix, but by and large it’s business as usual.

Before we get to what the game does wrong, it’s worth pointing out that for the first half of the game – perhaps a bit more – Sonic: Lost World is actually very good. There are moments where the level design wobbles, certainly, but also enough sections and ideas to make you stop and think ‘yes, this is what a 3D Sonic should be like’. The graphics are bright, bold and cheery – just like the music. There are hidden sections and hard-to-reach collectables for the experts, which will provoke equal amounts of gamepad-gnawing and celebratory fist-pumping. The boss fights, while somewhat oversimplified, are enjoyable to play. Overall, despite a few niggles, it’s a jolly good Sonic game.

Until the fifth area.

This isn’t a big game. DLC and unlockable bonuses aside there are only 28 levels, most of which are pretty short. Sega therefore slow you down at this point in the game – but, unlike Nintendo, they don’t seem to grasp the difference between ‘difficult’ and ‘frustrating’. The problem is almost always the controls. Like it or not Sonic’s controls have always been slightly fudged, but in Lost World they’re one step worse – or at least seem to be when you’re suddenly forced to make very precise jumps, the failing of which usually results in instant death. Be it a ‘normal’ stage or one literally on rails, said jumps would be throwaway simplicity for Mario. Here, however, you wrestle Sonic for control of his destiny.

There’s variety from start to finish, but this is a mixed blessing. When it works – such as Jetpack Joyride-style stages, side-scrolling stages, or gimmicky but usually simple to control Colour powers – it keeps the experience fresh. When it doesn’t – usually a slight yet important change in controls that’s poorly explained – it almost makes you dread what might come next.

If it looks great in a screenshot, it’s probably a section that the game plays for you.

It’s therefore unclear if the Wing powerup was included to ease inexperienced players through the game, or as a sort of apology for the poor level design. The Wing powerup, you see, appears when you respawn on your last life – or when you’ve repeatedly failed the same section. If you choose to collect it, you’ll instantly cheat to the next checkpoint. It’s sometimes a depressingly welcome sight. What this also means, we eventually realised (but chose not to take advantage of), is that you can make your way through pretty much any level without a boss – and therefore most of the game – by farming lives, and purposefully dying at each checkpoint until the Wing appears. It’s certainly the best option from area five onwards for those without saintly levels of patience.

There’s no ‘proper’ two player mode, but there are two player races to unlock as you progress. If you find yourself lumbered with a copy, you may also make the most of it by going back to find the hidden red emblems which unlock the bonus stages; but of course, replaying the later zones is usually a depressing proposition. It’s a real shame, because it’s almost as though two different teams worked on this game – one determined to make the best Sonic ever, one determined to make the most frustrating Sonic ever – and the wrong team was handed the lion’s share of the work.

critical score 6

 

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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