The task of working on the modern branch of the Sonic franchise is an unenviable one. The 2D-3D split has been successful for Mario, but Sonic never had anything like 64 or Galaxy. Even Rayman, with the well-received Rayman 2, decided not to sustain two branches and return to the original 2D formula. So while the Sonic 4 games have found success with little innovation, the larger games are forced to keep wandering in the desert until something new works.
Sonic Lost World is the latest attempt, a spiritual successor to the mostly-successful Colors that embraces the new elements of it while moving away from the nostalgia-based appeal of the other recent quasi-success, Generations. The story centers around the Deadly Six, new monster foes that serve mostly to provide new boss battles at the end of each world.
The environments of Lost World are lush, bright and crisp. Sonic Team nailed this aesthetic, managing to make interesting and fun looks without retreading old ideas. There isn’t really a lore or anything attached, but most of the series’ trouble has been in trying to incorporate new buddies and stories, so the vanilla approach works best.
Levels tend to focus on either behind-the-back or side-scrolling platforming. The side-scrolling segments tend to work a bit better, as they always have with Sonic, but it feels like the level balance shifts in the other direction. On both, the controls definitely feel punishing. They’re not unfair, and slip-ups are the result of your own failings, but things are tuned more for those who want to get fully invested in the quirks.
You need to hold a button down to run, and you’ll want to keep it held more often than not, because you’re playing Sonic. The ability to slow down, though, lets you get through some of the levels’ more tedious segments, when the level of precision needed gets in the way of the fun. The most fun you’ll have with Lost World is when you can really let loose, speeding through as the world doubles back on itself or you clear a tunnel with 14 consecutive homing attacks.
Many have pointed out Super Mario Galaxy as a possible inspiration for Lost World‘s new rounded environments. This is certainly the case in a few areas and with most of the major bosses, but there are stronger influences in other areas. The way it plays with space and automates faster segments is more reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country, and other segments seem to be heavily derived from the early ideas that appeared to be shaping the unreleased Saturn title, Sonic X-treme.
In some ways, it feels like too much is going on at any one time. This is never more apparent than when the Color Powers pop up. The idea of these began in Sonic Colors, and here they’re used to try new things with the GamePad. There are many opportunities to use these, but outside of the mandated-by-the-level segments, it’s a bit difficult to use them. After all: flicking the screen or flailing around with the GamePad aren’t really at home in the middle of the exhilarating, in-the-zone feel of a well-made Sonic course.
Lost World‘s co-op functionality is not really worth the bother. It uses “gadgets” to let a second player help Galaxy-style, but Sonic levels are faster and most of the assistance you’d need with a Sonic level would be with simply staying on the path. The two-player race mode fares better, with a GamePad player trying to progress through a stage better than one using the TV. The level design doesn’t lend itself particularly well to consistently clean and fast runs, and needs more of a trial-and-error approach than a fun versus mode would like.
Limiting the release to Wii U means inevitable attempts to use the console’s features. Off-TV play works quite well, and is highly recommended. When not using it, though, the GamePad screen is largely useless as a result. There’s token Miiverse integration that doesn’t do much besides spam your friends’ feeds. Special gimmick levels, like a poorly-controlled touch screen Breakout clone, don’t add a lot either.
It is interesting that it’s a Wii U home exclusive, too, because as much as the system’s library is meager, the one genre it didn’t need help with was the platformer. Lost World‘s 2D segments are solid, but they’re not as fun as Rayman Legends or New Super Mario Bros. U, nor what we’ve played of the upcoming Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. The 3D platforming has trouble competing with Mario, too.
Still, for those who enjoy really getting invested in a game and picking all the meat off its bones, clearing the hurdle of Sonic Lost World‘s often-tough controls won’t be too much of an obstacle. Those with a nostalgia itch who want a title to casually dip into would be best served with other recent Sonic releases, but Lost World‘s bright fun shouldn’t be completely abandoned in the eventually-inevitable follow-up.
Pros: Well-crafted aesthetic, imaginative 2D segments
Cons: Punishing platforming controls, poor Wii U gimmicks