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December 2023

Sonic Colors: Ultimate

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Sonic Colors: Ultimate'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 1, 2021 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Sonic Colors: Ultimate is an adrenaline-pumping upgrade to the 2010 platformer, Sonic Colors, bringing a fresh hue with stunning visuals, additional features, a new mode, and improved gameplay enhancements, providing players the ultimate Sonic experience.

Buy Sonic Colors: Ultimate

Sonic the Hedgehog is a bit of an odd duck. Mario's longtime rival never reinvented himself as much as the plumber/doctor/go-kart racer/sports star. His series features some of the greatest platformers ever made — and some of the worst. A lot of that boils down to the need to tack on weird, extraneous mechanics in an attempt to pad out the gameplay, whether that's fishing, robot fights, or the one time he inexplicably became a werewolf. Sometimes these weird gimmicks can be fun (like Chao raising), but other times, they become the low point of otherwise fun games. Sonic Colors, originally released for the Nintendo Wii, had an idea very much like the popular Sonic Mania game: What if Sonic the Hedgehog just ran through hoops and jumped on robots? It turns out you get a darn fun game.

Sonic Colors: Ultimate stands out from most of the other recent Sonic titles by being a simple adventure story. Dr. Eggman created an evil amusement park, and Sonic and Tails have to destroy it. There's no world-eating monster, no scenes where Sonic is tortured for a year, and certainly no uncomfortable human-hedgehog kissing. It's just a cartoon hedgehog being snarky at his egg-shaped mad doctor nemesis, and it works. Sonic is at his best when he's facing simple but amusing threats, and Colors leans hard into that. Sure, Dr. Eggman has an evil plan that involves kidnapping cute (alien) animals called Wisps, but in the end, good triumphs over evil in an all-ages adventure.

Sonic Colors follows on the same basic gameplay formula introduced in Sonic Unleashed and continued in the 3D segments of Sonic Generations. It's a mix of 2D and 3D platforming with a heavy emphasis on speed. Sonic can run, slide, and perform a timed homing attack to damage enemies. Certain actions, like collecting wisps or destroying enemies, will give him Boost Energy that he can use to zoom forward at Mach speed to destroy a weak enemy in his path. It is Sonic gameplay at its most basic, but the core gameplay is a lot of fun, and Colors doesn't get bogged down.

The one unique gimmick of Sonic Colors is Wisps, which are power-ups hidden throughout stages, and each one grants Sonic a new, temporarily power. Rocket makes him zoom high into the air, Spikes lets him spin-dash along walls, and Laser has him rush forward at tremendous speed and bounce off objects. Drill lets Sonic tear through dirt with ease, Frenzy turns Sonic into a terrifying beast that gets larger as he eats more, and Hover lets Sonic float and perform the Lightspeed Dash from earlier Sonic titles. The Blue Cube Wisp transforms certain special rings into blocks and vice versa. New to the HD version of the game is the Jade Ghost Wisp, which is slow and provides a Homing Attack mechanic that lets Sonic hit a nearby enemy or special object. Each Wisp only lasts a short time but can be stored until you want to use it or get a replacement.

Wisps are gradually unlocked as you play the game and populate older levels, so you have more reasons to revisit earlier stages. The Wisps unlock alternate paths through the stage, some of which help you trim time from your final score and find hidden red rings. Part of what makes Sonic Colors work is that the Wisps don't feel intrusive or out of place. Sonic's primary motivation is to go fast, and the bulk of them offer different ways to do so, usually unlocking alternate paths in the process. The only one that doesn't work so well is the Cube Wisp, which slows the pace of the game more than I'd like where it's basically required.

Part of why Wisps work so well is because the core design of Sonic Colors is about chaining various moves to remain as mobile as possible. When you're using everything Sonic can do, you're basically a nonstop pinball of boosts, dashes, jumps, slides, and transformations. It feels incredibly cool and captures the feel of a supersonic speedster really well. It also makes it fun to play through stages over and over to try to optimize your run just a touch more. If you use the Drill Wisp to cut through this area, it can save 20 seconds, but if you launch a daring homing attack on a distant enemy, you can avoid an entire dangerous area.

The downside is that anything that doesn't involve going at top speed can feel a little awkward. Sonic can feel both weighty and floaty at different times, and trying to do low-speed precision platforming can sometimes feel awkward. It's pretty much on par with Sonic Generations if you played that, so it doesn't break the game. It's clear that the intent of the game is to chain together moves and keep moving as best as you can. Going slow is often treated as a punishment for making a mistake, which makes sense given the game's time attack-centric nature.

Colors Ultimate also makes some changes to further push the "time attack" aspect. There are no longer any 1-ups in the game, and Sonic just respawns at the last checkpoint. This encourages experimentation and risks because you can die as often as you want, and the only penalty is a loss of time. Some 1-ups have been replaced by Tails heads, which are a "soft" 1-up. Should fall into an insta-death while in possession of one and you're not near a previous checkpoint, Tails grabs you out of a pit and puts you on solid ground. Run out, and you're back to the checkpoint. It's a nice midpoint between having lives and having no consequences for dying.

The level design in Colors is solid. Pretty much every stage has multiple paths, hidden secrets, shortcuts and neat extras to discover. The only downside is that the entire game sort of blends together. The overall design of the stages is unique, but individual acts aren't quite as distinctive. This stands out from Sonic Unleashed, which has a worldwide adventure of distinct stages, or Generations, which was a nostalgic trip through Sonic's greatest hits. The stages are still a lot of fun, but you're probably not going to be able to call them out by name like you could City Escape or Rooftop Run.

I mentioned red rings previously, and Colors Ultimate does more with them than the original release. Collecting them unlocks stages in the single player or co-op Sonic Simulator mini-missions, which are how you get Chaos Emeralds to unlock Super Sonic. New to this game are Rival Races against Metal Sonic. Collecting five red rings in certain stages unlocks a race against Metal Sonic, which takes the form of a tougher-than-average challenge where you're all but required to use every trick in Sonic's arsenal to overcome the metal menace.

The rival races are extremely fun. On paper, they're basically a time attack, but as presented, they encourage players to learn how to chain together moves to overcome your metal counterpart. There may be some sort of soft rubber-banding system in place, as I noticed that if I got absurdly far behind, he would seem to slow down, but it's not enough to make it easy. You need to optimize routes to complete the races, and that is a nice challenge for players who need something more than the allure of an S-Rank.

In addition to extra challenge, players can also collect park tokens throughout the stages and exchange them for customization options for Sonic. You can customize his aura, boost, gloves and shoes. It's fun to gussy up Sonic, but many of the customization options (especially for gloves and shoes) clash terribly with his default color scheme, so it'd be nice if you could change Sonic's color more freely. There's also a Movie Sonic set that gives Sonic an aura and boost more like the recent live action movie, including changing the appearance of his spikes, which is nice for younger gamers whose first experience with the blue blur were through the film.

Colors Ultimate looks great. The environments are bright and colorful, and the game runs buttery smooth. There's a remnant of the game's Wii roots in the simplicity of some of the environments, but it works. The music is top-notch and features a lot of excellent tracks, but "Planet Wisp" remains my favorite. Surprisingly, the voice acting also does a good job of carrying the game. Colors feels a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon, and the solid voice work carries that. In particular, Dr. Eggman's loudspeaker announcements are often laugh-out-loud funny, even if they risk being overshadowed by the noise of the gameplay.

In many ways, Sonic Colors: Ultimate represents the unhindered high points of the 3D Sonic games. It's Sonic as a single playable character, so there are no werehogs, gameplay changes, or an adorable pudgy younger version of himself. It's the "run incredibly fast through loops" gameplay boiled down to its essentials, and it works really well. Even a decade out from its initial release, it's still a darn fun game, and Colors Ultimate definitely captures the feel. It won't change your mind if you never liked the 3D style of gameplay, but if you did, Colors is arguably the best of the lot. It might not have the highs of Unleashed or Generations, but it also is a far more focused affair.

Score: 8.5/10

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