SEGA is no stranger when it comes to dipping back into its mascot’s 16-bit days, re-releasing titles on just about every format imaginable, even going so far as to put them on their own devices once more in the form of the Mega Drive Classic. As for Sonic’s 3D adventures, SEGA for the most part opts not to revisit, a shame really as contrary to what many might believe, the blue hedgehog has a fair few 3D hits under his belt (or gloves rather). For his 30th anniversary though, fans have been given the chance to return back to Sonic Colours, easily one of the best Sonic adventures from the more recent ‘boost’ era of games. Is Sonic Colours Ultimate truly the ‘Ultimate’ version?
Dr. Eggman has supposedly turned over a new leaf doing away with plans to take over the world and defeating Sonic and instead opens an amusement park in space. Rightfully suspicious, both Sonic and Tails investigate learning the amusement park is a front and Dr. Eggman has in fact captured and enslaved an alien race known as Wisps in order to harness their energy and take over Earth. Shock! Horror! Who would have guessed? The story is simple, the dialogue a little cringey but at the end of the day no different to any other Sonic game. Fans will enjoy it while others will likely want to skip.
Sonic Colours Ultimate’s gameplay switches constantly between 2D and 3D-based action, the latter setting the camera behind the hedgehog focusing more on left to right movement than the free-roaming style of say, a Mario platformer. The bottom line, you’re Sonic so keep going fast and moving forward. While other Sonic adventures often suffer from trying to deliver numerous playable characters and unique playstyles, in Sonic Colours Ultimate you’ll only play as Sonic himself with supporting characters both few and only limited to cutscenes. As a result, the game feels far more focused, the level design is often exciting and ideas are given the chance to truly bloom.
While Sonic’s basic moveset should come as little surprise including everything from a homing attack to a stomp, it’s the introduction of the Wisp abilities that add even more to Sonic’s repertoire. Sprinkled about stages in capsules, each different colour Wisp when collected offers its own unique power. The yellow Wisp for example transforms Sonic into a drill allowing him to dig through dirt and spin through water at high speeds while the cyan Wisp turns him into a laser bouncing off walls at ridiculous speeds. Of the nine Wisps to unlock, nearly all prove to be great fun to use maintaining Sonic’s pace and offering ample chance to return to past stages and uncover hidden areas or shortcuts. In fact, it’s the slower moving Wisp abilities like the green hover or jade ghost that tend to dial the excitement level down a few notches but even then, they never show up too frequently so as to bog things down too much.
Like any good theme park, Dr. Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park is split into different themed sections taking Sonic through planets covered in giant junk food, rollercoasters spiralling in space and rainbow-coloured roads looping through armies of spaceships mid-battle. Not just visually different, each area presents the player with fresh ideas and challenges that for the most part strike a great balance between fun and flashy but also challenging. Having Sonic Colours Ultimate take place in an amusement park is a refreshing choice doing away with the tired expected tropes of deserts, grassy hills and jungles instead replacing them with arguably some of the series most interesting and eye-catching environments in a 3D Sonic game.
The game also includes a two-player option with 21 smaller stages gradually unlocked as you collect the main game’s collectable red coins. Players share a screen each controlling their own robotic Sonic as together you work your way through to the level’s end goal. If trying to cooperate and coordinate with others in the New Super Mario Bros. series is a chaotic affair then doing so in Sonic Colours Ultimate goes beyond even that, the general speed of the action making it tough to stick together. It is entertaining for sure, and something you’ll likely finish to collect all seven chaos emeralds but not much more beyond that.
While Sonic games have proven inconsistent in the past when it comes to gameplay, the one area it does manage to regularly knock it out of the park is in its music. The original Sonic Colours boasted a soundtrack upbeat and catchy as anything from the initial acts of Tropical Park to the downhill chase of Terminal Velocity and while those same tracks make a return in Sonic Colours Ultimate, they’re joined by a healthy dose of remixed tunes too. Unfortunately, while some of these new additions are great, some fall short of their originals and with no option to choose between old and remixed, you’re forced to listen to whatever the game wants you to.
Of course, the big elephant in the room everyone seems to be talking about at the moment are the game’s numerous bugs. While my time spent reaching end credits luckily never ran into anything as bad as the seizure-inducing nightmares others had the displeasure of dealing with (a recent patch released by SEGA has apparently fixed this issue), it did present an assortment of other irritating bugs like music suddenly stopping (a frequent occurrence), Sonic inexplicably being launched about the stage and frustratingly long load times. What makes all this particularly surprising is the fact we aren’t dealing with a brand-new game here. Sonic Colours is a ten-year-old Wii title that as far as I can remember didn’t suffer from these issues.
When it comes to new additions, Sonic Colours Ultimate’s offerings feel rather small when compared with other recent upgraded ports. Races against Metal Sonic, the option to purchase ghastly-looking cosmetics, and minor tweaks to positioning of collectables to accommodate the newly added jade Wisp power are extras that feel too minor especially for returning players of the Wii original. It might have been nice to see SEGA take a page out of Nintendo’s book by injecting some newer levels like Pikmin 3 Deluxe and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury did.
Sonic Colours Ultimate might offer a few extra bells and whistles over the Wii original but with it a bunch of bugs and rough edges too. It’s a real shame, as SEGA had a chance to take what remains one of the hedgehog’s best 3D adventures to date and make it even better. In the end, what we wound up with is a messy update that gets the job done but that’s about it.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SEGA