Sonic Colors came as a surprise at an event where I was only expecting to see Sonic 4. It was hard for Colors, a Wii game, not to take a back seat to Sonic 4 in my mind, especially after knowing that the latter is a true sequel -- in style and spirit -- to the original Genesis games.
At first glance, Sonic Colors looked to be a return to the floaty, imprecise 3D Sonic that we've come to know (and mostly dislike) these past couple of years. I'm glad to say that my snap judgments were wrong. After playing both titles, I can honestly say that I'm a bit more excited about Sonic Colors. No, really!
Imagine a game that takes only the "good" parts of the 3D Sonic games and combines them with the series' classic 2D roots, and then adds a few new Sonic powers to the mix. That's Sonic Colors in a nutshell. I would understand anyone's hesitation now that I've confirmed that the game has 3D segments, but you'll have to take my word on it that the combination works beautifully.
Dr. Eggman is out to build a massive, multi-planet theme park (held together by evil tractor beams!) in space, and he's using the powers of a cute little alien race named the Wisps. In order to tap their power, Eggman has these Wisps trapped all over his theme park, and you'll come busting into the park as Sonic to save them. The twist in Sonic Colors is that the Wisps grant Sonic some of their powers, which gives the hedgehog some new moves. These color powers include a Yellow Drill, which lets Sonic plow through the ground to dig his own speedy pathways, and a Cyan Laser, which is like a flashy attack boost.
One of the areas of the theme park that I played was called Sweet Mountain (seen above). This is a world of snacks, and everything from the settings to the enemies were desserts. You make your way through the levels in 2D left-to-right side-scrolling, with classic Sonic platforming elements, but then the game will seamlessly jump to 3D, where you'll race along tracks and dodge obstacles before it goes back into 2D. The changes are quite exciting and never seemed disorienting. In this stage I came across my first use of the drill, which let me flick the Wii Remote to plow through the ground (which was made of frosting) and into the earth (which was made of cake). When in the ground, you could freely dig your own path with the controls, making your way back out of the ground anywhere you would like to emerge.
Another stage I saw was called Tropical Resort, and this served as the entrance to Eggman's theme park. This stage opened in 3D, with Sonic running along pathways past neon signs, lovely greenery and transparent floors. This was one of the best-looking instances of Wii gaming I've seen yet!
The 3D sections were never offensive, and I think that has a lot to do with how Sega has carefully controlled your experience in them. I never had to make a disorienting jump over an edge, wondering where I'd land. Instead, you'll zip by obstacles, taking out enemies with dash attacks, running to pick up power-ups. The hybrid 2D/3D concept mixes things up and keeps it exciting, and I'm glad to say that neither had me discouraged. It was always fun. As I made my way through the first stage I managed to set free some more Wisps for more powers. White ones give Sonic speed boosting power. These seemed more common than the cyan and yellow ones. Of course, these boosts fit more in line with the 3D racing segments, while the drill worked with the 2D sections better.
I eventually made my way to a boss battle, which had me going up against a huge Ferris wheel. In a massive, scrolling 2D field I had to take out points with dash attacks. The Cyan Laser also came in handy. Sega told us that all of the boss battles are themed as theme park rides.
When playing Sonic Colors it doesn't feel like someone at Sega HQ insisted that they make a 3D Sonic game for the Wii. Instead, the game seems inspired. It feels like they genuinely wanted to take the fun parts of the 3D games (like the auto-locking jump/dash attack, or the track racing segments) and incorporate them with the tried and true 2D platforming. Instead of being a chore, the Wii controls were tight, and the action was fast and fun. From what I've seen so far, Sega's attempt at mixing 2D and 3D is great. What a nice surprise!