Sonic Lost World Impressions
This past Tuesday at Nintendo’s Holiday preview event, I had the chance to play some of their big upcoming titles. In addition to first-party offerings like Super Mario 3D World and Wii Party U, they were also promoting several third-party titles. As soon as I entered the venue I knew what I would play first: Sonic Lost World, developed by Sonic Team for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. I’ve been looking forward to this game since I heard about it at E3, and I’m impressed by what I saw in the demo.
Sonic Team was clearly aiming for that classic Sonic look, with cheerful, clearly readable visuals. Lots of classic Sonic enemies return, including the infamous red-and-blue robot piranha that jump over bridges and waterfalls. The visual style moves away from the much more detailed and realistic aesthetics of the earlier 3D games in the series, using checkerboard patterns, bright, solid colours, simpler shapes, and even the classic brown checkered backgrounds we remember from Sonic’s very first adventure.
Our speedy blue hedgehog pal has lots of new abilities to go with his neo-retro look as well! For starters, his standard speed is much slower than it usually is, which gives players more precision in the 3D landscape, and makes it easier to move around the stages without accidentally plunging off cliffs at a hundred miles per hour. You can run at full speed by holding down the right trigger (ZR), and charge up for Sonic’s famous spin attack by holding down the left trigger (ZL). Sonic can also tuck himself into a ball when he runs by pressing the Y button, with his spiky hair tearing up any unfortunate enemies in his path. With a bit of practice you can be zipping around like a ball of lightning, popping robots open to free the friendly forest critters trapped inside. By using the trigger to make Sonic run, the developers have freed your thumb up for the B and Y buttons, so you can easily utilize the controller in a more comfortable fashion. Keeping your thumb on these buttons will let you jump and roll into a spiky ball whenever you run into danger, so it is important that you aren’t constantly switching between those two buttons and a third one that’s used for running.
While jumping around, you can use a few very handy attacks. Pressing Y when in mid-air makes you shoot to the ground and bounce back up, and if you do it a few times in a row then you start to bounce higher. Better yet, if there are enemies nearby and a red target appears on them, pressing Y will send you flying to them to kick the bad guy away. Enemy robots often line up politely in a row, so that when you kick one it flies backwards and explodes on its friends, causing damage to all of them.
The touch screen on the GamePad is used to view a map of the stage and to activate Sonic’s Colour powers. By tapping an icon on the screen, you can use special abilities that help you to navigate the land. In the demo, I got to try out the bomb power. This Colour turns Sonic into a rolling bomb with a scary face, ready to explode!
Nintendo’s Holiday preview event included four stages of Sonic Lost World in its playable demo, each of which showed off a different style of play.
Stage one was a grassy area set on floating planetoids, like in Super Mario Galaxy. The planets had their own gravity so that Sonic could run all around them – on the tops, bottoms, and sides. All throughout the stage there were collapsing bridges, strings of enemy robots darting for our hero, and giant springs and spinning belts that launch Sonic forward at mach speed. It’s a tradition that Sonic games begin in a grassland and teach you the skills you need to succeed. Here, you have the opportunity to run up walls, climb up over ledges, and master your spin attack. There are even multiple paths through the stage, so that you can try a different route every time you play and look for hidden treasure and power-ups. Best of all, it is fast. There’s a lot to explore and you’re in too much of a hurry to enjoy it all on your first trip!
On the second stage, players got a chance to see Sonic Lost World from a different perspective than the previous stage, while maintaining the same core gameplay. This is a side-scrolling level set in a world made from licorice whips and gigantic cookies. This will feel familiar to fans of the handheld games and the old-school classics alike. But this stage also comes with a twist: even though the track is one-directional (you go from left to right) the whole thing will turn and twist into the background. When you’re racing through at blazing speeds you might still catch a glimpse of the obstacles coming up ahead thanks to the camera movements. This gives you a great advantage once the track bends and you know what to watch out for, and will be sure to save your hedgehog hide on more than one occasion! In the same way, you can see hidden bonuses and secret caches of glittering golden rings, hidden just off-camera unless you see them coming out of the background, just past the bend.
One of the most exciting and challenging levels on the demo was stage three. This one is set in a treetop, with honeycomb-themed backdrops and the camera is behind Sonic, who is constantly running forward on the outside of a tube-shaped branch. You have to duck left and right constantly, leaping over gaps in the branch and avoiding the edge without falling to your doom. If you aren’t careful, you could run into a long string of robot bees, or flatten yourself against a wall like a bug on a windshield. To make things interesting, there are catapult robots wandering along the branch, flinging honey into the camera and periodically blocking your view of the action! One of the cooler parts of this stage is the skydiving at the end of each branch. Sonic falls through the air and you maneuver him around flocks of migrating birds, nabbing big rings and extra lives on the way down. By pressing the trigger to run, you make Sonic tuck in his arms and legs, speeding up and falling like a torpedo towards the ground.
Our final stage in the demo was set in a casino. This level was flat, with lots of environmental hazards such as lasers that carve deadly mazes into the floor, huge casino chips rolling from side to side, and slot machine wheels that tumble towards you. As you move through this obstacle course you can pick up silver slot tokens that are spent at the end of each section of the stage. When you reach the slot you are sent to a pinball mini-game, with Sonic as the ball. I don’t know if there’s a special prize for reaching a high score in the mini-game, or if there is a slot that gives you a bonus, so you’ll just have to find out for yourself! What I do know is that with two sets of flippers I had a lot of fun just bouncing around and scoring points! The entire casino stage seemed to revolve around Sonic getting bounced around (and probably very concussed or at least disoriented). The enemies carry shields which bump you away, and blocking your kicks and bops. Pinball bumpers litter the later part of the stage, throwing you back and forth in confusion. The entire experience captures the bewildering experience of being in a real casino.
Sonic Lost World was a lot of fun, with simple objectives, entertaining gameplay, attractive visuals, chipper music, and comfortable controls. It’s an exciting and engaging game that welcomes new players and challenges veterans to blast through its gauntlets. I’m looking forward to the full game! Sonic Lost World was released on October 29th in North America, and is available on the Wii U and 3DS.
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