It’s been twenty years since I first encountered Sonic the Hedgehog, his buddy Tails and the vile villain Dr Robotnik (currently operating under the alias, Dr Eggman). It’s hard not to judge SEGA’s latest iteration of Sonic via a healthy dose of nostalgia and two decades worth of platform gaming experience. But, nostalgia made me more sympathetic towards the speeding blue hedgehog’s latest adventure.
Prior to a new generation of 3D platformers (and a conscious push towards more “accessible gaming”), classic titles like the first Sonic the Hedgehog, a string of Megaman titles and even our favourite plumber were known for being “tough as nails”. They were unrelenting in their difficulty. Many developers took inspiration from the old Arcade tradition; you only had a finite number of lives and the levels were designed to punish you. You were supposed to replay levels, until eventually you perfected them (or at least came close to it).
I can’t remember how many times I replayed a level of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on my cousin’s Megadrive, or how many times we forced ourselves to persevere in the face of a frustrating level. The point is that you were meant to fail in those old games, and only through tenacity and perseverance would you succeed. In hindsight, whether or not it was actually a function of bad design, it highlights a very different kind of design philosophy. One that I suspect the developers behind Demon Souls have replicated to great success in recent years.
But what does that mean for Sonic Lost World?
In many respects, Sonic Lost World pays homage to design principles from a different era. It’s without a doubt a difficult game, and one that seems to relish in also being a “frustrating game”. The only problem is that it’s not a “fun game”, and that’s partly due to Sonic Lost World being filled to the brim with questionable design choices and superfluous ideas.
There ARE a few good ideas in Sonic Lost World. One in particular is the simple addition of a sprint button (mapped to the R button). It might not sound like much, but for a game set within a pseudo-3D world, it makes controlling Sonic easier. You’re no longer at the mercy of Sonic’s need-for-speed or a victim of his sluggish acceleration. Instead, you have more control over the spiky blue hedgehog. The other worthy addition is Sonic’s ability to wall-run – a la Assassin’s Creed. There’s nothing better than sprinting along the side of a wall and filling your pockets with golden rings.
Sadly for our spiky blue pal, the bad outnumbers the good. One of the features that I’ve always enjoyed about the Sonic games was the level designs. The levels were generally large and varied, with multiple side-paths (filled with secret sections or secret tunnels). Sonic Lost World emulates the past, and for the first few levels the title promises to thrill. However, later levels tend to became more linear (yet also surprisingly more convoluted), and extremely repetitive. There’s a sense of sameness in the limited number of enemies in each zones or the same tasks you have to do complete to move to the next zone (from defeating the same large monsters, to moving or pushing items, or scaling walls etc.).
To top it all off, there’s also a strange special stage that makes ample use of the 3DS’ gyroscope. While I tend to enjoy such gimmicky fare, the way the level is structured just left me with a frown on my face. In the special stage, you have to guide a “flying” Sonic through space and help him catch a number of spheres. It’s sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? But in “real world” terms, it actually translates to you spinning around with a handheld in your hands, trying to find spheres in 3D space. As a lazygamer (or in other words, a creature of extreme lounging), it isn’t an experience I would like to repeat.
But there is a sense of irony with Sonic Lost World. Sprinkled among the pseudo-3D levels, you have an occasional 2D level that feels and plays like the old classics – complete with golden ring-filled loop-de-loops and Hedgehog-hating floor and wall mounted iron-spikes. It was during those precious levels that I couldn’t help but tear up, and wonder why they couldn’t have just given me a retro experience. After all, that’s the Sonic I want. That’s the Sonic I love.
In addition, there are parts to Sonic Lost World that feel undercooked and unnecessary. Tails’ workshop promises to be your one-stop shop for crafting. You can build temporary RC vehicles (hovercrafts, jets, choppers) and items to assist you through tricky sections, but as you progress through the game, you’re bound to pick up plenty of additional lives and vehicles. The seemingly over-abundance of items in later levels also highlight that what you can create is very limited in purpose.
Overall, Sonic Lost World is a forgettable title, filled with the strangest of design choices. Instead of being the capable and entertaining blue speed demon, Sonic Lost World stumbles out of the starting blocks, trips over its own laces and falls head first into the mud – much to the delight of Knuckles. There are glimmers of promise and potential, and while its refreshingly difficult, in the end, it’s nothing but a dismally disappointing mediocre 3D platformer.
Last Updated: October 25, 2013