Lost World is best when it's running from the past, not towards it
|Platform Wii U|
|Developer Sonic Team|
|Release Date Oct 29, 2013|
If only Sonic: Lost World could outrun its legacy.
The latest game to star Sega's flagship hedgehog, Sonic: Lost World splits its time between large 3D spaces that resemble contemporary platformers like Super Mario Galaxy, and 2D side-scrolling levels that echo the original 16-bit-era Sonic games. Sonic must save thousands of cute animals from the evil Eggman and a new gang of villains, by sprinting, stomping and leaping through these increasingly dangerous environments.
It's unclear why the game flip-flops between 2D and 3D platforming, other than to recreate the franchise's glory days. I was raised a Sega Genesis fan, and I can wax poetic on the former greatness of the blue hedgehog like any other 16-bit partisan. Sonic: Lost World's 3D stages are wildly creative exercises in platforming experimentation. But its 2D stages are so clunky and tiresome that it's hard to imagine a time when a side-scrolling Sonic was actually good.
Sonic games are perceived to be high-speed roller coasters with a variety of branching paths, and the first level or two of each game generally accomplishes this creative goal to great effect. That holds true for Lost World, where the early stages display a degree of design ingenuity and polish which gradually degrades until the final, all-but-unplayable series of boss fights.
The first third is exciting. Sonic's dropped into these bright, floating 3D landscapes that branch in unexpected ways. There's plenty to discover, like hidden platforms and lightning-fast straightaways. And then, the 2D levels begin to play a more dominant role, and the game just slows from speeding hedgehog to sleeping sloth.
The final two-thirds of Lost World feature average platforming, unnecessary difficulty spikes and high-speed loop-de-loops that, while visually novel, too often took away my control. The power-ups in Lost World are like out-of-place, difficult-to-control minigames: hover like a UFO, fly like a bird, bounce like a music note. Whatever the power might be, it typically ended with me falling into spikes or a bottomless pit. While these power-ups first appeared in Sonic Colors and worked great, the transition to 3D leads to confusion and rage. By the end of the game, I avoided power-ups when possible, because they generally meant frustration or death or both.
In the six or so hours of the campaign, I never felt like I was getting better at playing Sonic; rather, I was memorizing precisely what I needed to do to complete each stage. The game strained to teach me how to play it. Instructional tips are shown on the Wii U's GamePad, but must be activated when a prompt appears on the television screen. I unintentionally ran past many, because running is the entire point of a Sonic game. My punishment: In the final levels, I had to fumble with the controls — and sacrifice a dozen or so lives — to master moves that were never properly taught, or learned, depending on where we place blame, earlier in the game.
This is all particularly frustrating to me as a Sonic fan, because Sonic: Lost World is arguably the best-looking and best-sounding game in the series. The art direction (and the graphical boost of the Wii U) uncovered deep within my brain a dusty box of old Sonic memories — what Sonic nerd won't love the triangular retro title cards? While the story is about an evil machine sapping the planet of its life force, the designers have drenched the stages in bright colors, characters and locales, like shiny wind-up toys and pastel desserts. The orchestral music, which is unexpectedly catchy, complements the visuals perfectly.
Lost World is best when it's running from the past, not toward it
But a handful of fun levels and some exemplary graphics do not make a great game. Sonic: Lost World is front-loaded, pocked with bad boss fights and obsessed to a fault with creating some of the coolest 2D stages of 1993. Sonic: Lost World is best when it's running from the past, not toward it.
Sonic: Lost World was reviewed using a retail Wii U copy provided by Sega of America. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.