To say that Sonic has had a rough time since transitioning to 3D would be a massive understatement; after his glory days on the Genesis, nothing was the same for Sonic. Many people would defend at least a few of the Sonic games released between 1995 and 2009, but few would argue that the era as a whole was a rather painful, dark age. Sonic Colors in 2010 was a turning point and Sonic console games have been in an upswing since its release. This means that Sonic Lost World actually has some expectations to live up to. Can it continue the cautious optimism that the Sonic games have finally won back? While there are certainly some problems with the game, the overall answer is yes.
Sonic Lost World has a familiar plot: Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik has discovered Planet Hex, the titular lost world, and a powerful native species called the Zeti. Robotnik has enslaved six Zeti known as the Deadly Six in order to use their power to kill Sonic and conquer the Earth. There are a couple of plot twists in the game, but anyone familiar with the Sonic series will find them predictable. More interesting than the story itself is the shockingly unstable tone of the game. There are corny, cringe-inducing jokes that feel like they were written for six-year-olds, but then, there are surprisingly dark humor and themes.
The fact that the villains attempt and/or contemplate genocide — and yes, the game uses that word — is more openly discussed than you would expect in an E10-rated game. Each member of the Deadly Six has a one-dimensional personality, but the violent threats of the crazy one and the suicidal nature of the depressed one go further than I expected. While the story isn’t what I would call good, the “Did they really say that in a Sonic game?” factor makes it interesting and the characters receive a lot of presence, even if they’re one-dimensional.
Ever since it was revealed, Sonic Lost World has drawn comparisons to the Super Mario Galaxy games. While hardcore fans have been quick to point out that the game’s gravity-twisting level design is also similar to the canceled Sonic X-treme, Lost World clearly is drawing a lot of inspiration from Mario and not just the SMG games. Adding a run button and placing more emphasis on precision platforming than speed, Lost World feels quite different from other 3D Sonic games. I do not think there is a problem with this; Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations were moving in this direction after the simple, too-fast-to-control levels of the earlier 3D Sonic games.
While there are some sections that will give you Mario déjà vu, that’s more due to the general feel than being exact replicas. There is a lot of creativity in Lost World\’s level design. Challenges like rotating laser beams that force you to hide, luring giant fruits into blenders, and giant rotating desserts may sound like something Mario would do, but they don’t feel plagiarized.
Each level feels different — even within the same world, you will constantly find new ideas and even settings. Lost World has some of the best level design in the series, even counting the Genesis glory days. The Wisps return, acting as timed power-ups like they did in Sonic Colors. They can be hard to control, but they are rarely used, so they don’t hurt the game much, even if you are trying to get all the unlockables in a level. Collecting animals is given bigger emphasis with the last level of each world requiring a minimum amount. The best way to get these is through easy-to-unlock bonus levels that regenerate whenever you exit the game, so getting stuck due to the requirements is very unlikely.
The game\’s biggest change for the franchise isn’t the level design — it is the control. As mentioned, Sonic now has a run button, meaning you have the option of making him move more slowly than in past games. Even when holding the run button, he doesn’t move quite as fast, although there is a spin dash button that can be double-tapped for a higher speed. I like this change; the controllable speed and very useful double-jump make precision platforming much less frustrating than in past 3D Sonic games.
The other big change is the parkour system and unfortunately, this has some issues. It allows Sonic to run vertically and horizontally and is activated whenever he collides with a wall while the run button is being held. While running vertically up walls and wall-jumping in 2D segments work well, horizontal wall-running is frustrating and confusing. Once you get the hang of it, you can perform extended wall runs consistently, but it is counter-intuitive and the game does a very poor job of explaining it. The vertical wall-running is also annoying in 2D because it can slow Sonic down if he runs up a small platform he could have just jumped onto. The parkour system isn’t terrible, but it definitely needed more work and makes control the weakest part of the game.
Sonic Lost World is one of the more challenging Sonic games. Bottomless pits are everywhere and there are some on-rail segments filled with one-hit kill collisions. The enemies are more aggressive, although the incredibly forgiving ring-based life system makes it unlikely that enemies will kill you unless they knock you into a pit. Extra lives are harder to come by, although that was changed in a patch after the game was released. Despite the high difficulty, there were only a few segments where I felt the difficulty came from bad design. There is definitely a learning curve with the controls, but once you adapt, you’ll appreciate the challenge that the levels present.
The levels have a lot of variety, but Sonic Lost World is a little lacking in content. With seven four-level worlds and a handful of bare bones bonus levels, Lost World will be over in just a few hours if you rush through it. The game does give you incentive to replay levels with five red rings hidden in each main level and a challenging time-ranking mode. Unfortunately, the control flaws are much more noticeable under these conditions and whether or not you will want to 100% the levels will depend on your patience.
If you decide to, it will increase the game’s length to a respectable twenty hours. There are offline cooperative and multiplayer competitive modes, as well as a rather boring mission mode where you are given items you don’t need for performing random tasks within the levels. While short, the main game is enjoyable and a more casual playthrough accentuates the game’s strengths while minimizing its weaknesses.
The graphics in Sonic Lost World are vibrant and smooth but don’t have as much detail as some of Sonic’s other HD games. Despite this, the levels look very good and the lack of detail may be what allows the game to run at a consistent 60FPS. There is a lot of variety in the settings with an aesthetic feel very similar to the Genesis Sonic games; green hills, casinos, pyramids, and winter wonderlands give an almost overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Classic Sonic enemies are also a constant with some making their first appearance in decades. The soundtrack is wonderful — rich orchestral scores that still manage to feel so much like the early Sonic games that the nostalgia is almost painful. While some of the writing is subpar, the voice acting is always competent.
Sonic Lost World is a very ambitious game, attempting to be the most faithful 3D reincarnation of the Genesis era while steering the series away from the speed focus and into Mario’s precision platforming camp. While the game doesn’t do everything perfectly, it excels in several areas and is a solid platformer. While the formula definitely needs some polishing, it is a much better attempt at a new gameplay style than any Sonic in a long time. Let’s hope that Sega sticks with it. The world of Sonic’s glory days may not quite have been found yet, but it definitely isn’t lost forever.