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Hands-On: Sonic Colors (Nintendo DS)

Genre: Platformer Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega  Players: 1 Released: 11/12/09

Hands-On- Sonic Colors DS 1November twelfth saw the release of the latest jump & run adventure of Sega’s blue mascot. Developed by Team Sonic, the game was released simultaneously both on the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS. While the Wii-version was a new endeavor into the third dimension, the DS game follows more closely to the hedgehog’s roots, both console and handheld-wise. It’s a 2D platformer relying on speedy gameplay. Now at first glance, the game seems to closely follow its predecessors on the DS, the two Sonic Rush games. Let’s see if this is a good sign or not, shall we?

The story goes like this: Dr. Eggman has created a giant amusement park in space, but this place of entertainment is just a front for another one of his nefarious schemes. He has captured alien creatures called “Wisps” in order to siphon away their energy. Sonic once more sets out to thwart his plans. To do so he gets help from the wisps: With each unlocked zone, another alien is released that can grant Sonic some of its powers. There a six zones, each containing two acts, a boss fight and three “missions” (more on that later), plus the final stage where the boss battle commences. There is also a “Game Land,” where the versus mode can be accessed, as well as a time trial mode. There’s an online ranking for the latter as well.

The game really is basic platforming fare at first. Speed through the levels as fast as you can, in classic Sonic style. You collect rings along the way, and as always, when you get hit by an enemy or spikes while not carrying any, you lose a life. Similar to Sonic Rush, the play area is split between the upper and lower screens, and on certain occasions you switch between the two. The physics are really similar, so if you have played either Rush or Rush Adventure, you’ll probably feel right at home at first. Sonic can jump and home in on nearby enemies or boxes, he can stomp down on the ground, and he can slide underneath obstacles – taking enemies out with each move. The perspective is the same as well. Most of the game is played in a 2.5D environment, but the boss fights in particular have a quasi-third dimension to them. The “X” and “Y” buttons have been re-applied, however, and now activate the wisp powers.

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The wisps bring a few new game mechanics into the fray. They give Sonic a range of new abilities. He can bore through the ground, turn into a fireball that can clear out the screen in a fiery explosion, or let him shoot around the screen like a blue laser beam. Also, the basic bright blue wisps allow him to burst through obstacles in an even speedier charge. Thus the gameplay gets even faster in some places. Team Sonic actually did a pretty fine job: Most of the time these new mechanics blend in perfectly with the familiar controls. Also, each wisp comes with a short tutorial that can always be accessed from the world map. However, the multitude of available actions, combined with fast gameplay and – let’s face it – a comparatively small screen, can lead to some confusion. Sometimes it’s hard to discern which wisp you’ve just picked up or how you can apply which ability correctly. It takes quite some training and does not always come intuitively. Then again, practice makes perfect.

Another familiar staple, the Chaos Emeralds, are also in this game. They can be gained by successfully completing the special stages, which can be accessed by finishing an act in each zone with at least fifty rings remaining. These special stages are remarkably reminiscent of those found in the Genesis classics Sonic 2 and 3: running through some sort of half-pipe in a 3D-perspective, you have to collect balls of a certain color. You have to complete the task three times in a row, with increasing speed along the way. The bonus stages are fast and fun, and can be re-accessed by visiting an act anew and finishing with the fifty ring requirement. This can be a great way to stock up on extra lives as well.

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By the way, once completed you can revisit every level at any time to improve your performance (or have another shot at getting a Chaos Emerald). Once you’ve unlocked new wisps, those may show up in earlier stages as well, enabling you to access new areas that you couldn’t reach before. This is highly recommended, especially in order to stock up on extra lives, mostly towards the last few stages of the game. While most of the zones are increasing in difficulty in a progressive, but fair, manner, the last zone really kicks it up a notch. The difficulty takes a sudden leap upward, including a number of very unfair passages. Deadly drops and instant death traps that can’t be anticipated and need pinpoint-timing in order to survive are occurring far too often. Even if you have stocked up on lives before, expect them to dwindle away to nothingness in front of your eyes once you’ve entered the sixth zone.

Aside from the acts, there are three missions to each zone, the last only becoming accessible after successfully completing the first two. These are true tests of your skill, and most of the time you won’t be able to complete them the first time around. Things get easier once you’ve unlocked more wisps though, and you even need them in order to get a particular high ranking there.

Interestingly enough, even though it’s called Sonic Colors, you might get the impression that the title isn’t quite as colorful as its handheld predecessors. The colors refer to the differently colored wisps in first place. Nevertheless, the graphics of the game are crisp and clear, maybe even a tad clearer than the one seen in Rush (which could get a bit blurry at times). The sound is also highly enjoyable. Quite a few of the tunes stay with you even long after you’ve played the game. So admittedly, there are a few minor flaws about this game. But overall, this is a very entertaining title. The new mechanics blend in pretty good with the familiar gameplay, and graphics and sound are very enjoyable.

Sonic didn’t have a good run in the last decade, though the handheld titles had been a shimmer of light. This game continues that tradition. It’s a good game and a good way to pass the time. I’d say if you have a DS, and love speedy gameplay, then give this one a go.



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