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Game On: Sonic Colors Ultimate is a solid remaster of an underappreciated game

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 16, 2021

Sonic Colors Ultimate places the blue hedgehog in an interstellar amusement park where he must thwart Dr. Robotnik’s plan to enslave an alien world.  (Blind Squirrel Games)
Sonic Colors Ultimate places the blue hedgehog in an interstellar amusement park where he must thwart Dr. Robotnik’s plan to enslave an alien world. (Blind Squirrel Games)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

For better or worse, Sonic the Hedgehog was my first video game series growing up. That puts every new release on my radar, and the latest, Sonic Colors Ultimate, is a rerelease of a 2010 Nintendo Wii game now ported to Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

It might seem an odd choice, but Sonic Team director Takashi Ilzuka explained in an interview with Sonic Stadium that upgrading Sonic Colors seemed apt for welcoming in new fans of the blue blur following the success of the Sonic movie that hit theaters in February 2020.

I see his point – it was billed as something of a kid’s movie, and Sonic Colors is about as childlike and whimsical as the video games get. In Sonic Colors Ultimate, the ever-nefarious Dr. Robotnik enslaves an alien race called Wisps and creates an interstellar amusement park fueled by their labor.

Sonic and Tails invade and proceed to dispense justice one park section at a time. There’s nothing deep about it, and that’s OK – the locations are quirky and cute, and the cutscenes are filled with ridiculous banter.

The game uses the “boost formula” introduced in 2008’s Sonic Unleashed, wherein the camera alternates between third-person and side views. A surprising amount of time in Sonic Colors Ultimate is spent playing from the side view, leading some fans to facetiously argue that it is “actually a 2D platformer.”

Jokes aside, the Wisp powers that set the game apart from all other Sonic titles necessitate the frequent use of side views. Since the alien critters are none too happy with Dr. Robotnik, they are more than happy to assist Sonic.

By fusing with different Wisps, Sonic is able to use a handful of new abilities – one allows him to phase through walls, another propels him upward like a rocket and so on. Wisps are a great asset to Sonic Colors Ultimate as they introduce a lot of gameplay variety – something I would argue is present in most Sonic titles despite saying games are “all about speed.”

If that were true, then 2017’s painfully linear Sonic Forces would’ve been a lot more well-received. No, I think what really makes Sonic unique among platformers is momentum – dash and jump at all the right times, and you’ll catapult through levels, hit a wall, and you’ll lose precious seconds.

As far as remasters go, it’s competent. Sega handed the keys over to Blind Squirrel Games, a studio committed entirely to remakes, remasters and rereleases – most notably, they took on BioShock: The Collection and Mass Effect Legendary Edition.

This time, they were granted more artistic freedom than their previous gigs, which allowed them to add cosmetic features, a “rival rush” mode where you race Metal Sonic and a new Jade Ghost Wisp for navigating stages. Despite these noteworthy additions, Blind Squirrel made some surprising missteps.

The control scheme feels arbitrary at times, doubtless because Sonic Colors originally appeared on the Wii, which had limited button inputs. For whatever reason, I’m guessing Blind Squirrel didn’t feel comfortable making big adjustments to the controls, which is a missed opportunity.

But by far the worst aspect of Sonic Colors Ultimate is the cutscenes, which are just recordings of the original 2010 renders thrown into an upscaling algorithm. It feels like a slap in the face to give the game a comprehensive graphical overhaul but pass on improving the cutscenes.

Despite some notable issues, the overall verdict is Sonic Colors Ultimate is a good game and a decent remaster. But after dipping my toes in it, nothing compelled me to binge play it. That’s always been the biggest indicator of a Sonic game’s true quality.

There are many titles in the series I enjoy playing from time to time, but only a select few that grab me and don’t let go – among them, Sonic 3 & Knuckles (1994), Sonic Adventure 2 (2001) and Sonic Mania (2017). I have replayed those games countless times and will continue to do so.

Sonic Colors Ultimate does not live up to that honor, but it’s still worth playing through once or twice. That’s not a deal-breaker for this game, as the main story takes around a dozen hours to complete. And if you’re feeling ambitious, 100% clearing the game will double or triple that time. That’s a not bad deal at $40.

Sega was right to port Sonic Colors to modern platforms – the original was well-received by gamers and critics alike, but by 2010, many consumers were past the Wii craze. That said, there just aren’t enough improvements to justify the purchase of Sonic Colors Ultimate for those who own the original.

I’d recommend the game to anyone else – especially anyone with kids who are sure to love its childlike fun and whimsy.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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