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Sonic Colors Hands-On Impressions

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Posted by: James Pikover

Sonic's taken a beating. He's no Mario, they say, and after a decade of few successes and far too many failures, Sega is revamping their blue mascot in two ways: Going back to the basics Sonic appeal with Sonic 4 and taking a newer yet more simplistic approach with Sonic Colors.

Specifically being produced for the Nintendo Wii, Sonic Colors is a 2D meets 3D title that switches between the dimensional scope as the developers see fit. Simplicity is the big goal for the Sonic Team because past titles have just been too much for players to handle -- in terms of both controls as well as speed and doing it all in three dimensions.

This time around, our favorite hedgehog time travels to Dr. Robotnik's (read, Eggman) brand new space station/theme park; yes, similar to Super Mario Galaxy. This child-friendly design isn't just from a distance for level selection; players will fly through levels fills with cupcakes and unicorns and other happy things. Don't worry, the cold metallic enemies return, as do the robotic and clunky levels, but this time it's up to players to find them.

Level design has always been a huge aspect of Sonic titles, with many paths to the same ending, and often multiple level clears. Sonic Colors uses the "colors" to create more unique levels for added replay value, but don't expect to be able to play through the entire level on the first try.

Sonic's colors come from Wisps, an animal that Robotnik is capturing (as he always does) that are found all around the space station. These wisps come in six different colors, each giving Sonic a different power for him to take advantage of. Yellow allows Sonic to dig through the ground, blue lets Sonic shoot like a laser in any direction, white gives Sonic a power boost, etc. While these are the only colors we currently know of, it's not hard to imagine what other possible functions Sonic could receive for an added benefit for level design.

For instance, the yellow boost opens up underground areas or above-ground areas previously impossible to reach. For the carnival-like levels we saw, going underground shows the darker inner-workings of the theme park instead of the outside so normally seen.

That said, these Wisps need to be unlocked. As the developers told us during our preview of the game, the first playthrough will be different from the second, because more than half the level could be locked from the player without access to certain Wisps. Still, it's conceivable that the game could be completed without ever using a Wisp, because it is still a Sonic game.

Using Wisps are also something, at least in our demo, that can only be done in 2D mode. The 3D vs 2D occurs in-game fluidly, where 3D sections generally revolve around Sonic traveling from one expansive area to another in a full world, with multiple directions that are much less clear where they end up. The 2D, alternatively, feels like a more traditional Sonic title, where players can see the whole area of play and gameplay revolves around using Wisps or the older-style 2D play.

The combination of 2D and 3D gameplay, along with Wisps and a greater level design than ever seen in the past, gives us a positive feeling on Sonic's future. Team Sega may yet breathe new life into their battered namesake.

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