This year marks the 30th anniversary of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, and to celebrate, Sega is bringing back one of the character's most beloved games in Sonic Colors: Ultimate. Originally released in 2010 for the Nintendo Wii, Sonic Colors has long been considered one of the character's best 3D outings. Sonic Colors: Ultimate gives new audiences a chance to check out the original game alongside a handful of improvements. Sega had a lot of different Sonic games it could have chosen to bring back for the occasion, but players will immediately understand why the publisher chose to go with this one.
In Sonic Colors: Ultimate, the nefarious Eggman seems to have turned over a new leaf, opening an amusement park in space. Naturally, Sonic and Tails are skeptical, and they quickly discover that the interstellar amusement park is actually a front for Eggman's plans to kidnap an alien race known as Wisps. The creatures ally themselves with Sonic, allowing the hero to use their powers to defeat Eggman and his army. Different colored Wisps give Sonic different powers like the ability to transform into a drill, a rocket, and more. The power-ups themselves are mostly intuitive to use and add an interesting dynamic to the game. As players discover new Wisps on their journey, the ability to find them in past stages is unlocked, allowing players to find new secrets in previously completed areas.
Some Sonic games are guilty of adding gimmicks that clash with the classic Sonic gameplay; Sonic doesn't really need swords or the ability to turn into a "Werehog." The Wisps in Sonic Colors are nice because they give the game its own distinct hook, but they're integrated into the gameplay in a way that complements the core competencies of the title. Sonic Colors feels like a classic Sonic game rather than a game that just happens to feature the character. The core gameplay in Sonic Colors: Ultimate combines the best elements of the 2D and 3D Sonic games. Levels shift between these styles, often multiple times in one stage, and it really works well. It doesn't hurt that the game's level designs are exceptional with lots of clever touches.
In an interesting change from the original game, Sonic Colors: Ultimate has eliminated the concept of "Game Over." Instead, lives are unlimited, and players will even find a Tails power-up that will automatically summon the character to save Sonic once if he falls in a pit. Some hardcore gamers might scoff at these changes, but it does make Sonic Colors: Ultimate feel inviting for players of all ages. The game still has the occasional challenging stage, and the longer it takes a player to complete one, the worse grade they'll receive. Getting an "A" or "S" Rank in a stage results in an extra Park Token, which can be used to purchase cosmetic customization options for Sonic. As a result, series veterans still have an incentive for giving each level their all while newer players can go at their own pace. The change works well, quite frankly.
The visuals in Sonic Colors: Ultimate are mostly strong. Developer Blind Squirrel Games has upscaled the graphics, offering one of the best-looking Sonic games available. Unfortunately, the developer did not do the same for the game's cutscenes. I did not play the game when it was first released on Nintendo Wii, but it looks like these cutscenes are exactly as they appeared on the original system. For anyone that has played Sonic Generations on the Xbox Series X, as just an example, the difference between gameplay and cutscenes is very similar. The game runs great, though I did run into one crash during my playthrough, requiring me to close out of the game and come back. Thankfully, the game autosaves between levels, so I only lost a few minutes of progress.
Sonic games have often provided players with strong soundtracks, and Sonic Colors: Ultimate is no exception. The game features some excellent earworms. It starts with the game's opening track and lasts throughout the entire adventure. Hopefully, Sega will offer the soundtrack for purchase, because it's quite good. The voice work is equally strong, and it helps provide the trademark humor that fans have come to expect from modern Sonic games.
Sonic Colors: Ultimate is exactly what I like to see in a Sonic game: it's fun, it's fast, and the level design is exceptional. Developer Blind Squirrel Games has also added some quality-of-life features that make it welcoming for younger fans as well. It would have been nice to see the game's cutscenes receive the same visual upgrade that the rest of the game got, but that's a minor gripe. For fans that missed out on Sonic Colors when it first released, or those looking to revisit the game, Sonic Colors: Ultimate offers one of the best experiences to ever feature the blue blur.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Sonic Colors: Ultimate is set to release September 7th on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC. The game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PlayStation 4.