A very long time ago Sonic was cool. Sega's blue hedgehog was an aerodynamic entertainment dynamo, and everything Nintendo's Mario wasn't - quick, cocky and full of attitude. Sonic sped through levels filled with jumps, loops, and always made sure he had time to give the player a knowing look after each level.
But since his early days, the start of any review of an adventure starring Sonic has been almost identical. Sega have promise, again and again, that they have reinvented the hedgehog, and that they done what was needed to make him great again. The result has always been poor, and we have been showered with shitty friends, awful mini-games and horrible gimmicks.
Sonic Colours is a nice change of pace right from the start, as it's not an adventure that takes itself to seriously, but still harkens to the original games. As always Dr. Eggman is at the heart of the trouble, as he plans to build the biggest amusement park in the galaxy. It's a huge project where different planets will serve as themed sections of the park. It turns out it's a plot to kidnap the original inhabitants of the planets, wisps, and of course Sonic can't stand idly by while this is taking place.
The story is a good indication that Sega are doing things right, and the way the game starts is also a good indication that Sega knows how a Sonic game should play. You are immediately thrown into a wild flurry of jumps and loops before you even get to see a map of the world. It's not only a surprising and great way to start the game, but luckily also indicative of the game as a whole.
The speed is with me from the first proper levels, and so are the simple controls. Sonic is no longer controlled with a simple d-pad and a button, but his control scheme is still very simple and intuitive. There is an automated system in place that makes Sonic home in on the next enemy when I press the A-button, and if I have collected enough golden rings I can give the hedgehog an extra turbo boost with the B-button, which is often useful when hunting for secrets.
The simplicity is also a result of the developer's decision to keep the majority of the game in a 2D perspective. But it does seem like Sega have been able to focus more on the few times we do spend in a 3D environments as these are some of the best 3D moments with Sonic to date.
Another thing that team has succeeded in recreating is the blend of automatic and manual control that was such a big part of the early games in the series. You really didn't do that much yourself when it came to controlling the game, but you still felt like an expert platformer when you reached the end of the level, and the same is true in Sonic Colours.
The addition of "Wisps", may sound like something of a gimmick and weakness on paper, much like the things Sega have included in previous failed attempts at revitalising the speedy hedgehog. But this isn't anything like the "werehog" section of Sonic Unleashed or the sword play found in Sonic and the Black Knight, and instead it adds something meaningful to the game.
Unlike the animals Sonic rescues, the different coloured Wisps gives Sonic different abilities. The yellow Wisp, lets Sonic turn into a drill who can drill his way to secrets in certain spots, the orange Wisp turns him into a rocket that can reach new heights, and so on.
Altogether there are eight different kinds of Wisps, and this opens up new possibilities for the level design. You can go back to a previous level once you have unlocked new Wisps to discover secrets that you weren't able to reach the first time around. It's a nice addition, especially since it doesn't slow the pace of the game down.
Sega have also included the option of playing with a friend in Eggman's Sonic Simulator. However, the levels are so simple, boring and require precision that the controls don't offer, that you will soon grow tired of this mode. From the start there are ten of these levels, but you unlock more by collecting special star icons in the main game.
Sonic Colours is a nice surprise as it seems as if Sega and Sonic Team have finally figured out what it takes to make a good, modern Sonic game. Furthermore I feel that for the first time they have managed to add something to the formula that doesn't across as gimmicky and tacked on.
Unfortunately there is no escaping the fact that the controls lack a certain measure of precision, which causes a lot of frustration when the speed is replaced by platform jumps. Another source of frustration is the shifting quality of the level design. Every time you have played through a couple of great levels, you run into one that feels like a death trap that you have play over and over again.
Sonic Colours is without a doubt the strongest new Sonic adventure in a very long while, and it offers beautiful graphics, lots of speed and great ideas. Sega have once again promised us an adventure with the blue hedgehog that delivers on his heritage, and for once they have actually done so.