Sonic Lost World Review
When the kid down the street from me got a Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog for his birthday, my first question, after watching him play for a bit, was, "Its so fast. How are you supposed to control him?" Every single Sonic game I've laid my hands on since has the same problem; either I'm fully in control and things seem slow, or he is bouncing from spring to spring and as cool as it looks, I've got no concept of or control over his next move. As Sonic reinvention #1,763, Sonic: Lost World on Wii U has the same exact problems. While some may really enjoy Sonic's new direction (whether they can control it or not - haha), I found Lost World to be a mishmash of ideas and busted mechanics that probably should have stayed lost.
The story here is the same one from every Sonic game ever released. Eggman (or Dr. Robotnik, for those of us who never fully understood why a cool villain with a cool name would adopt such a ridiculous-sounding nickname) steals a bunch of animals, and Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and the rest have to run really, really fast to save them. There are six new villains introduced this time, the Deadly Six as they're called, but after finishing the game I can't remember a single name or attribute beyond, "Oh, that orange one? Or the pink one?" This oft-told tale is as familiar as Mario saving Peach from Bowser, but it hasn't kept that timeless luster that Nintendo's mascot will enjoy seemingly forever. The characters are blah and one-note; keeping them the same as they've always been is boring and changing them has been nothing but disastrous in the past (Shadow, anyone?). Consider this strike one against Lost World and the Sonic franchise as a whole.
The visual presentation in Lost World is actually quite good. The in-game graphics are bright and the action is as smooth as silk, with little draw distance problems and lots and lots of detail. It's no secret that Sega went all Mario Galaxy with the level design for Lost World, and from a visual standpoint, the game looks great. The cutscenes are equally nice and very detailed, though this is where my problem with the overall presentation comes in. The voice acting in this game, like every Sonic game I can remember with voice acting, is downright awful. It isn't just the actors' problem, the script is as vapid and dumb as it gets. It doesn't help that the voice for every single character in the game is so obnoxiously over the top that they sound like caricatures of themselves. By the time the adventure was over, I would have paid cash money for the opportunity to take a swing at Sonic, Tails or Knuckles. I mean, I don't expect Sonic to be a deeply complicated protagonist like Commander Shepard or Booker DeWitt, but it would be nice to walk away without building up 15 or so hours of simmering hatred for him. As nice as the visuals are, the script and voices erase most of those positives. Consider this strike two for Sonic and the gang.
And now we come to the gameplay. Lost World does a few things right. It isn't enough, however, to gloss over everything that is wrong. When playing the game, you'll spend most of the time in one of two different scenarios: either you are running toward the horizon with an over the shoulder view of Sonic, or things swing out to a more traditional side-scrolling view. Let's start with the horizon view. This seems like a great idea. Take Mario Galaxy's multiple islands in a world where gravity is subjective and let Sonic tear around them at super speed. It sounds awesome, and until I played it, I had high hopes. The problem falls with Sonic's movement and, by extension, how the game controls. In this view, Sonic is either moving far too fast or far too slow. When Sonic is moving too fast he is either completely out of your control (bouncing from spring to spring like I mentioned earlier) or only slightly in your control, as no human being has reaction times fast enough to play this game like it begs to be played. You'll run smack into enemies that pop in out of nowhere, you'll jump right past needed items or off ledges, there is just no good way to control a character when things move at this speed. An enemy lock-on system can help in dealing with foes when you can barely register them before they kill you, but I'll get there in a minute.
The horizon run is equally obtuse when you move too slowly. Sonic has a quick trot by default, along with a run button and two dash moves/attacks to get him really moving. He can wall run, double jump, the works. But when he isn't flying at warp speed, Lost World loses all focus as a platform game. The view makes it difficult to judge distance in jumps, and the lock-on mode I mentioned is so scattershot that at times it feels like it is actively working against the player. The biggest issue is the transition between uncontrollable super speed and yawn-inducing no speed is so jarring, usually in the form of a hit enemy or wall, that the flow of the level is completely blown and what was fun for a second or two becomes a painful slog to the next speed point or enemy encounter. If I had to answer a question on whether Lost World was better at high speed or low, I'd have to say neither.
The side scrolling portions suffer the same fate. The fast is too fast, the slow is way too slow. As a fast character, it feels ridiculous to have to pause to line up a precise platform jump, but it feels equally ridiculous to miss a jump or item because you were moving too fast to react as it flies by. These 2D segments highlight this weakness even more than the 3D horizon ones do, as the horizon ones can be explained away with the seemingly reasonable (at first) logical fallacy of "different paths" to the goal. The goal is always either the center of the screen (horizon) or one side of it (side scrolling); missing stuff because of extreme speed and barely caring because of low speed means neither gameplay idea works. Lost World's gameplay is strike three for Sega's hedgehog.
So where does that leave us? I realize I'm going to rustle some jimmies with this one but... Dear Sega, it is time to stop making games starring Sonic the Hedgehog altogether. Let the character die. Bury him next to Bubsy, Gex, Aero the Acrobat, Vectorman and every other 16-bit platform star who was allowed to go quietly into that good night. Sonic is no longer a good or even passable video game character. His story is always the same and is never interesting. His friends are lame. His quest is lame. His scriptwriters are hacks and his voice actor is among the most annoying on the planet. Keeping things the same doesn't work. Re-imagining things doesn't work. New ideas don't work. Old ideas don't work. Stolen ideas (why is Mario being so cool about Sonic stealing his levels?) don't work. Nothing works. Sonic: Lost World isn't the worst game Sonic has ever starred in, and that is what is perhaps saddest of all. If you asked pre-teen Jason if Sonic the Hedgehog would ever die, I'd get all adolescent indignant and tell you, "no way!" Adult Jason is quite the opposite; I'm now wishing Sega would lay this once great mascot to rest. Please, Sega, no more.
Final Rating: 35%. Is it time to put Sonic out to pasture?