For this year’s E3, Sega has brought the latest adventure for Sonic, and to many diehard fans of the franchise, it may feel like a blast from the past.
Sonic Lost World feels very much like Sonic X-treme, at least to those who are familiar with Sega’s answer to Super Mario 64 in the days of the Sega Saturn—a game that was never meant to be. For unacquainted: it was essentially Sonic in a 3D space, but unlike Mario, he moved much like he did in his original 16-bit exploits, as in left to right, in a straight line. Though also towards and away from the player, but again, in a straight line.
The key distinction was the fish eye lens viewpoint, which gave everything a very circular feel. Fast forward many years and we have Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii, a game that many diehard Sonic fans believe was heavily inspired by Sonic X-treme. To these people, a Sonic game that appears very Mario Galaxy-like is a full circle of sorts.
And Sonic Lost World does feel much like the aforementioned Mario game. The first level takes its cues from Green Hill, aka the very first stage of Sonic 1, but on a purely aesthetic level. Structurally, you have mini floating environments that rotate every which way, to accommodate the direction in which Sonic is headed towards.
These portions of real estate are just as small as they were in certain Mario Galaxy levels, and Sonic travels to and fro in the same manner, though instead of being propelled by a shooting star, it’s the classic red and blue bumper adorned by a yellow star, a staple of the series. So right there, the comparisons to Sonic X-treme are not quite apt. (But the Sega rep that walked me through the demo was quite pleased to hear it.)
That said, continuing a long-standing trend—one that has frustrated longtime Sonic fans—is how Lost Worlds has the most complex control scheme for an installment thus far.
Sonic can be moved via the control stick, but he doesn’t go very fast. Instead, one needs to hold down the R button on the Wii U GamePad to make him run. It’s like a turbo boost. As for the L button, it’s used to initiate Sonic’s spin dash.
Meanwhile, the B button is used for jumping, to avoid obstacles and also attack enemies. Sonic still has a homing attack, which is executed with the A button, but it behaves a bit differently than before. Multiple enemies can be attack in a row, but he mostly hops between then, almost casually, instead of making a direct, decisive jump between each.
One can also hit the Y button in mid jump, causing Sonic to do a dive kick. They have the same sense of immediacy, precision, and power as the homing attack in past games. You just can’t hit multiple enemies in a row. Essentially, a once powerful move has been split into two lesser moves, though they are complimentary.
It’s a bit of a curiosity. Maybe it’ll become handy during certain enemy encounters? Still, it somewhat goes against what Sonic games have been all about. Fast reflexes are still the name of the underling game, though needing to figuring out what attacks while racing across might seem like a distraction to some. The same goes with the two different buttons to control Sonic’s speed and trajectory.
The initial Mario Galaxy-esque level is not the only type that is offered. A second stage, in which everything is large pieces of sweets, retained the more traditional 2D view. It’s here in which the control alterations are much more jarring. The additional methods of movement and attack make sense in a 3D space, but not in Sonic’s native viewing angle.
It’s also worth noting the level design and enemy placement, which has never been the strongest suit of the series. Sonic has always been about running left to right as fast possible. Enemies, ultimately, simply got in the way, and Sonic Lost World is no different in this regard. It also bears mentioning that, in the second level, which again is candy-coated, there are cannons that shoot bon-bons and its overall feel is similar to the cannon balls that Mario encounters on the end level airships in Super Mario Bros 3, giving the game a different feel in yet another way.
Unfortunately, the overall flow is hindered by the clunky controls, but maybe given time, it will become second nature. After all, Mario’s move-set changed dramatically over time, via each successive game. Lost Worlds could represent another step of Sega’s attempt at simply bringing Sonic up to code.