One lament accompanied 2008’s lacklustre Sonic Unleashed more loudly than others – "why can’t Sega ditch the werehog and make the daytime stages into a complete game?" A few years later and in rushes Sonic Colours with all the usual fanfare and expectation around a new 3D Sonic game, except this time – hold on to your spiky hats – it’s true.
Things get off to a flying start. There’s no wading through mountains of text to get going, no unskippable cutscenes: just you, Sonic and three Acts of high-speed action to acclimatise you to the controls, which survive mostly intact from Unleashed. After the opening trio of stages you’re greeted by one of the good-quality FMV sequences you'll see throughout the game, though again these are completely skippable if you just want to get back into the action.
As you play you start to get the impression that Sonic Team really was paying attention to feedback from players about its ill-fated prequel. There are no hub city levels to explore, just a top-down map to link stages, which can vary from five minute long roller coasters to shorter tests of precise platforming skill. Smaller tweaks are present too: approach one of the game’s still-common “pits of death” and a small warning icon pops up, advising you to take it slow rather than plough on regardless.
Whilst Sonic Team’s “Hedgehog Engine” made the transition between 2D and 3D gameplay swift and seamless in Sonic Unleashed on Xbox 360 and PS3, Sonic Colours pulls off the switches just as impressively. The 3D sections are often stunningly fast and provide all the adrenaline rush you’d expect from a Sonic title, and whilst the 2D portions certainly don’t slack off in terms of speed they still offer a chance for more precise platforming elements. The balance is a welcome one, and although Sonic purists might object to taking their time in the side-on sections, the combination gameplay offers something for everyone and does it all pretty well.
The major gimmick with Sonic Colours is the introduction of Wisp power-ups, which all serve to offer Sonic a brand new ability, ranging from high-speed boosting to drilling, zipping about like a laser and just hovering around. In the 2D sections you’ll find plenty of new routes opened up by trying a new Wisp power, and the way in which these abilities are unlocked gives you plenty of reason to go back to explore other levels.
The yellow drill wisp is a highlight, letting you tunnel through soft earth to find hidden stashes of rings and alternative routes through the levels, crucial for attaining an S-Rank and the bounty of extra lives that accompanies it. The blue cube ability switches blue rings for blocks and vice versa, something that helps to slow down your exploration, although perhaps a little too much for our liking.
Each new power-up genuinely alters the way you play the game, offering up a more layered form of gameplay than we’ve come to expect from a Sonic title. Every stage contains multiple routes and bonus items that can only be found with the correct skill equipped, giving Sonic a reason to return other than just to do the same stage but more quickly.
Another unexpected highlight comes in the form of the two-player co-operative mode, something that hasn’t really been seen in a Sonic game since Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Although you can play these stages on your own or with a CPU accomplice, joining forces with a friend next to you provides plenty of classic multiplayer gameplay as you jostle, shout orders and race about to clear the stage as quickly as possible. New co-op levels open up once you collect a certain number of special red rings in the main game, and while there are stages available from the start, it provides another compelling reason to progress.
It has to be noted too that Sonic Colours is graphically exceptional, with some great animation, imaginative design and plenty of huge spectacle through its stages. Flying through the fireworks over an advancing spaceship armada in Starlight Carnival, racing along a growing path of light and taking on enormous bosses proves the Wii’s graphical power if it ever were in doubt.
Sadly, the musical side of things isn’t as good, particularly compared to the sublime tracks that accompanied parts of Sonic Unleashed, with some fairly generic platformer music throughout the game. It’s nothing original, but at least the voice acting is generally of a good quality and thankfully sparse when in a level, only breaking up certain stages with FMV cutscenes.
To call Sonic Colours the best 3D Sonic game ever is damning with faint praise, although its title is deserved. The action is fast enough to satisfy your speed lust, whilst the Wisp powers introduce plenty of new skills and ways to explore the stages that otherwise could just be straight zips to the finish. There are no other characters to control, no talking swords and no guns, just plenty of enjoyment. This is the game Sega should have made years ago.