Due to the disparity between technical capabilities, it's tough for a dual Wii U / 3DS release to hold up on the portable device that's captivated tens of millions of gamers. So let's just toss that comparison aside and acknowledge that much of the 3DS iteration of Sonic Lost World is following the same principles but is an entirely separate game; the trouble is that even as a standalone title it has a number of issues.
One area that does match up with the Wii U title is the overall storyline, though unfortunately the quality of the cutscenes is abysmal, with the compression techniques having led to exceptionally compromised quality. In Sonic Generations a rather low-tech approach was taken with slightly animated dialogue sequences, and that would have been preferable; it's a pity, as the remainder of the presentation in this title is thoroughly reasonable and, at times, impressive.
SEGA and Dimps' notable efforts to recreate 3D environments have, meanwhile, led to technically impressive results. There are still a good share of 2D levels that bring previous releases to mind, with rails and momentum being key components. Yet as promised this title delivers 3D stages new to portable Sonic in recent times, assuming we're not going to get tied down considering below par efforts such as Sonic Labyrinth. Some levels reflect a noticeable effort to accommodate the hardware's limitations, such as zoned off 3D tunnels, but there are also some impressively open and expansive levels to appreciate, giving the mascot plenty of space in which to dash around.
Perhaps due to limited development time — the 3DS project began after early work on the Wii U title was complete — there's a decent number of what would be considered the standard 2D and 2.5D styles of stages, while some 3D levels can resemble multiple sets of arenas. To begin with the 2D stages, they offer the standard fare and, on occasion, challenge the player to dash and maintain their momentum for sustained periods, while at other times offering light puzzles. With arena-style 3D stages there can be a heavy emphasis on puzzles or defeating certain numbers of enemies to unlock springs to the next destination.
At times the level design falls over in a significant way. We've met a number of roadblocks that required a rest and approach with a fresh mind at a later hour, as some puzzles or enemy challenges can be taxing on any gamer's patience. We've encountered near-impossible chasms requiring ludicrous gymnastics if you mess up an initial series of homing attacks, a sequence of rolling snowballs while respawning enemies bully the blue blur, and a snowboarding level with controls that, bizarrely, feel as if they're operating on a digital — not analogue — set of inputs. While not representative of the whole experience, stages such as these — and others that feel like over-enthusiastic labyrinths with no end — have a damaging effect on the wider campaign.
That's not to say that Lost World on 3DS doesn't have some positive moments. Bold levels that strip back filler puzzles and focus on platforming can be a treat, and the streamlined move-set and parkour capabilities are reasonably accessible. As well as dashing, jumping and homing attacks, options to bounce as a ball and run up and alongside walls — with a button tap given a slight extension in distance — eventually feel natural. One similarity with its Wii U brethren, however, is that we'd question whether younger gamers will be able to handle the manoeuvres and skills required, especially in the aforementioned stages that are poorly designed.
What this title does offer is plenty of variety, however, with Wisp powers being particularly important in multiple stages. They're often mandatory to progress, and in some cases cleverly incorporate subtle motion controls; favourites of ours include the drill and a heavy rock that you roll by tilting the handheld left and right, bringing to mind certain powers in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Motion controls also feature in Special Stages, though these are less subtle and really require you to stand up and swivel around on the spot — not for the bus commute, then. You gather up Chaos Emeralds by flying around obstacle courses in space, and if you manage to collect them all you deserve the treat that awaits, as these special stages — opened up by performing well in campaign levels — become fiendishly difficult.
Overall, the campaign veers from decent moments to drawn-out stages that exasperate rather than satisfy. Completionists can seek out red coins and target better grades in each level, but we suspect most will just be happy to see the end of some more confusing and agitating levels. Therein lies the great flaw with this effort from Dimps — too much of the game simply isn't fun.
For those that do gain more from this experience, there are extras in which to indulge. Each level (and participation in other modes) awards resources that can be used in Tail's Lab — you can create RC vehicles to help you in game by shooting enemies, or one that you can fly to safety; if you want to transfer vehicles to a Wii U version of the game you also need to upgrade the lab itself. You'll need to play plenty of single player and multiplayer levels to accumulate worthwhile resources, though options to pick up random materials by spending Play Coins helps; some minor planning ahead is advised.
Time Trials are present and correct, in which you can blast through favourite levels and post a score online. There are also Race, Battle and Special Stage multiplayer modes that support up to four players; pleasingly these include local play (in which all players own a copy), Download Play and online matches. Race is likely to be the most popular mode, as you dash through levels as quickly as possible; it's always a fun diversion. Battles take place in relatively small arenas, and as well as collecting as many rings as possible there are a selection of power-ups that can be used to attack opponents; this is an enjoyable option, albeit one lacking the simple pleasure of races. Special Stage matches incorporate the aforementioned Chaos Emerald levels, so that's one to play in a spacious room with no observers.
These extra modes are all welcome, and selecting favoured stages in any of these options is as pleasurable as expected. Unfortunately, this is a title riddled with poorly designed stages, or in some cases areas of stages. These issues vary in form, whether with sudden deaths, cruel one-shot combos or, unforgivably, tedious stages that barely resemble a Sonic game at all, but instead rely upon unimaginative sub-tasks in open areas before progress is allowed. Throw in fiddly controls that — though workable for experienced gamers — intimidate younger or less experienced gamers, and this is a Sonic adventure that comes across as a hotch-potch of ideas, some of which shouldn't have made it past the concept stage.
Sonic Lost World on the 3DS has glimpses of excellence, but these flashes are overwhelmed by numerous mediocre stages and a few that are poorly designed and, as a result, too taxing to encourage enjoyment. In trying to incorporate 3D environments and ideas from the Wii U title, Dimps has rather tied Sonic's red boots together, causing him to often stumble and fall. Dedicated franchise fans may be able to make a reasonable attempt at gleaning some satisfaction from this one, but for most it will be a distinctly average experience.