While they may have been rivals in a "console war" not too long ago, the houses of Nintendo and SEGA have been growing ever closer over the past few years. Whether it's through Wii exclusive platformers like Sonic Colours, or mini-game collections like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, the former bitter rivals have managed to put their differences aside in the name of making brilliant games, with an exclusive partnership recently announced to see that relationship continue onto the Wii U. Bringing some more Sonic magic to Nintendo's newest home console, the Wii U is set to receive three exclusive Sonic games over the course of the next year, with recently announced 3D platform game Sonic Lost World being the second of the trio set to hit the shelves. And as we found out when we went hands-on at a recent Nintendo event, it's a rather different experience to the Sonic games that have come before.
While earlier Sonic games were all about the speed, compared to Mario's more careful plodding, the series has chopped and changed a lot over the last few years. Realising you can't have incredibly fast gameplay with full 3D controls, as there simply isn't enough time to react, developers Sonic Team have tried out several different ways of reaching a compromise over the course of their past few titles. We've had games that slow Sonic down to a more reasonable pace, giving you time to plan your platforming leaps without accidentally running off a cliff in the process, and we've had games that retain that famous Sonic speed, giving you a blisteringly fast game by simplifying the controls, letting you simply dodge left and right as you shoot through the level. While we were big fans of their last attempt, Sonic Colours, a Wii exclusive which kind of meshed the two together, it seems Sonic Team weren't entirely pleased with the results, as Sonic Lost World takes that concept, and turns it in a rather different direction.
Where previous games may have had you running through a city, exploring a forest, or speeding through a giant space station, most of your time would have been spent firlmy on solid ground - on flat, fairly expansive paths that take you from A to B. For Sonic Lost World, that's completely changed, as the levels here mostly take place on what are effectively giant rotating cylinders, floating in the sky. Packed full of obstacles, enemies, and rings to collect, it's up to you to skilfully avoid the spikes, smash up the enemies to rescue the creatures that are trapped inside, and collect as many rings as you can as you whiz to the end of the level.
The cylindrical levels give Lost World a unique feel, as it effectively lets you play the game according to your own style. If you play for speed, you can shoot straight to the end, never seeing what lies on the other side of the tube - but if you'd rather explore and discover everything there is to see, you can take it more at your own pace, spinning around the tube as you hunt for secrets. While being upside down can be a bit disorienting at first (what look like floors become walls, and vice versa), the game's actually a lot slower than the earlier games by default, too, with Sonic simply briskly jogging through most of the level, unless you hold the right trigger on the Wii U GamePad to make him burst into action. It's a welcome change of pace - but one that isn't as helpful as it possibly could be.
One of the later stages we played in the game was themed around a beehive, with honeycomb shaped pathways galore, and giant worm-like enemies crawling their way through the "indoor" sections. In the early going, everything seemed to be going well enough - we were skipping across the pathways, running on the roof when we went through a tunnel, and doing our handy homing attack at the enemies - but then we reached a section where Sonic automatically started running faster. And we couldn't manage it. What particularly led to our downfall was a section where you ran along the outside of a honeycomb shaped track. With Sonic accelerating to his top speed, we shot out onto the track, and had all of a few seconds to scoot onto another side of the honeycomb in order to safely enter a tunnel on the other side, rather than simply splat against a wall. For some reason, this proved far too much for our meagre gaming skills. The problem seems to be that, unlike in some of the earlier games, you no longer "snap" to the various paths. Rather than being able to push left three times and switch three paths to the left, if you will, you now have "free control" over Sonic, which is fine if you want to make minor adjustments to your path, but less helpful when you need to be precise in a hurry.
From there on in though, happily, our experience with the game was a lot more positive. One of the things that's immediately obvious is the amount of variety in the levels - and not just in the settings. From the retro themed goodness of the early Windy Hill stage (pictured at the top of the article), to the sweet, sweet entrapments of the Desert Ruin, the gameplay's every bit as diverse as the levels it takes place in, with at least two distinct types of stage on offer. On the standard, cylindrical levels, you can go from exploring at a fairly slow pace, to shooting through the air off a giant spring, being shot out of a giant flower, or skydiving in between formations of flying insects to scoop up some rings. On others, there's an entirely different style of play, as things become a lot more "2D". On the aforementioned Desert Ruin stage, for example, there's nary a cylinder in sight, with you instead running along swirls of candy floss from a side-on perspective, like an old school Sonic game, as giant floating doughnuts dance in the background, before you're scooped up and fired out of a giant cannon. It may sound like something out of a Homer Simpson dream - but it's good fun.
There are plenty of other reasons to suspect our bad experience on the one level was an anomaly, too. Along with slowing Sonic down, there have been a number of other tweaks to make his platforming less annoying. Helping make up for any minor miscalculations, Sonic now has a double jump which can give you a bit of an extra boost if you look like you're not going to make it - and should you still come up a little bit short, he'll now grab onto the ledge and haul himself up. Guaranteed to make the previously hit and miss platforming a lot more forgiving, it's a promising sign for the new Sonic game - and one that has us intrigued to see more.
With the game set for a release later this year, Sonic Lost World looks set to offer a very different type of platforming experience to Nintendo's own Super Mario 3D World. With a potentially more forgiving approach than the earlier games, and a great mix between old school Sonic speed and accessible platforming, Sonic Lost World is one fans of the blue blur will want to keep a very close eye on.