Sonic skepticism has become almost routine upon word of a new game announcement. The character platformer has had some decent hits, but on the whole his track record has encouraged what fans have dubbed the Sonic cycle. At risk of falling into that disappointing trap, what I saw so far of Sonic Lost World looks promising.
In fact, watching the gameplay footage of Sonic running down a cylindrical world, many were reminded of the highly-praised Mario Galaxy. Though producer Takashi Iizuka says the game had no "intentional influence" from Mario Galaxy, it seems as if Sega approached this Sonic with similar goals.
"The design approach for this game is to offer a huge amount of variety, both visually and from a gameplay perspective," he said. "We want to have each stage offer something unique to surprise and delight the player. We don't want a cylindrical forward-view stage to be followed by another, so you could guess what's going to happen. The 2D like the one you're seeing on the show floor, there might not be another stage in which the gameplay feels exactly like that. We want to offer new experiences with every stage."
That level of variety was on display in limited capacity during my time with Lost World on Wii U. The primarily 2D stage, a candy-based world in which licorice-bits swirled and curved to give the platforming shape, felt a bit more sparse than classic Sonic stages, but the visual style was endearing. The more difficult 3D stage, in which Sonic was running down an octagonal honey hive and dodging through the holes in it, was some of the most clever Sonic action I've played in years.
Sega has revised the control scheme for this entry, and Iizuka was very frank about some of the weaknesses of previous Sonic titles. Sonic's movement has gotten the most serious overhaul, keeping him moving slowly by default so he can make precision platforming jumps. Holding the trigger, similar to a racing game, puts him into a faster run akin to the classic speed you might expect. Finally, the spin-dash is his top-speed and is used to build momentum. I had some trouble adjusting to the new controls in the 2D section, but the 3D stage felt natural.
Iizuka says they hope that the new geometric shapes for the 3D stages "address some of the development trade-offs that we've made in the path of 3D forward-view Sonic, since it's a linear path. This gives the player more space to roam around and have multiple paths around the shape."
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Sega is also allowing more freedom to optimize for its planned platforms, since this is part of Sega's exclusive deal with Nintendo. The two versions of the game are very specifically targeted toward the technical specs of each system. At the same time, the two versions are distinct. The 3DS game has the same theme and design goals, but completely different stages. Iizuka says the two will also interconnect in some way, but is not ready to talk about it just yet.
As for the famed Sonic cycle, Iizuka did mention that Sonic is the lone playable character in this game. At least a few of his cadre of animal friends will appear -- Tails, Knuckles, and Amy were mentioned specifically -- but Sega wants to make this a singular Sonic experience and is putting the focus squarely on the blue hedgehog.