Sonic Lost World (Wii U) review: lost cause

By Andrew Yoon, Oct 28, 2013 12:00pm PDT

Sonic Lost World may be one of the most instantly likable Sonic game in years, which is why it's all the more depressing that it isn't a good game. Taking cues from Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy games, Sonic Team has never placed their titular mascot in a game as colorful, vibrant, and imaginative. But while creativity is abound in Lost World, the gameplay fails to support Sonic's cause.

You'll be hard-pressed not to enjoy the first few levels of Lost World. The circular world concept stolen from Mario Galaxy initially holds much promise. They are the best way for Sonic Team to translate the branching levels of the original 2D games into a 3D platforming environment. By steering Sonic into a harder-to-reach path, you may be able to breeze into a faster time--albeit at a higher challenge.

The visuals also do a lot to cement a positive first impression. This may not be Sonic's first foray into HD, but Sonic Team has somehow managed to create one of the more eye-catching Wii U games on the market. Sonic's character model looks especially detailed, and the colorful worlds look absolutely stunning. There's also a lot of creativity and variety on display, like when Sonic detours from Desert Ruins to Dessert Ruins.

It doesn't take long, however, to realize that Sonic Team was inspired by Galaxy on a cosmetic level only. Lost World fails to execute on the gameplay afforded by circular worlds. In fact, in nearly every aspect of its design, it's evident that Sonic Team has never asked the crucial question: "why?"

Why should players go around in circular worlds? Instead of trying to recreate the feeling of exploration of the 2D games, later levels simply use the gimmick to present numerous dead-ends. Instead of trying to find the fastest way through a level, players are later forced to simply find the correct way through a level. Some stages even have you repeating certain segments as you try to find the proper path.

Lost World also frequently switches back to 2D. Whereas the Galaxy games incorporate interesting gravity-shifting mechanics in their 2D stages, Sonic simply makes the camera inconsistent and confusing. The stages are still designed as 2D, but are curved to make it more difficult to gauge where you're going. It's like trying to play a classic Sonic game through a fish lens, which isn't particularly fun. Worst of all, these stages also lose the branching paths and exploration that Lost World's early stages attempted to offer.

Another example of Sonic Team's refusal to ask "why" comes from the implementation of color powers. Introduced in Sonic Colors, their addition to Lost World is largely unnecessary and, at worst, distracting. It seems as though Sonic Team wanted to throw as many features into the box without asking why should players use color powers? Some are innocent enough, like a yellow drill that lets Sonic burrow around in the ground in 2D stages. However, others serve almost no function whatsoever. The blue color power slingshots you around in a level, but Sonic Team offers no explanation as to how to properly use the ability.

In fact, none of Sonic's abilities are trained to players. There's actually a surprising amount of depth here for a Sonic game, but none of it is communicated. For example, there is a difference between Sonic's spin jump and regular jump. Sonic even has the ability to kick enemies and wall-run. However, whereas other games introduce safe areas to learn these tricks, Sonic Lost World lets you blindly run through the game until you hit a wall where these abilities are required. Failure means death, of course.

Sonic Team is clearly aware of the problem, as question mark boxes can appear on the GamePad screen occasionally. However, most modern games know that the best way to teach players isn't through optional and largely hidden text boxes: you have to teach players through the game.

There are many instances where you, as the player, will question the design decisions of Sonic Team. Why should one collect rings? In Lost World, collecting 100 no longer gives you extra lives, making them a largely meaningless, cosmetic addition to the game. Why does the camera still get stuck behind objects, especially in a game that's largely on-rails? Why is the lock-on system so finicky? This last point is especially problematic, as certain parts of the game require you to jump across enemies to successfully clear a gap. Having the final lock-on refuse to show up for no reason is frustrating. Some enemies also require you to have an extended lock-on to cause damage. Instead, Sonic will do single lock-ons across multiple enemies, which will cause you to take damage and lose rings.

Why did Sonic Team decide to create a mini-game that splits up the screen across the TV and GamePad for the sole purpose of making it more difficult (and not more fun) to play? Why are there such lengthy cutscenes before and after each level? Why does this story have no connection to the gameplay? Why is it so poorly written and so drawn out?

Whereas licensed platforming titles often get criticized for their lack of creativity and polish, Sonic Lost World has both in spades. What Lost World doesn't have, however, is an understanding of what actually makes games fun. Sonic Team successfully mimicked the look of Mario Galaxy and threw in a number of marketable checkboxed features: GamePad support, multiple power-ups, movie-length CG story. But it doesn't seem like Sonic Team ever decided to slow down and ask why? [2]


This review is based on early retail Wii U code provided by the publisher. Sonic Lost World will be available on Wii U at retail on October 29 for $49.99. The game is rated E10.

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